The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the Triple Crown over the past year has been indelible. It rearranged the date of horse racing’s premier events in 2020 and limited attendance in 2021. And it may have coincidentally spawned the winner of the 146th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday.
Under normal circumstances, first-place finisher Rombauer likely would have been sold a year ago and under new ownership. Instead, owners John and Diane Fradkin were overtaken with emotion Saturday night as they reflected on the stroke of good fortune that resulted in their Triple Crown win.
“Fate did play a role,” John said at the postrace news conference.
Last March, the Fradkins were preparing to sell Rombauer, who was in Ocala, Florida, at Eddie Woods Stables, in the Ocala Breeders’ Sales for 2-year-olds in training. “We intend to sell all our horses,” said John, who along with Diane entered the race with $517,052 in career earnings. “They’re all aimed for either a yearling sale or a 2-year-old sale. We’ve often had better luck at 2-year-old sales.”
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a slowdown in business within the horse racing industry, Woods, the operator of the training facility, advised them to wait and suggested running Rombauer with plans of making a sale after a quality showing.
So the Fradkins sent Rombauer to train at Santa Anita Park in Southern California with Michael McCarthy, whom they met through a referral about a year after he began his own operation in 2014.
“The first reports weren’t positive,” said John, who first purchased Ultrafleet, the granddam of Rombauer, for $10,500 in 1993. “I was hearing he had no speed, and that’s really not what you want to hear when you want to win early with a 2-year-old.”
Rombauer won his first race July 25 on the turf at Del Mar but there weren’t any big offers for the colt, due to a poor speed rating and a Beyer figure of 48. As it turns out, the Fradkins learned two weeks later that a new timing system installed at Del Mar resulted in improper ratings, and the lack of interest in the horse.
“That was another lucky break because if the real time was given to the horse, he probably would have sold,” John said. “We probably would have sold him in that time period.”
The Fradkins continued to race Rombauer and he won a fees-paid entry into the Preakness by way of a first-place finish in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 13.
After the race, John revealed that he and McCarthy had a “heated discussion” over whether to run Rombauer in the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday of May. McCarthy said he was “bullish” on running Rombauer in the Derby, “but I’m glad we got it done today.”
“The Fradkins have a small breeding operation,” he said. “They’re passionate about it. They make informed decisions, to say the least. They put a lot of time and effort into it. As John once told me one time: ‘I have a lot more time to study this stuff than you do.’ And he was right.”
As the result of the race sunk in for the Fradkins, Diane was in tears, repeating that she couldn’t believe it.
“It’s really been exciting,” she said. “When we went out to visit him in Kentucky of his yearling year, he just had a special look, look of eagles about him. He was attentive. He was showing off in the paddock. He just had that look.”
While much of the leadup to the race surrounded the controversy of a failed test from Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and owner Zedan Racing Stables, it was ultimately the small-operation commercial breeder owners at the winner’s podium.
“I’m so happy for the Fradkins,” McCarthy said. “It just goes to show you that small players in the game can be successful, as well.”
Baltimore Sun Media reporter Katherine Fominykh contributed to this article.