For Always Dreaming, the first half of the Preakness went exactly as planned.
Locked in a battle with Classic Empire, the Kentucky Derby winner reached the midpoint of Saturday's race with a narrow lead.
And then, quite unexpectedly, Always Dreaming simply ran out of energy. As the weary dark bay colt faded into the middle of the pack, so did his chances of capturing the Triple Crown.
Jockey John Velazquez knew he was in trouble as the horses turned for home in the 1 3/16-mile race.
"You could see he just got beat," Velazquez said. "I didn't have it. That's it. Not much to say."
Running a mere two weeks after romping to victory at Churchill Downs, Always Dreaming hit the stretch in sixth place and huffed and puffed to the finish line in eighth.
"We were in a position we expected to be," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "I think he just turned around and was a little too quick. He ran so hard in the Derby, and today just wasn't his day."
Almost immediately after the Derby, Pletcher spoke about how impressively his horse rebounded from the difficult race. He maintained that tune each day, and even joked about how rambunctious Always Dreaming was during a spirited workout at Pimlico.
Then, on the day before the race, Pletcher declared: "The way he's moving, the way he's acting, the way he's getting over the track, we feel really blessed that he's coming into the race this way."
Turns out, Always Dreaming really wasn't ready for such a quick turnaround.
"He didn't seem to relish the track, but I don't really think that was it," Pletcher said. "Just put too much into the Derby. It wasn't meant to be today."
The loss left Pletcher 0 for 9 at the Preakness.
The winner of the race, Cloud Computing , skipped the Kentucky Derby. He was far fresher than Always Dreaming, and trainer Chad Brown acknowledged that was one big reason for the upset victory.
"Certainly, I'm not going to dispute the face that I brought in a fresh horse as part of our strategy," Brown said. "Classic Empire and Always Dreaming are two outstanding horses; our strategy was, if we are ever going to beat them, let's take them on two weeks rest when we have six. And it worked."
Classic Empire ran a solid race, hanging with the front-running Always Dreaming before taking the lead in the stretch. But when Cloud Computing made a charge, Classic Empire had nothing left to give.
"He probably went pretty ambitiously at us and maybe cost himself the race," Pletcher said. "But we didn't have an excuse."
Always Dreaming won his previous four races and was unbeaten before this surprising loss. The Belmont is coming up next month, and to put the horse through that lengthy race so soon might be a lot to ask.
"I don't like to make any decisions immediately after the race'" Pletcher said. "You've got to let the dust settle a little bit and not let your emotions get involved. We'll see. Initially it looks like he came back well. We'll savor the Derby victory."