Updated May 21, 2022 at 7:59 p.m. EDT|Published May 21, 2022 at 3:00 p.m. EDT
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.
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.
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.
Early Voting earns comfortable victory in Preakness
Early Voting won the Preakness Stakes in 1:54.54, closing on long shot early leader Armagnac and taking charge down the final stretch. Epicenter, the Kentucky Derby runner-up and Preakness favorite, finished second.
Jockey Jose Ortiz, who wiped away tears after the race, captured his first win at the Preakness Stakes. Creative Minister and Secret Oath, the lone filly, followed Epicenter in third and fourth.
At 86, D. Wayne Lukas takes aim at another Preakness: ‘I’m here to win’
BALTIMORE — They make for quite the pair, the old man and the filly: D. Wayne Lukas in his white Stetson and ostrich-skin boots, Secret Oath with her calm, regal presence as the steam rises from her chestnut coat after a post-workout bath.
He’s 86, a constant presence this week in a folding chair at the end of the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course, his mirrored aviators usually reflecting a semicircle of media members standing before him. She’s three, the Kentucky Oaks champion, sired by the great Arrogate. But the filly infuses the old man with a dose of youthful energy, and the legendary Lukas, in turn, has Secret Oath tuned to perfect pitch ahead of the biggest race of her life.
They have spent much of the past week rescuing the 147th Preakness Stakes from irrelevance. On Saturday evening, they will take their shot at winning it.
Trainer Eric Reed explains Rich Strike’s Preakness withdrawal
Rich Strike’s withdrawal last week from the Preakness renewed debate over the sport’s schedule, which crams its three most important races into a five-week stretch. While the Kentucky Derby-winning dark horse was not seriously expected to contend for the Triple Crown, his absence is perhaps a disappointment for those anticipating an encore upset — a feat considered more challenging given the smaller field, shorter race and tighter turns at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Rich Strike’s trainer Eric Reed told Sports Illustrated the decision was about doing what’s best for the colt. He expanded on that choice in a segment during the NBC broadcast ahead of the Preakness.
“It was the hardest decision I ever made as a trainer,” Reed said. “I didn’t want to ruin the Triple Crown. I didn’t want to show a lack of respect to anybody. But it always came down to Richie. I work him 10 days apart, not seven. I train him the way he wants to train, not my way. So, I’m a big hypocrite if I don’t do what’s right for Richie, and it was not right for Richie to run back in two weeks.”
Mandaloun’s handlers cited the racing schedule when they decided that the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner would skip last year’s Preakness. The 2019 Derby winner, Country House, was withheld from the Preakness after showing signs of illness, and 1996 winner Grindstone did not race in Pimlico after suffering a bone chip in his right knee.
How to build the best trifectas and superfectas for the Preakness Stakes
This year’s Preakness Stakes has just a modest nine-horse field, and the odds are dominated by a few horses. Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter is the obvious favorite at the second leg of the triple crown, yet his expected short price by post time makes it difficult to include him at the top of any exotic wager such as the trifecta or superfecta. It is also too risky to leave him completely off your ticket, forcing us to go lean and not allow our tickets to get bloated with too many horses.
A trifecta ticket — picking the first three finishers in the correct order — can be made for as low as 50 cents, while a Preakness superfecta ticket — picking the first four finishers in order — can be put together for just 10 cents. That allows for more horses to be included in hopes of scoring a big payout. And lately, there have been some monster payouts. Last year’s superfecta paid $102.55 on a 10-cent ticket, even with two short-priced horses in the second and third spots. The year before, the superfecta paid $505.30, with the favorite coming in second.
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.
Here is the horse that can beat Epicenter at the Preakness Stakes
Epicenter is an overwhelming favorite in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. Steve Asmussen’s brown colt has navigated his 3-year-old campaign with aplomb, finishing first or second in four straight graded stakes races, including a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He even paired his past two speed figures, each calculated at 101 per Brisnet, a sign of peaking form.
Still, it’s okay to not want to commit wagering dollars on a near even-money favorite. (Epicenter is 6-5 on the morning line.) Instead, let’s consider backing Simplification, a horse that is flying under the radar with a résumé that is much better than it looks.
Simplification began his 3-year-old campaign with a front-running four-length victory in the one-turn-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He then finished second in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at the same track, followed by a 3½-length victory in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes, also at Gulfstream Park. He finished third in the Grade I Florida Derby, his final prep before the Kentucky Derby. Simplification finished fourth in the Derby, but he had a horrible trip, depressing his final speed figure (98 per Brisnet).
As Rich Strike skips the Preakness, sports should remember less can be more
For an encore, Rich Strike will rest. Go ahead and enjoy the Preakness Stakes without him. Maybe he’ll spend Saturday in his stall watching video loops of his far-fetched Kentucky Derby triumph.
The absence of an 80-1 Derby miracle worker with dubious Triple Crown prospects won’t force horse racing, desperate for a fresh approach, to get serious about change. But it should. The issue is also bigger than debate about the prudence of cramming the sport’s three most important events into a five-week schedule at a time when thoroughbreds don’t respond well to quick turnarounds. Step back, and you see examples throughout sports of tradition hindering logic, and the pursuit of revenue — particularly television and streaming dollars — leading to oversaturated products and reckless decision-making.
Rich Strike is the rare Derby winner whose trainer decided it would be too taxing to compete in the second leg of the Triple Crown. The concern of owner Rick Dawson and trainer Eric Reed, amid their most joyous moment, is almost as stunning as the upset. They don’t measure success by Grade 1 victories, not if they come at the expense of a horse’s health. Reed may never have another 3-year-old like Rich Strike, but the trainer won’t use that as permission to milk this experience.
“I can’t do anything but what’s best for the horse,” Reed told Sports Illustrated. “If we flop and he gets hurt, they’ll forget we were even there. I’ve got to remember it’s about him. If it starts being about us, that’s a problem.”
It’s a lesson that should be recited before every competition. A sport is only as good as its participants. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about racehorses or athletes. It’s about them, their bodies and their spirit, both in the present and the future.
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.
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