They pulled it off again.
Five years after trainer Chad Brown and owner Seth Klarman took the 2017 Preakness with Cloud Computing, a horse that would never win another race, they targeted the 2022 edition with another fresh but lightly tested contender, Early Voting.
Their horse earned enough qualifying points to run in the Kentucky Derby, but they skipped it, figuring he’d have a better chance in Baltimore against a smaller, more fatigued field. They calculated correctly as Early Voting swept to victory in the 147th Preakness, his fourth career race.
“It’s beautiful when a plan comes together,” Brown said afterward.
The win was a cherished 65th birthday present for Klarman, who grew up three blocks from Pimlico Race Course before he went on to his lucrative career as a Boston-based hedge fund manager. It was the second Triple Crown victory for Brown, a four-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top trainer.
“Cloud Computing was a once in a lifetime,” Klarman said. “And now I have it twice in a lifetime, which is really hard to believe it could happen.”
The bookish, media-shy owner and the prolific trainer have become close as they’ve built a mutually beneficial partnership, and the Preakness has turned out to be their brightest stage.
“I just want to say how happy I am to deliver a classic victory to one of my best friends, Seth Klarman, on his birthday today,” Brown said. “It’s really memorable for me.”
Early Voting was known as a front-runner coming into the race, and he ran out of steam late in the April 9 Wood Memorial, where Mo Donegal passed him. But jockey Jose Ortiz coaxed him to sit behind early leader Armagnac in the Preakness, and his patience paid off. He passed Armagnac at the top of the stretch, with plenty of fuel still in his tank. Epicenter, the 6-5 favorite, tried to move up along the rail to catch Early Voting, but Ortiz closed off his path and held on to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
“Whoever was coming had to come around me,” Ortiz said.
Brown was not surprised to see Early Voting hold off the more experienced and lauded Epicenter. “I said the other day to somebody, he is like a bar fighter,” he said. “He has a good mind on him, but he is going to step into you if you get in his face, this horse.”
Ortiz, a first-time Preakness winner, broke down in his postrace interview, thanking Brown and Klarman for supporting his career and praising their wisdom in looking past the Derby. He felt Early Voting, whom he’s ridden in each of his four career starts, was “not seasoned enough” for the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs.
“It’s very hard to get an owner to pass on the Derby,” Ortiz said. “They made the right choice for the horse.”
Klarman said Early Voting likely would not have reacted well to the torrid early pace in the Derby. “We thought he needed a little more seasoning,” he said. “We thought the extra rest would help him.”
He credited Brown’s “extraordinary” ability for taking in data and feeling his way to the correct plan for a horse.
At first glance, Klarman said the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes would probably be a stretch for his horse, but he had yet to discuss future plans for Early Voting with Brown, who said the Travers Stakes at New York’s Saratoga Race Course might be a target this summer.
Early Voting won in 1 minute, 54.54 seconds and paid $13.40 on a $2 bet to win, $4.60 on a $2 bet to place and $3.60 on a $2 bet to show. Runner-up Epicenter paid $2.80 on a $2 bet to place and $2.40 on a $2 bet to show. Third-place finisher Creative Minister paid $4.20 on a $2 bet to show.
Epicenter’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, could not believe his horse started so sluggishly, falling to eighth place and leaving himself too much work to do at the end. “I was past surprised,” he said. “I was disappointed. You’ve got to leave the gates to have any position whatsoever.”
“I had to go to another plan, which was to be inside the whole race,” Epicenter’s jockey, Joel Rosario, said. “He was fine with it, but if I had another opportunity, I wouldn’t have been inside. It’s not what I wanted, but he dealt with it, and we were making up ground. ... Turning for home, I just couldn’t get to the winner.”
Asmussen said Early Voting deserved all credit for his perfect trip, adding that he would take some solace because the Preakness winner is a son of Gun Runner, one of the trainer’s greatest horses.
There was no Triple Crown bid on the line Saturday. That went out the window nine days before the Preakness, when Rich Strike’s owner, Rick Dawson, pulled him from the field, preferring to rest him for future races.
The Derby champ was 600 miles away on Preakness morning, breezing a brisk half-mile at Churchill Downs as he continued his preparations for a possible run in the Belmont Stakes. Rich Strike was the first healthy Derby winner to skip the second leg of the Triple Crown since 1985.
As if his absence was not enough, the Orioles did their part to upstage the Preakness, announcing Saturday morning that the best prospect in baseball, Adley Rutschman, would make his first career start at Camden Yards at 7:05 p.m., four minutes after post time for the main event at Pimlico.
While the trainers and owners of the nine Preakness horses surely did not care about Adley mania, they did care about the boiling weather in Baltimore, with the high temperature surpassing 90 degrees for the first time in at least 20 Preakness Stakes.
Asmussen said he was “as concerned as you can be” about the sticky heat, noting that it was a variable his powerfully built colt had never confronted.
The weather was far from Klarman’s mind, however, as he processed another victory in his former hometown. He used to walk to Pimlico from his family’s home and watched Secretariat win the 1973 Preakness, two years before he graduated from Poly and moved away. He had no thought that he would return to the race someday with a horse of his own.
“It was not a dream,” he said. “I didn’t think about that. I didn’t think anybody could realistically imagine they would own horses. Horses are expensive, and I didn’t grow up with a lot of resources.”
Could he and Brown pull off their Preakness gambit one more time to go with their wins from 2017 and 2022? “See you in five years,” Klarman joked.
154th BELMONT STAKES
Final leg of Triple Crown series
Elmont, New York
TV: Chs. 11, 4 (coverage begins 5 p.m.)