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Early Voting wins 147th running of the Preakness Stakes

Early Voting, with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard, won the 147th running of the Preakness Stakes. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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BALTIMORE — A Preakness sorely lacking in buzz, defined as much by who wasn’t here as who was, ultimately got its identity from the city where it is held. A teeming crowd, invited back to Pimlico Race Course at full strength for the first time since before the pandemic, was treated to that singular, dreaded phenomenon: the sweltering, face-melting Baltimore summer day, albeit in mid-May.

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And as Early Voting crossed the wire at the end of the 147th running of the Preakness Stakes, it made a winner of a man with the street sense to stand and watch in shirt sleeves. It was owner Seth Klarman, who knew better than to wear a jacket in this heat: He had grown up three blocks from Pimlico, and on his 65th birthday he had won the neighborhood’s biggest prize.

“It’s hard to believe it could have happened,” said Klarman, a billionaire hedge fund manager who previously won the Preakness with Cloud Computing in 2017. The first win, he said, “was once in a lifetime. This time it’s twice in a lifetime.”

Early Voting, like Cloud Computing a “shooter” who came to Pimlico after being held out of the Kentucky Derby, ran a near-perfect race, testament to both the prerace plan of Klarman and trainer Chad Brown — go to the front if the opportunity arises, otherwise stay close to the lead — as well as the steady hand of jockey Jose L. Ortiz. He stalked front-runner Armagnac until it was time to make his move, which he did near the final turn of the 1 3/16-mile race.

“We planned it out,” Ortiz said, “and we executed it to perfection.”

All that was left was to hold off favorite Epicenter down the stretch, which Early Voting did in part by drifting toward the late-charging rival — though he was well clear of Epicenter and did not impede his stride. Epicenter, also the runner-up to 80-1 shot Rich Strike in a memorable Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, finished second, 1¼ lengths back, while Creative Minister finished third. Secret Oath, seeking to become only the seventh filly in history to win the Preakness, finished fourth.

“He’s a big, handsome, burly — I told somebody the other day, ‘He’s like a bar fighter,’ ” Brown said of Early Voting. “He’s got a good mind on him, but he’s going to step into you if you get in his face.”

Years from now, more than the sight of the nine horses coming around the final turn or Early Voting’s strong finishing kick, those in attendance Saturday probably will remember the suffocating heat, which turned most living things on the premises, human or equine, into heaving, sweat-dripping puddles.

Temperatures were already in the low 90s by midafternoon, topping out at 95 just after 3 p.m., and still sat at a balmy 88 at post time just after 7 p.m. Far beyond the backstretch, the skyline of Charm City shimmered in a thin, amber haze.

After two straight pandemic-altered editions — the 2020 race was moved to October, and the 2021 race was capped at 10,000 spectators with no infield presence — race organizers had high hopes for a record-smashing return to relevance. But the decision of Rich Strike’s owners to hold the Derby champion out of the Preakness — and point him instead toward the Belmont Stakes in three weeks — robbed the race of the Triple Crown buzz that traditionally draws big crowds to Pimlico and eyeballs to NBC.

With Adley Rutschman in majors, hope stands behind home plate for the Orioles

The hometown Baltimore Orioles also did the Preakness no favors by promoting uber-prospect Adley Rutschman, a 24-year-old catcher, to the major leagues, with his hotly anticipated debut coming Saturday night at Camden Yards in a game scheduled to start four minutes after the Preakness post time — which undoubtedly swayed some sports-minded fans in Baltimore to choose baseball over horse racing.

It was the fourth straight year the Preakness began — let alone ended — with no true shot at a Triple Crown, a reality that makes the historic, three-pronged triumphs of American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018) in the previous decade seem all the more remarkable. A year ago, for example, Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit entered the Preakness as the disputed Kentucky Derby champ in the midst of a doping scandal, then lost the Preakness to unheralded Rombauer and later forfeited his Derby crown.

Baffert, meanwhile, was handed a 90-day suspension by Churchill Downs and barred from the Preakness, leaving these proceedings without the ubiquitous sight of his white shock of hair around the Pimlico grounds and on television screens nationwide.

On the same day two weeks ago when Rich Strike ran down Epicenter for an historic Derby win – made possible by a sizzling early pace that cooked all the front-runners by the end — Early Voting was hanging out at his stall at Belmont Park in New York, oblivious to the shocking turn of events at Churchill Downs.

Early Voting had won the Wood Memorial in early April — just the third start of his career — giving him the points necessary to qualify for the Derby. But Klarman and Brown, in a decision the latter called “not that difficult at all, to be honest,” chose not to enter him in the Derby, believing the demands of that race’s 20-horse field were too much for a horse with such a light resume.

“This is a lightly raced horse,” Brown said. “To throw him into a 20-horse field would not have worked out for him.”

Between 1984 and 2016, only three “shooters” — horses that show up at Pimlico after skipping the Derby — won the Preakness: Red Bullet in 2000, Bernardini in 2006 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. But in the past six years, it has happened four times: Cloud Computing in 2017, Swiss Skydiver in 2020 (a race postponed to October because of the pandemic), Rombauer last year and now Early Voting.

Rather than extrapolate from that trend, as many have done, that the Triple Crown schedule needs to be expanded across a larger swath of the calendar — to accommodate the conventional wisdom of the modern horse racing industry, which holds horses need more time between races — Brown and Klarman chalked their own decisions with Cloud Computing and Early Voting to the specific circumstances of those individual cases.

“We thought he needed a little more seasoning, [that] the extra rest would help him,” Klarman said of Early Voting. “And as it turned out, that was the right call. ... We’re so glad we waited.”

— Dave Sheinin

Highlights from the Preakness Stakes, by Glynn A. Hill in Washington, are below.

4:47 p.m.
Headshot of Dave Sheinin
Dave Sheinin: Who’s putting all this money on Fenwick?In the morning-line odds for the Preakness, Fenwick was the longest shot on the board at 50-1, reasonable odds for a horse that finished a distant 11th in his most recent race on April 9 and was sold as a yearling for the modest sum of $52,000.But a flurry of Preakness Day wagering — some of it perhaps inspired by Rich Strike’s miraculous win in the Kentucky Derby as an 80-1 shot — has lowered Fenwick’s odds to 7-1, tied for the third-lowest odds of any horse in the field.Meantime, Epicenter, the runner-up to Rich Strike in the Derby and the consensus best horse in the field, remains the favorite at 9-5, followed by the filly Secret Oath at 9-2.
Dave Sheinin, National baseball writer
3:17 p.m.
Headshot of Dave Sheinin
Dave Sheinin: Despite this being the first full-capacity Preakness since 2019, Saturday’s crowd, at least as of midafternoon, appears to be smaller than the most recent pre-pandemic editions.That could be partly due to the intense heat, which had already reached 92 degrees by 3 p.m. Eastern, and was expected to top out at 94 later in the afternoon. Pimlico Race Course was outfitted with hydration station and misters in anticipation of the high temperatures.Also, the hometown Baltimore Orioles did the Preakness no favors by promoting uber-prospect Adley Rutschman, their heralded young catcher, to the major leagues on Saturday, with the apparent intention of starting him Saturday at Camden Yards — which could sway sports-minded fans in Baltimore to choose baseball over horse racing.The first eight races of Preakness Day have not been relatively noteworthy, other than the fact Joel Rosario and Steve Asmussen, the jockey-trainer team that will saddle favorite Epicenter in the Preakness, have already notched two wins, taking Jaxon Traveler to the winner’s circle in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Stakes and Joy’s Rocket in the Grade 3 Skipat Stakes.
Dave Sheinin, National baseball writer
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