The two best horses in the Preakness will be eyeball to eyeball coming out of the starting gate. There's no avoiding each other for Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and rival Classic Empire.
Always Dreaming is the early 4-5 favorite for the race Saturday at Pimlico, where he'll break from the No. 4 post. Classic Empire is the 3-1 second choice and will be right next door in the No. 5 hole.
"Hopefully, they both have good trips, break good and it could be interesting," said Mark Casse, who trains Classic Empire. "They could go at it right from the start."
Four of Always Dreaming's rivals are back to take him on in the second leg of the Triple Crown. Altogether, he'll face nine other horses in the 1 3/16-mile race worth $1.5 million.
Thirteen winners have started from the No. 4 post, most recently Curlin in 2007.
"It's fine," said Todd Pletcher, noting that Always Dreaming had the No. 4 post in the Florida Derby and No. 5 in the Kentucky Derby, two of his four victories this year. "He's usually a very good horse coming away from the gate."
Post positions were drawn Wednesday on a steamy, unseasonable 92-degree day.
If Always Dreaming and jockey John Velazquez win Saturday, next up would be the Belmont Stakes on June 10. American Pharoah swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont two years ago, ending a 37-year Triple Crown drought.
Classic Empire finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby after getting bounced around and having a rough early trip two weeks ago.
"We just want a fair shot at it," said Casse, who believes his horse didn't get to show his best effort after getting slammed coming out of the starting gate on a sloppy track that day.
Classic Empire won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, when he was voted 2-year-old male champion. Casse insists the Preakness isn't about revenge, although he likened his horse to Rocky Balboa.
"The champ's been knocked down and he's going to come back and try to take back the crown," Casse said. "It's got nothing to do with revenge because Always Dreaming did nothing wrong. He's the champ and we're just going to go after him."
Casse likes the neighboring posts.
"We want people to watch," he said. "If we can't win, I want Always Dreaming to win because this sport is so important to me. It's always nice to have a horse going for the Triple Crown. If we can't win, I hope he does."
Always Dreaming and Classic Empire are the only two horses with single-digit odds in the field.
Lookin At Lee, the second-place finisher in the Derby, is the 10-1 third choice. He drew the No. 9 post.
Cloud Computing, one of five new shooters in the Preakness, is the 12-1 fourth choice. He will break from the No. 2 hole.
There's a pair of 15-1 shots: Gunnevera (seventh in the Derby) and Conquest Mo Money, whose owners paid $150,000 to supplement their horse.
Hence, the 11th-place finisher in the Derby, is listed at 20-1 on the morning line.
The field is rounded out by a trio of 30-1 shots: Multiplier, Senior Investment and Term of Art.
Calumet Farm is bringing back Hence for another try at Always Dreaming. The storied Kentucky stable also has Term of Art, trained by 2012 Preakness winner Doug O'Neill.
Trainer Steve Asmussen will saddle two starters: Lookin At Lee and Hence.
The field, from the pole, with jockeys: Multiplier (Joel Rosario), Cloud Computing (Javier Castellano), Hence (Florent Geroux), Always Dreaming (Velazquez), Classic Empire (Julien Leparoux), Gunnevera (Mike Smith), Term of Art (Jose Ortiz), Senior Investment (Channing Hill), Lookin At Lee (Corey Lanerie), Conquest Mo Money (Jorge Carreno).