JOHNNY LOVE'S PREAKNESS PICKS

Star Tribune horse racing analyst Johnny Love handicaps the first race of the Triple Crown, picking a winner and suggesting how to bet on Saturday's race.

Things didn't go as I planned in the Kentucky Derby. Thunder Snow, my selection, had his saddle slip right out of the gate and became a bucking bronco exiting stage left on the muddy track. My long-shot dream was crushed before the first 100 yards. But as a horseplayer, you need to have a short memory and not look in the rear view mirror. On to the 142nd running of the Preakness. Always Dreaming captured the roses and was the fifth straight favorite to win and at generous odds of 9-2. He looks extremely tough to beat Saturday at odds around 4-5. I'm not going to say he's a lock to win, but he's going to be awfully tough to beat down the stretch. Best opportunity of making some money if you like the favorite, is in exotic wagers. I don't think you have to be inventive or experimental for a exacta wager today, maybe use three or four runners underneath.

Top contenders

ALWAYS DREAMING won the Kentucky Derby in dominating fashion and is now 4-for-4 for trainer Todd Pletcher. The talented colt has a quick turn of foot to put himself on or near the lead while managing great forward position to stay out of trouble. He crushed the Derby field, and the few opponents who want the rematch Saturday just don't have the capability of turning the pages. The new shooters taking a shot at the champ will be fighting for the minor awards. Always Dreaming is strictly the horse to beat. Lone concern, he's appreciated at least a month rest between races, so a 14-day turnaround is new to him. That said, he had plenty left in the tank finishing up two weeks ago.

CLASSIC EMPIRE will be the second betting choice at post time, and many horseplayers will be loading up with their win bets for the better price with the mild upset. Classic Empire had a horrendous journey at Churchill Downs, but he managed to finish fourth with a ton of fight left. I still don't believe he would have won the Derby with a spotless trip, but he would have made place honors interesting. Trainer Bob Baffert said after the Derby that "Classic Empire is the only horse that can beat Always Dreaming." The 2-year-old reigning champ merits respect as the logical choice to pull off the upset.

HENCE hated the muddy track at Churchill Downs, but did roll late from the 19th position to finish 11th. Should get a fast track at Pimilico, and is a strong contender to rebound back to form. Trainer Steve Asmussen is pretty solid in bringing his runners back after a poor performance.

CONQUEST MO MONEY keeps moving forward with each effort and the owners took the Derby off to focus on the Preakness. Winner of three of five starts, Conquest will be the last one in, and first one out, playing catch me if you can on the lead. This is the long-shot play, especially if jockey Jorge Carreno (a member of the Canterbury jockey colony) can set modest fractions and milk his way to the wire.

CLOUD COMPUTING is another new shooter with fresh legs that has a shot to make a dent in the payoffs. Young colt has only three starts but keeps improving with each effort. Desperately needs heated fractions to swoop on with his late-closing kick to hit the board.

Wagering Menu

$40 Exacta Always Dreaming over Classic Empire

$20 Exacta Always Dreaming over Hence, Cloud Computing, and Conquest Mo Money

$100 total