Hovdey: Red-boarders a lock to sweep Triple Crown


Welcome to the Red Board Café, where the customer is always right.

For instance, on Monday morning, everybody in the place knew that Always Dreaming was a dead crab on the board for the Preakness, hovering as he was above even-money and going off at 6-5. The post-Derby spin painted him like the second coming of Smarty Jones, which means he should have been more like 70 cents on the dollar. Orb was 70 cents on the dollar, for Pete’s sake.

From there, it was an easy leap to be suspicious of the Derby winner at Pimlico (Super Saver) because of the two-week turnaround (Super Saver) and because Todd Pletcher (Super Saver) has not won a record $340 million with his horses by jamming them back in 14 days.

The café regulars, downing their crullers and java, were of one voice in praise of Cloud Computing, whose lack of experience was considered of no consequence two days after his efficient victory over the accomplished Classic Empire. According to Monday’s consensus, the winner’s 13-1 odds were a gift from the racing gods, and the gang would have been all over him had they not been distracted by everything else.

As for Classic Empire, we here all knew he would run a dynamite race, that there would be no Derby bounce, and that we left him out of our triples and supers only because there was that thing last summer when he dumped Irad Ortiz Jr. coming out of the gate at Saratoga.

With his noble effort, Classic Empire has made the wall here at the café, alongside a herd of other horses who showed up big time in major races and ran too good to lose.

The Preakness has provided a whole slew of them. In 1965, Dapper Dan, a son of Ribot, ran the fastest final quarter in the history of the Kentucky Derby and still fell a neck short of catching Lucky Debonair. In the Preakness, Dapper Dan came running again only to come up another neck short, this time to Tom Rolfe.

In the 2007 Preakness, Derby winner Street Sense made what appeared to be a winning move inside Curlin heading for home. Then, just inside the sixteenth pole, Calvin Borel glanced right to see Curlin and Robby Albarado on the attack, pretty much the same horror beheld by Julien Leparoux aboard Classic Empire when Cloud Computing and Javier Castellano came along. The feeling must be sickening. Street Sense, like Classic Empire, lost by a head.

If there is a horse called to mind by the dramatic arc of Classic Empire, it is Chief’s Crown. In 1984, the son of Danzig was a comprehensive champion at 2, winning the first running of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and four other major stakes. Then came his 3-year-old campaign, which unfolded like “Pagliacci,” with Chief’s Crown in the role of the weeping clown.

First, he won the Swale, then he won the Flamingo but was disqualified, then reinstated on appeal to the Florida racing commission. After an easy win in the Blue Grass, Chief’s Crown was a dull third in the Derby, after which he bounced back with a sterling effort in the Preakness, only to be caught in the last jumps by Tank’s Prospect.

Chief’s Crown went on to finish third in the Belmont and take both the Travers and the Marlboro Cup before tailing off in his final appearance, the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The trials and tribulations of Classic Empire this season have been documented to death. The foot, the back, the balk at work, resurrection in Arkansas, and calamity in Kentucky – it’s as if he has been performing in a reality show of his own imagination. According to trainer Mark Casse, the colt was out on his feet after being mauled in the Derby, and yet last Saturday he came bouncing out of the Preakness as if looking for more.

“Coming off the track, through the crowd and the music and all the noise, he wasn’t acting tired at all,” Casse said Monday from the Timonium sale of 2-year-olds. “I reached into my coat pocket, and there were some peppermints in there. With everything else going on, he heard the crackle of the wrapper. He stopped dead in his tracks and wouldn’t move until I gave him one. That’s when I thought, ‘We just might have to go to the Belmont.’ ”

To that end, Casse has flung the gauntlet at Chad Brown, challenging him to show up on June 10 in the Belmont Stakes with Cloud Computing. Brown, who keeps his cards close, is resisting a quick decision.

“I learned an awful lot from Allen Jerkens,” Casse said. “He could never figure out why trainers wouldn’t run their horses when they were doing good. ‘Run ‘em when they’re good, rest ’em when they’re not.’

“Anyway, the game is supposed to be fun,” Casse added. “Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. I think we’ve got the best 3-year-old in the country, and I’d like to give him the chance to prove it.”

So, it’s on to the Belmont Stakes, the most exciting 2 1/2 minutes in New York. Please let Cloud Computing show up, and anything else that would add to the drama. And I can promise that the gang at the Red Board Café will have the third jewel nailed by June 12 at the latest.