With Tale of Verve having been shut out of the Kentucky Derby — judged the 21st-best horse in a field with room for 20 — trainer Dallas Stewart and owner Charles Fipke had all the more reason to celebrate Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
There was no forcing Tale of Verve out of the eight-horse Preakness field, and the morning-line long shot charged down a muddy homestretch past a trio of Kentucky Derby contenders to take second, seven lengths behind Triple Crown aspirant American Pharoah, in his first stakes race.
"Some called us crazy, and Chuck [Fipke] even called me crazy, but I said, 'Listen, you've got a crazy horse. You've got a great horse. You've got to go for it.' " Stewart said.
They did, and after extending Stewart's run of hitting the board with Triple Crown long shots, indicated they weren't done yet.
As Fipke and Stewart took post-race cover in the same paddock where moments earlier they'd replicated a Winner's Circle photo with their horse before the race was even run, they watched a replay of the race — and their horse's promising stretch run.
Tale of Verve charged from dead last at the half-mile mark, and was still closing at the finish line despite being cut off in the homestretch.
They're all but committed to the Belmont Stakes on June 6, but the duo that didn't have a place in the Kentucky Derby sounded like much more than aspiring Belmont entrants.
Fipke said: "I bet you we'll beat [American Pharoah]. I'm sure he will, because he's got more stamina."
"No guarantees," Fipke said after Stewart pulled him back. "American Pharoah is a great horse, but ours is bred to go a mile and a half. American Pharoah is bred to go a mile and a quarter."
Fipke is to thank for that. Tale of Verve was the latest product of the millionaire diamond miner's breeding operation that he kept for his own, and of the 40 foaled during Tale of Verve's season, all of their measurements — GPS monitoring, heart-rate monitors, and of course, the eye test — indicated he was the best they had.
"Then we gave him to Dallas," Fipke said. "We knew we had a good horse before we shipped him out, but we shipped him to the trainer that knows how to get them to the Derby and the Preakness and everything else."
A disciple of legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Stewart saw up close as Lukas trained longshots to Preakness victories throughout his storied career. He has grown into a successful trainer in his own right, with a reputation of hitting the board with Triple Crown longshots.
In 2008, Macho Again went off at 40-1 but took second behind Big Brown in the Preakness. In two straight years — 2013 and 2014 — Fipke and Stewart teamed up to place longshots Golden Soul (35-1) and Commanding Curve (38-1) second in consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
He had designs of doing the same with Tale of Verve. He was a somewhat surprising entrant into the Kentucky Derby, having broken his maiden in a 1 3/16-mile race at Keeneland on April 23 — nine days before the Kentucky Derby. He hadn't run a stakes race, either.
"After he won at Keeneland, I called Chuck and said, 'Listen, you might think I'm crazy, but if he was mine, I'd run him in the Derby,' " Stewart said. Fipke made him explain, and Stewart said "there was no exertion at all out of him" after Keeneland, and he had two strong workouts at Churchill Downs.
"He's all but talking to me — bring it on," Stewart said. "That's the way we read him."
He was 21st on the pre-Derby points rankings used to decide the field, and needed a horse to pull out from the 20-spot field by the Friday morning before the race. None did by the 10 a.m. deadline that day, though three did before post time.
Stewart allowed that he was "maybe a little P.O.'ed" about not running in the Derby.
"We were unlucky [not] to get in the Derby, but we ran well today," he said.
"This is going to be a good horse race come June 6. We'll be ready."