BALTIMORE – Maybe extra rest isn’t so bad for a racehorse after all.
In the Preakness Stakes, which was played without the Kentucky Derby winner because Rich Strike’s owner felt he needed more time out after his 80-1 upset, early voting confirmed a bold decision to skip the derby and aiming for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
The early vote kept hard-nosed favorite Epicenter from winning Saturday’s Preakness and rewarded trainer Chad Brown and owner Seth Klarman for their patience. Early voting followed the leaders for much of the race before going for first at the final corner and finishing 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Epicenter who finished second as in the Derby.
“We thought he needed a little more spice, the extra rest would help him,” Klarman said. “He was quite easy in the race – only three races to go today. And as it turned out, that was the right choice. We wanted to please the horse and we are so glad we waited.”
The original plan in the Preakness was that early voting shouldn’t wait and that jockey Jose Ortiz should put him on top. That looked particularly important on a day when the dirt track at Pimlico Race Course favored speed and made it difficult for the horses to come up the track from behind.
But as Armagnac jumped to the front, Ortiz deposed Early Voting, who had plenty left in the tank before the finish line while Epicenter threatened on the rail.
“I never worried,” Brown said. “As soon as we had a good goal, I actually preferred that. We were good at going up front but I thought it would take a good horse at the back to beat us. And a good horse ran up to us near the cable and it was about the only one that could ride with us.
After only two Triple Crown winners in the last more than four decades, Rich Strike owner Rick Dawson was widely criticized for skipping the preakness because he felt the horse needed more rest to adjust to the Belmont Stakes on June 11th.
Some of that might be toned down after Early Voting’s impressive performance.
“It’s very hard to get an owner to pass the Derby on and they made the right choice,” said Ortiz, who won the Preakness for the first time. “The horse, I don’t think it was experienced enough to run in a 20 horse field and they proved today that they were right. I’ve been on him since he was a baby. We always knew he was very talented, but we knew he was going to be a late developer.”
Klarman and Brown doubt the possibility of Early Voting taking on Rich Strike at the Belmont to make it a showdown between the Derby and Preakness winners. They said early voting may not be appropriate for the mile and a half Belmont.
But early voting had no problem with 1 3/16 miles in the Preakness, which didn’t have a lightning fast pace like the Derby.
“It’s just nice when a plan works out,” Brown said.
Early voting, which ended 5-1, gave Brown his second Preakness win. Cloud Computing, the 2017 winner, is also owned by Klarman’s Klaravich Stables.
“Cloud computing was once in a lifetime and now I have it twice in a lifetime,” said Klarman, who grew up three blocks from Pimlico and celebrated his 65th birthday. “Really hard to believe that could have happened.”
Early Voting won the race in 1:54.54 and paid $13.40, $4.60 and $3.60. Epicenter paid $2.80 and $2.40 for the seat and show, and Creative Minister came third, paying $4.20 for the show.
Although Epicenter was passed by Rich Strike in the derby and couldn’t make a similar move in the preakness, it was a familiar feeling for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Joel Rosario. A disappointed Asmussen said his horse “just had too much to overcome” after a bumpy start.
“I couldn’t get my position,” Rosario said. “I had nowhere to go. You just have to stay there and hopefully eventually it will open. It was very tight the whole time.”
Early Voting took first place in a field of nine horses including filly Secret Oath trained by D. Wayne Lukas and three who came back from racing in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. Secret Oath finished fourth 15 days after winning the Kentucky Oaks.
“She put on a big, sweeping run,” Lukas said. “It just wasn’t her day.”
Early Voting, a son of Gun Runner, won for the third time in four career races and took the winner’s share of $900,000 of the $1.65 million prize pool. Asmussen said, “Early Voting is the winner of the Preakness and deserves all the credit for it – and nothing else.”
The 147th edition of the Preakness took place in record-breaking heat, with the temperature rising to 90 by the time the horses exited the starting gate.