Brandt said he has taken a similar path in horse racing as he did working in the telecommunications industry.

"I knew what I wanted to do, but in order to get there, I had to do a bunch of different jobs until I had a good picture of what they did in a phone company," Brandt said. "Gradually, I got to where I wanted to be. I didn't want to own a horse unless I knew how to pick its foot or know what happens all day long."

Though he grew up on a farm in Montana where his sister had a couple of quarter horses, Boylan had more interest in politics than the ponies. That has changed over the years.

"Steven has supported my passion in politics all this time, and now, if he's not watching horse racing, he's watching MSNBC," said Boylan, 57. "I started off being supportive seeing how much he loved [horse racing], and now I'm wrapped up in it."

Said Brandt: "As I'll watch the breeze videos [workouts of horses] for the sale, we sit down and watch them together and he'll say, 'I don't like that horse's gait.' I'm like, 'Seriously?' I'll go back and look at it and think: 'How did I miss that?' "

Keefe said Brandt continues to grow as an owner.

"He does his homework. He likes to learn as much as he can. ... He's got certain specifics, as a lot of people do when they're buying a horse on pedigree," Keefe said. "Steven has his own preferences. He likes to go look at them physically with Linda or with me. He comes up with what he sees and then he questions me and tries to understand it a little better."

Memories of Shirley

Despite her early protestations about her teenage son's betting on races, Shirley Brandt was supportive of his becoming a full-time horse owner nearly a decade ago, as well as his relationship with Boylan.

Even as her health began to fail, Brandt's mother was his biggest fan.

"I was visiting up there, and Linda called me and said she was thinking of nominating this horse [Kid Cruz] to the Triple Crown series," Brandt recalled. "I had not even told [my mother] about the horse because she wasn't totally lucid. I told her that we bought a horse back in November and we were nominating it for the Triple Crown, and that's when she perked up and said: 'You're going to win one.'"

Shirley Brandt died Jan. 30 from pulmonary fibrosis. She was 77.

"She would go to the race track when she was younger, before she got sick," Brandt said. "Even the August before she died, we had a horse run at Charles Town and he won, and she was there in her wheelchair. We told the jockey, if he won, to stall, because it was going to take a while for my mom to get out there."

Trainer Steve Spears had the winners'-circle picture blown up. It now hangs in the living room of Brandt's family home in Frederick, to go along with smaller photos from other winners' circles involving horses owned by Brandt and Boylan.

Not that Shirley Brandt understood the magnitude of some of her son's victories.

"If she ever knew how much it cost to do this, she would probably roll over," Brandt said. "I would have liked her to experience this."

Brandt's father, Robert, a retired Safeway meat cutter who now volunteers at Frederick Memorial Hospital, will be holding his first-ever Preakness party Saturday at the family's home in Frederick. The only one missing will be his late wife.

"This race is for her," Robert Brandt said.

For Steven Brandt, this week's buildup has been a bit surreal. He attended his first Preakness in the early 1980s, then took Boylan with him to a couple more. They started in the infield, then gradually made it up to a box as they got more involved in the business.

"I said to Ric, 'I wonder when I'm going to wake up,' " Brandt said. "I can't believe this is happening."