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Canterbury Park is counting down to the Kentucky Derby with a $25,000 handicapping contest.



In the latest Preakness Stakes poll conducted by Canterbury Park/CNN/Fox News/ABC/MSNBC  Always Dreaming has a slight edge over Classic Empire and is the projected winner of  Saturday’s race.

There is a margin of error in this poll that will not be announced until shortly before post time, so as not to alter the usual course of wagering by people without a clue and those who think they have several.

The poll includes a sampling of both conservative and liberal bettors in equal numbers.

Fifty-one percent of those polled said that the Todd Pletcher entry in this race is a dream horse. It is considered merely coincidental that the horse’s name is Always Dreaming. The same fifty-one percent said that they picked this horse for no other reason than he won the Kentucky Derby and looked “just fine and dandy” during the past week training

Forty-nine percent of those polled say they will bet on Classic Empire to win but want Always Dreaming to win because it’s good for the sport. In contrast, the Fifty-one percent who are betting on Always Dreaming to win say they want Always Dreaming to win.

Thirty percent of those polled said that Always Dreaming has not let his sudden fame affect the way he has worked for the second leg of the Triple Crown. Asked if he might be looking past this race to the Belmont Stakes and a possible sweep of these races, Always Dreaming responded, “What’s a Triple Crown?  I just run my races one at a time.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher was unavailable for comment. Something about his mouth being full of crab cake.

Many people think this race is wide open, not much different than the Derby, that several entries in the 10-horse field have a shot.

For those putting their money on Juvenile champion Classic  Empire, there are several issues to consider.  Is it possible that as a two-year-old champion he was simply too young, too immature to handle all that success. Were his injuries and reduced training this spring simply used as an excuse? Did success go to his head?

“I’ve always been a team player,” he responded. “What I do is for the barn, not myself. Everything I do is for the team.”  Trainer Mark Caase said “we’ll see, we’ll see.”

For an inside clue, a handicapping tip the rest of America is without, consider this behind-the scenes connection from Canterbury pressbox assistant Katie Merrit. Although she, like so many others in the business, thinks that an Always Dreaming win is good for the sport, consider this:

Katie once galloped for the Carl Nafzger barn. Nafzger is an Eclipse-Award winning, Kentucky Derby winning former trainer. He is also a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame and the former trainer of Frances Genter’s Unbridled, the 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders  Cup Classic winner.

And guess what.

Unbridled is the grandsire of Empire Maker.

Then again, and this is what muddies the waters a bit, Unbridled also sired Unbridled Ridge, the mother of Gunnevera. There is Unbridled blood as well in Always Dreaming and a gene or two in Cloud Computing.

“He’s all over this race,” said pedigree specialist and Canterbury chart man Dave Miller.

Sort of like having a boxing gym full of sons, grandsons and great grandsons of, say, Muhammad Ali.

Miller, by the way, agrees with those who say that you won’t make more than a dime on Always Dreaming today, and the best way to attack this race is to back up a bob or two on the favorite with a nice trifecta on the side.

Polling on this race also depends on a person’s politics. Take Canterbury Park track announcer Paul Allen for instance. Allen was once quoted as saying that he never bets. Then there was a pressbox leak that contradicted that statement.  But we can find any number of, let’s say, politicians who say they never bet and put fifty through the window on the no. 2 horse while making the statement. Saying one thing and doing another is part of politics and horse racing.

The Big O is the righthand man in the Shawn Coady photography studio at Canterbury and had this to say about today’s Classic race:

“It’s hard to go against the (Derby) winner. I think he’ll win this one and lose the Belmont. That last one is just too far,” he said.

Pressbox custodian Jeff Maday has several thoughts on the race.  His company loyalty wish, like Allen’s, is for the Derby winner to win this race, too. That way the Belmont Stakes three weeks hence becomes a really big deal, in New York and in Shakopee, instead of a race marginal fans couldn’t give a hoot about.

So, there you have it. All of the inside dope available for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

And for the political elite who think that politics should never be compared to something as lowly as running animals on a race track, let’s consider this:

Before the year is out, a politician somewhere will say that this election or that is really going to be a horse race.

And you can bet on that, too.