Michael McCarthy kept a gentle hold on Rombauer as they relaxed after a Sunday morning walk around the shedrow at Pimlico Race Course.
The new Preakness champion demonstrated none of the fire that had propelled him past Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon the previous evening. “I think we might have taken a little starch out of him last night,” McCarthy said.
The 50-year-old trainer, who’d just moved his Triple Crown record to a perfect 1-0, was equally subdued. He couldn’t yet say if the Preakness would go down as a life-changing achievement. On Saturday night, he’d celebrated with a plate of pasta in Little Italy and then gone to bed. Mostly, he wanted to get back to his wife and 10-year-old daughter in California.
“We’ll see,” he said of the impact on his barn, which began with one horse in 2014. “It’s a hard question to answer right now. … It’s great to see this all come together. The horse justified what I thought of him all along.”
Rombauer will ship from Pimlico to Belmont Park on Monday morning. If he continues to recover well from Saturday’s run, McCarthy would like to try him in the June 5 Belmont Stakes. That decision will come after consultation with owner John Fradkin, who kept Rombauer out of the Kentucky Derby against McCarthy’s wishes.
“He’s leaning toward the Belmont as well,” McCarthy said Sunday.
The unimposing bay colt saved the racing world from an awkward three weeks when he blew past Medina Spirit in the stretch. If Medina Spirit had won the Preakness, he would have gone to New York with a theoretical chance to take the Triple Crown for trainer Bob Baffert. But he would have done so under the cloud of a possible disqualification from his victory in the Kentucky Derby. We don’t know when the results from Medina Spirit’s split-sample blood test from Kentucky will come back or whether they’ll confirm his positive for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone. He could still be the Derby champion when the Belmont Stakes goes off on the first Saturday in June.
Baffert will continue to be a controversial figure no matter what, with critics weighing his unmatched record in big races against the string of medication violations he’s piled up over the last three years. With Medina Spirit out of Triple Crown contention, however, he won’t be as front and center in the run-up to the Belmont as he was in the week leading to the Preakness.
On Sunday morning, Baffert’s assistant, Jimmy Barnes, said plans remain up in the air for Medina Spirit, who finished third in the Preakness, and Concert Tour, who finished a disappointing ninth. Both Baffert-trained horses passed three prerace drug tests as a condition for entering Saturday’s race. They boarded a van bound for Churchill Downs on Sunday morning.
With the Medina Spirit question out of the way until Kentucky officials render a final decision on the Derby, the Belmont is shaping up as a talent-filled race without an obvious central story.
Preakness runner-up Midnight Bourbon could be in the field. “Absolutely,” trainer Steve Asmussen said Sunday. “I think he has proven he is more than worthy of consideration for the best 3-year-olds in the country.”
Third-place Derby finisher Hot Rod Charlie could join him as could Essential Quality, who was undefeated and favored going into the first leg of the Triple Crown. Rock Your World, regarded as a serious Derby contender before he was derailed by rough early traffic, is a possibility for trainer John Sadler. Florida Derby winner Known Agenda could be in the race for three-time Belmont winner Todd Pletcher, as could star filly Malathaat, who won the Kentucky Oaks.
If all or most enter, Rombauer would face stronger competition than he did in Baltimore along with the endurance test posed by the 1 ½-mile Belmont.
McCarthy doesn’t seem worried about the second point; he said Rombauer will run all day if asked.
“Yesterday, I think when he hit the wire, I don’t think you saw a tiring horse,” he said. “I think you saw a horse who’d found a gear he liked. Once he got there, he stayed there.”
Triple Crown series
153rd BELMONT STAKES
Post time: 6:45 p.m.
TV: NBC (Chs. 11, 4; coverage begins at 4 p.m.)