STEPHEN WHY NOT Associated Press
BALTIMORE — Maybe the extra rest isn’t such a bad thing for a racehorse after all.
In the Preakness Stakes which were held without the Kentucky Derby winner because owner Rich Strike felt he needed more time off after his 80-1 upset, Early Voting validated a bold move to skip the Derby and to aim for the return leg of the Triple Crown.
Early voting prevented Charge favorite Epicentre from winning the Preakness on Saturday, rewarding trainer Chad Brown and owner Seth Klarman for their patience. Early Voting trailed the leaders for much of the race before taking first on the final corner and finishing 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Epicenter, which was second like in the Derby.
“We thought he needed a little more seasoning, the extra rest would help him,” Klarman said. “He was raced quite lightly – just three races before today. And it turned out to be the right decision. We wanted to do it right next to the horse, and we’re so glad we waited.”
The original plan in the Preakness was for Early Voting not to wait and for jockey Jose Ortiz to take him on the lead. This seemed especially important on a day when the dirt track at Pimlico Racecourse favored speed and made it difficult for horses to come from behind on the stretch.
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But when Armagnac took the lead, Ortiz set up Early Voting, who still had plenty in the tank before the finish line with Epicenter threatening inside on the rail.
“I was never worried,” Brown said. “Once we had a good target, I preferred that. We were good to go ahead, but I thought it would take a good horse to beat us. And a good horse ran over us close to the wire, and he was pretty much the only one who could run with us.”
After just two Triple Crown winners in the last four decades, Rich Strike owner Rick Dawson received widespread criticism for skipping the Preakness because he felt the horse needed more rest to prepare. at the Belmont Stakes on June 11.
Some of that might be muted following the impressive performance of Early Voting.
“It’s very difficult to pass an owner for the Derby, and they did the right thing,” said Ortiz, who won the Preakness for the first time. “The horse, I don’t think he was seasoned enough to race in a 20-horse field and they proved they were right today. I’ve been on him since he was a baby. We always knew that he was very talented, but we knew he was going to be a late developer.”
Klarman and Brown cast doubt on the possibility of the early vote taking on Rich Strike in the Belmont to make it a Derby and Preakness winners showdown. They said early voting might not be suitable for the Belmont mile and a half.
But Early Voting had no problem with 1 3/16 miles in the Preakness, which was not as fast paced as the Derby.
“It’s just beautiful when a plan comes together,” Brown said.
Early Voting, which went 5-1, gave Brown his second win at Preakness. Cloud Computing, the 2017 winner, is also owned by Klarman’s Klaravich Stables.
“Cloud computing was once in a lifetime and now I have two in my lifetime,” said Klarman, who grew up three blocks from Pimlico and was celebrating his 65th birthday. “Really hard to believe this could have happened.”
Early Voting won the race in 1:54.54 and paid $13.40, $4.60, and $3.60. Epicenter paid $2.80 and $2.40 for venue and show, and Creative Minister finished third and paid $4.20 for show.
Although Epicenter was passed by Rich Strike in the Derby and couldn’t make a similar move in the Preakness, it was a familiar feeling for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Joel Rosario. A disappointed Asmussen said his horse “just had too much to overcome” after a tough start.
“I couldn’t get my position,” Rosario said. “I had nowhere to go. Just stay there and hopefully at some point it opens up. It was really tight all the way.”
Early Voting finished first in a field of nine horses, including Secret Oath, a filly trained by D. Wayne Lukas, and three who returned after racing in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. Secret Oath finished fourth 15 days after winning the Kentucky Oaks.
“She had a great sweeping run,” Lukas said. “It just wasn’t his day.”
Early Voting, a son of Gun Runner, won for the third time in four career races to claim the $990,000 winner’s share of the $1.65 million purse. Asmussen said, “Early voting is the winner of the Preakness and deserves all the credit for doing it — and nothing less.”
The 147th edition of the Preakness took place in near record heat with the temperature climbing to 90 when the horses left the starting grid.