'Beautiful When A Plan Comes Together': Early Voting Defeats Favored Epicenter In 147th Preakness - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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‘Beautiful When A Plan Comes Together’: Early Voting Defeats Favored Epicenter In 147th Preakness

Early Voting and Jose Ortiz are 1 1/4 lengths clear of Epicenter at the finish of the Preakness, with Creative Minister third and Secret Oath fourth

Getting a perfect trip under Jose Ortiz, Klaravich Stables' Early Voting tracked pacesetter Armagnac, took command rounding the stretch turn and held off favored Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter to win the 147th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.

The winner is trained by Chad Brown, who opted to keep the Gun Runner colt out of the Kentucky Derby and point for the Triple Crown's middle  jewel, which happened to fall on the 65th birthday of Seth Klarman, a Baltimore native who operates Klaravich Stables. Brown followed a similar pattern to the one he employed five years earlier when Cloud Computing won the 2017 Preakness for Klaravich and William Lawrence. Both horses came into the Preakness off non-winning efforts in the G2 Wood Memorial (Cloud Computing was third, Early Voting second), run six weeks prior.

“Winning once was like the dream of a lifetime and winning twice is beyond belief,” Klarman said during the Preakness trophy presentation. “It's an extraordinary experience. I give all the credit to Chad Brown for getting the horse here and ready to run a big race and, of course, Jose Ortiz did a masterful ride. It's just great to be back in Baltimore today.”

“We thought he needed a little more seasoning, the extra rest would help him,” Klarman said of the decision to bypass the Derby even though Early Voting had enough qualifying points to make the field. “He's pretty lightly raced, only three races before today. And as it turned out, that was the right call because the pace in the Derby was kind of suicidal, so he probably would not have done that well. We wanted to do right by the horse and we're so glad we waited.”

Klarman indicated the June 11 Belmont Stakes would be unlikely for Early Voting, though said it would be Brown's call.

Early Voting finished 1 1/4 lengths clear of Epicenter, the 6-5 favorite, with $150,000 supplemental entry Creative Minister another 2 1/4 lengths back in third. G1 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath finished fourth after trailing the field early, with Skippylongstocking fifth, Simplification sixth, Armagnac seventh, Happy Jack eighth and Fenwick last in the field of nine 3-year-olds.

Jose Ortiz, Chad Brown and Seth Klarman hoists the Preakness trophy

Early Voting, bred in Kentucky by Three Chimneys Farm, where Gun Runner stands at stud, was a $200,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase from the consignment of John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency. Produced from the Tiznow mare Amour d'Ete, Early Voting ran 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:54.54 and paid $13.40.

“It's a dream come true,” said an emotional Jose Ortiz, who was winning his first Preakness with his fifth attempt. “It's amazing to share this moment with my family, my mom, my dad, I know they're watching, and my wife and my kids are here.

“Chad and Seth have been very supporting of my career since day one,” Ortiz continued. They deserve all the credit. They had an option to run in the Derby and they passed. It's very hard to get a winner to pass on the Derby and they made the right choice by the horse. I don't think he was seasoned enough to run in a 20-horse field, and they proved that they were right today.

“I've been on him since he was a baby,” Ortiz added. “We always knew he was very talented but we knew he was going to be a late developer. He's always been very nice. We've always been very high on him.”

Jose Ortiz, overcome with emotion, following the win

Rich Strike, the 80-1 upset winner of the Kentucky Derby, was not in the starting gate for the Preakness. Instead, he was 600 miles away, stabled at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and preparing for the June 11 Belmont Stakes. In fact, on Preakness morning, Rich Strike breezed a half mile in :47.20.

Owner Rick Dawson and trainer Eric Reed announced five days after the Run for the Roses that the son of Keen Ice would skip the Triple Crown's middle jewel and point for the mile and one-half Belmont.

“Skipping the Preakness was still one of the toughest decisions I had to make as a trainer,” said Reed, who stood alongside owner Rick Dawson for Saturday's Churchill Downs breeze. “I just don't think he would've been mentally ready to run against those horses again.”

Rich Strike became the first healthy Kentucky Derby winner to bow out of the Preakness since 1985 when Spend A Buck's connections successfully chased a $2 million bonus for winning three races in New Jersey along with the Kentucky Derby. Spend A Buck bypassed both the Preakness and Belmont.

Three years before that, Gato Del Sol skipped the Preakness after winning the 1982 Derby because his trainer, Edwin Gregson, felt the race did not set up well for him. He would finish second in the Belmont to Conquistador Cielo.

Twenty-three years before Gato Del Sol, 1959 Derby winner Tomy Lee returned to California after the Derby and raced later in the year. He was the fifth Kentucky Derby in the 1950s to bypass the Triple Crown's middle jewel, following Count Turf (1951), Hill Gail (1952), Determine (1954) and Swaps (1955).

More recently, Country House, the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner via disqualification of Maximum Security, came out of that race with a physical ailment and never raced again. Grindstone, the 1996 Derby winner, was retired after coming out of the race with a knee fracture.

D. Wayne Lukas, the 86-year-old Hall of Fame trainer, was aiming for his seventh Preakness win, which would have tied him with 19th century horseman Robert Wyndham Walden and Bob Baffert for the most victories in the race. 

G1 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath was Lukas' record 46th Preakness starter dating back to 1980 when he saddled Codex to an upset victory over the filly Genuine Risk. Secret Oath, the 56th filly to race in the Preakness, was attempting to join Swiss Skydiver (2020), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Nellie Morse (1924), Rhine Maiden (1915), Whimsical (1906) and Flocarline (1903) as the only fillies to win it. Kentucky Derby winners Genuine Risk (1980) and Winning Colors (1988) finished second and third, respectively, as betting favorites.

Odds for this edition of the Preakness left some horseplayers scratching their heads. Epicenter, as expected, was the 6-5 favorite off his strong performance in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Steve Asmussen. Early Voting, the second morning line choice at 7-2, went off as a 5-1 overlay. Two of the horses considered rank outsiders on the morning line, Fenwick (50-1) was bet down to 13-1, and 14th-place Derby finisher Happy Jack (30-1 morning line) went off at 11-1. Another longshot, Skippylongstocking, 20-1 on the morning line, was 12-1 when betting closed.

When the gates opened at the top of the Pimlico stretch, 18-1 outsider Armagnac was rushed from the No. 7 post position to seize the early advantage, going the opening quarter mile in :24.32 under Irad Ortiz Jr. Early Voting settled in second, rating just behind the leader and to his outside through a half mile in :47.44 and six furlongs in 1:11.50.

Epicenter, breaking from the eight post, was devoid of early speed and wound up on the rail, ahead of just one horse, the filly Secret Oath.

Going into the far turn, Jose Ortiz put some pressure on his brother aboard the front-runner, and Early Voting took command at the top of the stretch, the mile clocked in 1:35.55. Epicenter made up ground along the inside racing toward the far turn, but had to await racing room rounding into the stretch and had too much to do as Early Voting opened up a 3 1/2-length lead at the top of the stretch.

Preakness chart

“Disappointed, you know what I mean?” Asmussen said of Epicenter's trip. “Where he was early, and they go 24-and-1 [seconds for the first quarter-mile]. He just left him way too much to do. You've got to leave the gates. They go 24-and-1. If you don't leave the gates, you get one option. First time by, and you saw where he was, he just had too much to overcome to be right at a length at the wire – giving too much away.

“I was past surprised. I was disappointed. You've got to leave the gates to have any position whatsoever. When they throw up 24-and-1, and you're that far back with a horse that obviously has pace and just gave him too much to do.”

Epicenter cut into the margin in the final furlong but was never a serious challenge to the winner.

“Early Voting is the winner of the Preakness and deserves all the credit for doing so, and nothing but,” Asmussen added. “The silver lining on that is Gun Runner (trained by Asmussen) is probably the greatest sire of all time. He's incredible.”

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown has now won two of the last five editions of the Preakness

“Honestly, I was never worried,” Brown said of Early Voting's triumph. “Once we had a good target, I actually preferred that. We were fine to go to the lead but I thought down the backside it was going to take a good horse to beat us. And a good horse (Epicenter) did run up on us near the wire, and that was about the only one that could run with us.”

Brown, who was voted Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer in four successive years from 2016-'19, heaped praise on the team that found Early Voting at the Keeneland sale.

“For our sale team, to give some acknowledgment, Mike Ryan and his wife, Mary, they're a huge part of scouting these horses for us and bringing them to my attention,”  he said.

“And our vet team at Rood & Riddle, led by Scott and Debbie Pierce and all the other members there, are a huge part of our team as well,” he said. “It's a tall order to go to the Keeneland September sale with 5,000 horses there and narrow it down to really what we're looking for. That's our big draft, you know, like you'd have in any other sport.

“They're really crucial people I just named in identifying and then vetting the horses and such. And the horse went down to Niall Brennan, another partner of ours on our team, for the early training, him and his team. Did a fabulous job. Niall identified very early — even this was a later horse, but this horse had plenty of ability. He has always liked him, and I want to give him credit as well.

“This is such a memorable win, Seth and Beth Klarman's second Preakness win here,” added Brown. “Seth grew up three blocks from the racetrack, and it's just beautiful when a plan comes together.”

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