BALTIMORE — For so long in the 142nd Preakness — more than a minute, even — the prospect of a Triple Crown still burned. Then, at the top of the stretch, it didn’t. Then, for so much of the stretch, a fresh validation for the embattled Kentucky Derby contender Classic Empire looked nigh.
Then, it didn’t.
By the time it all cleared in the cool air beneath the clouds, the Preakness had gone to an interloper with three previous races in his lifetime, and the third Saturday in May had wrought a fresh batch of realities, as it reserves the right to do. Kentucky Derby champion Always Dreaming revealed a tank on “E” and sighed to eighth, and the rising 38-year-old trainer Chad Brown had annexed his loudest feat yet. Cloud Computing had looked every bit as rested as six weeks off might suggest as he ignored his 13-1 odds and ran down Classic Empire in the stretch to finish the 1 3/16 -mile race in 1:55.98, a head faster than Classic Empire, with 30-1 long shot Senior Investment running third.
Through the brief, three-race campaign of Cloud Computing, a colt out of Maclean’s Music with Distorted Humor and A.P. Indy as grandsires, Brown had managed his way to his first triumph in a Triple Crown race after seven in Breeders’ Cup races and the 2016 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer. His first Preakness entry had become his first Preakness win and a fourth Preakness winner since 2000 to have skipped the Kentucky Derby, all two weeks after another of Brown’s charges, Practical Joke, had run fifth as Brown’s fourth Kentucky Derby entry.
The Cornell graduate who used to work for training bright lights Shug McGaughey and Bobby Frankel had accessed another rung of the game, to hear him tell it.
“Absolutely,” Brown said. “Such a rare race, Triple Crown race, and a huge part for me, for our team, for our clientele.” He then noted that the Preakness had eluded Frankel, the winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes and four Breeders’ Cup races, and said, “I feel this is for him, at least from my viewpoint. And without his mentorship I certainly wouldn’t be here.”
That left Always Dreaming trainer Todd Pletcher, whose $338 million in earnings soar past all others, in a situation similar to his first try at this with a Derby winner, in 2010. Then, Super Saver finished eighth, while Lookin At Lucky won aboard a new jockey, Martin Garcia. This time, Always Dreaming finished eighth, while Cloud Computing won aboard a new jockey, Javier Castellano, who had opted off of Gunnevera, his seventh-place Derby finisher, toward Cloud Computing, and said, “Well, I think I have a lot of confidence with this horse.”
Back then, Pletcher said, “He tried hard. It was a little quick for him. I wouldn’t trade the Derby for anything.”
On Saturday evening, Pletcher said, “We didn’t have an excuse,” and, “He ran so hard in the Derby, and today just wasn’t his day,” and, “He didn’t seem to relish the track, but I really don’t think that was it. It was just that he put so much into the Derby that it wasn’t meant to be.”
It didn’t necessarily start out that way Saturday evening for Always Dreaming, a horse whose upward bolt seemed full of momentum when he won the Florida Derby by five lengths April 1 and the Kentucky Derby by 2¾ on May 6.
Even with a trainer who generally likes more time than the two-week gap between these two classics, Always Dreaming engaged Classic Empire in the two-horse race many had anticipated, with the former sent off at 6-5 and the latter at 2-1. It’s just that they engaged it too soon, of course. By the time they passed Pletcher and much of the crowd of 140,327 the first time, Pletcher thought Always Dreaming seemed to be “dragging” jockey John Velazquez and seemed to be on a “loose rein.”
“I knew I was in trouble on the backstretch,” Velazquez said, “when the other horse got to him, almost head to head, and engaged him. I knew he didn’t have it.”
By the top of the stretch, everyone knew, and Classic Empire set out alone. But the Preakness came to tell another story, and that involved Seth Klarman, who owns the colt with William Lawrence. They had watched Cloud Computing’s first three races, all this year at Aqueduct, and had noted his excellent look and his capacity to overcome hard starts. He had finished first, second and third — third behind Irish War Cry and Battalion Runner on April 8 in the Wood Memorial.
Klarman, also a Cornell graduate, and a Boston-based investment-firm honcho, had grown up “three blocks from here,” in his telling, and had “started out as a teenager handicapping” and “enjoying the puzzle of trying to figure out who might win a race.” Career-wise, he specializes in “patient long-term investments on behalf of our clients,” he said, while of horse racing, he said, “This is gambling.”
He started that “gambling” 25 years ago, and concluded, “This is the culmination of 25 years of hard work and learning and trying to figure this game out,” uttering this after a Preakness so few had figured out.