Schmuck: Triple Crown season turns bittersweet with Cloud Computing's win

If the 142nd running of the Preakness proved anything, it was that there's a fine line between a sweet underdog story and a total buzzkill.

Long-shot Cloud Computing stalked the two horses that got all the attention during Preakness Week and stole the second jewel of the Triple Crown, which made for a nice little narrative featuring a soon-to-be Hall of Fame jockey and an owner who grew up in the shadow of Pimlico Race Course.

Always Dreaming, meanwhile, missed its appointment with destiny and let some of the air out of the Belmont Stakes three weeks from now, while second-favorite Classic Empire enjoyed the lead down the stretch just long enough to make for a bitter defeat.

There will be no Triple Crown this time, but it's not like anyone should expect to see one every other year. The racing world waited 37 years to witness American Pharoah's amazing run in 2015, so a second one in such a short period would have been a rare thing indeed.

Instead, Cloud Computing co-owner Seth Klarman got to enjoy the greatest moment of his horse racing career at the track where he developed his love for the sport. And veteran jockey Javier Castellano celebrated his third Preakness win just a few months before he will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Aug. 4.

It is this dichotomy that makes the Preakness so intriguing and beguiling. The Kentucky Derby produces the Triple Crown candidate each year and the second jewel determines whether that horse will get a chance to go down in history as one of the greatest of all time.

So, yes, when Always Dreaming went out fast and came home slow, it was a huge letdown that will impact national interest in the Belmont Stakes. But that has been the norm for a very long time, and let's not fool ourselves — it wasn't like the next three weeks were going to be a garden of human interest delights.

Classy trainer Todd Pletcher has met every media obligation during the nearly two weeks he has spent in Baltimore, but he's a low-key media guy and he tried hard to keep the peace around Always Dreaming. Colorful owners Anthony Bonomo and Vincent Viola would have been making a triumphant return to New York, but their story has already been thoroughly explored.

Always Dreaming put on quite a show in Kentucky and seemed to be in good position to follow that up Saturday. But the quick two-week turnaround obviously caught up with him down the stretch and he surrendered the exciting duel with Classic Empire, fading to an eighth-place finish.

Moments after the race, Cloud Computing's trainer Chad Brown conceded during an NBC interview that his horse won the Preakness because it skipped the Kentucky Derby and came to Pimlico hoping to take advantage of the tired favorites.

"Certainly, I won't dispute the fact that we brought in a fresh horse as part of our strategy," Brown said. "Our horse is very talented, too, but Classic Empire and Always Dreaming are two outstanding horses. Our strategy was if we are going to ever beat them, stick 'em on two weeks' rest and we have six, and it worked."

Somewhere, California Chrome owner Steve Coburn must be feeling vindicated. He embarrassed himself after the 2014 Belmont Stakes by complaining bitterly about the common practice of entering fresh horses in the later Triple Crown races to ambush the Derby winner. He called it "the coward's way out."

Coburn eventually apologized for his heat-of-the-moment comments, but he wasn't wrong on the facts. The reason why there have been so few Triple Crown winners is partly because of the tremendous challenge of taking on all comers in such a tight time frame.

Pletcher and Always Dreaming's other connections embraced that challenge and did not voice any complaints afterward, instead acknowledging how tough it is to win two Triple Crown races in the span of two weeks.

"We were in the position we expected to be and I think the turnaround was a little too quick," Pletcher said. "He ran so hard in the Derby and today just wasn't his day."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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