Preakness Winner Early Voting To Skip Belmont Stakes, Runner-Up Epicenter Doubtful For Third Jewel - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Preakness Winner Early Voting To Skip Belmont Stakes, Runner-Up Epicenter Doubtful For Third Jewel

Early Voting wins the Preakness

Preakness (G1) winner Early Voting was back in his stall at Belmont Park by mid-morning Sunday, some 15 hours after scoring a 1 ¼-length victory over Epicenter, the 6-5 favorite, in Saturday's middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

Trainer Chad Brown traveled from Baltimore to New York overnight and was at Belmont Sunday to oversee what is typically a busy morning of timed workouts for horses in his stable. During a brief break, Brown said that Early Voting, owned by Seth Klarman's Klaravich Stables came out of the race in good condition.

Brown said Sunday morning that Early Voting will not be pointed toward the June 11 Belmont Stakes (G1), the third jewel of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park. He said he was undecided where and when Early Voting would run next, while still savoring his trainee's big day at Pimlico.

“We are thrilled with the victory,” Brown said. “I'm proud of the horse. Proud of my team. It was a super memorable day, especially being on Seth Klarman's birthday in his hometown. Everything lined up. I'm just so appreciative for the day, the performance.”

Brown and Klarman won the Preakness for the second time in five years by using the same formula: skipping the Kentucky Derby (G1) with a promising, stakes-tested but lightly raced colt to focus on the Preakness. In 2017, Cloud Computing gave Brown his first victory in a Triple Crown series race. Like Cloud Computing, Early Voting was given a break after finishing second in the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.

“He's only run four times and he's done everything we asked him to do,” Brown said. “He breaks good from the gate. He makes his own trips. He carries his speed a route of ground. He's a fighter in the stretch. He deserves all the credit here.

“He's been extremely cooperative to work with. He's super intelligent. You train him to do something, and he does it,” he added. “I couldn't be more proud of this horse. He deserves a lot of accolades.”

Early Voting was the third choice in the wagering in the nine-horse Preakness field and paid $13 to win. He completed the 1 3/16 miles in 1:54.54.

Belmont 'A Stretch' for Preakness Runner-Up Epicenter

Ron Winchell, owner of Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness runner-up Epicenter, remarked before Pimlico  middle jewel of the Triple Crown how elusive the 3-year-old classics have been for his family.

That sentiment was compounded Saturday evening, after Epicenter rallied behind a slow pace to finish 1 1/4 lengths behind triumphant Early Voting. The winner and jockey Jose Ortiz took the lead heading into the far turn after being closest to the soft pace set by long shot Armagnac. Meanwhile, Epicenter, who broke with the field but then was squeezed back, was eighth of nine in the early stages, needing to find running room as Joel Rosario picked his way through horses before making a run at Early Voting in the final eighth of a mile.

It was the second-straight year that Winchell and trainer Steve Asmussen had finished second in the Preakness, following Midnight Bourbon's loss to the late-running Rombauer in 2021. In that case, Midnight Bourbon pressed a fast pace and was run down late.

“It's a little tough getting second two years in a row,” Winchell said Saturday evening. “Like I said before, these Triple Crown races are ever-eluding for us. …We're going to try every year. But this guy had all the makings of what it takes to win.”

Winchell now is 0 for 4 in the Preakness, with two seconds and a third. His late father, Verne, finished fourth with his only Preakness starter.

The consolation for Ron Winchell is that he campaigned and still co-owns with Three Chimneys Farm the stallion Gun Runner, the sire of Early Voting. Gun Runner already has five Grade 1-winning sons and daughters, a champion and now a classic winner, from his first crop.

“Let's turn the page to Gun Runner, because he looked unbelievable – just like he's always looked,” Winchell said. “Look, we got beat. Getting beat by a Gun Runner makes it a little less painful.”

Winchell speculated that the two-week turnaround from Epicenter's three-quarters of a length defeat in the Kentucky Derby to 80-1 shot Rich Strike, did not work in his colt's favor Saturday.

“I don't think he benefited from the two weeks,” Winchell said. “He looked a little flat. The quarter going in :24-and-1 and he's way back after that. He didn't seem like the same horse. That's just what I'm seeing on the surface.

Winchell expressed doubt that Epicenter would go on to the Belmont Stakes.

“I would say that's a stretch at the moment,” he said. “He had six weeks between the Louisiana Derby (G2) and the Derby, and that did him well. I think there might have been five weeks between the Risen Star (G2) and the Louisiana Derby, and that did him well. Just looking at how he came back fresh, that seems to be the recipe at the moment. But at least a Gun Runner won.”

Winchell speculated that a race such as Monmouth Park's Haskell (G1) or Saratoga's Travers (G1) could be the next target, with the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland in early November a logical objective.

“We'll turn the page and see where we want to go from there,” he said. “But that's probably the long-term goal.”

Scott Blasi, chief assistant trainer to Asmussen, said Sunday morning that Epicenter came out of the Preakness in good order. He said Epicenter and his stablemates at Pimlico would van back to Churchill Downs on Monday morning.

Asmussen ran seven horses in six stakes over Preakness weekend, with two wins, two seconds and two thirds.

Creative Minister Likely for Third Jewel of Triple Crown

Fern Circle Stables, Back Racing LLC and trainer Kenny McPeek's Creative Minister, who finished third in the  Preakness , will be pointed toward the Belmont .

McPeek said the colt will likely have a couple of half-mile breezes before the third jewel of the Triple Crown, noting that the son of Creative Cause's breeding could make him a contender in the race.

“He's out of a Tapit mare and Tapits love the Belmont,” McPeek said. “That's the plan.”

Creative Minister earned $181,500 for his third-place finish after his owners put up a $150,000 supplemental fee to make their late-developing colt eligible for the Preakness.

The gray/roan son of Creative Cause will stay at Pimlico for a day or two, McPeek said Sunday, before shipping to New York. The Belmont, run at 1 ½ miles, is the longest of the Triple Crown tests.

“I just think he'll like the added ground, as long as he handles the surface up there,” McPeek said.

Creative Minister made his first career start on March 5 at Gulfstream Park, finishing second by a neck. He broke his maiden on April 9 at Keeneland, came right back to impressively win an allowance race on the Kentucky Derby Day program and stepped up to the Preakness.

“In the classic 3-year-old races, if you've got a good 3-year-old that's doing well, there's nothing to be shy about,” McPeek said. “Although I wouldn't have told you in January and February that this is the colt that I would be bringing, between (graded stakes winners) Smile Happy, Rattle N Roll, and Tiz the Bomb, and even Dash Attack. This horse kind of reminds me of Sarava [his 2002 Sir Barton winner who won the Belmont Stakes at 70-1 odds]. He was a horse so under the radar.”

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was en route back home to Kentucky Sunday with Briland Farms' Secret Oath, the Preakness fourth-place finisher. Lukas said the plan was for the filly to get eight weeks off and then target a series of races against her own sex. They include the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) July 23 and Alabama (G1) Aug. 20, both at Saratoga, and the Cotillion (G1) Sept. 24 at Parx Racing. Her ultimate goal is the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland in November.

Daniel Alonso's Skippylongstocking is under consideration for the Belmont Stakes, trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said Sunday morning. The son of 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator, who finished fifth in the Preakness, had previously finished third in the Wood Memorial behind Mo Donegal and Preakness hero Early Voting.

“He ran good enough (in the Preakness) and it might be worth taking a shot at it,” Joseph said. “We won't decide for a week. We'll see how he comes out and see how his energy is and then decide. I think he would get a mile and a half.”

Trainer Antonio Sano reported that Tami Bobo and Tristan De Meric's Simplification will be turned out in Ocala, Fla. for rest and relaxation after it was determined that the Fountain of Youth (G2) winner and fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher had experience exercise-induced pulmonary bleeding during his sixth-place finish in the Preakness.

Trainer Tim Yakteen said Preakness pacesetter Armagnac, owned by SF Racing and Partners, exited his seventh-place finish in good shape and was on his way back home to California.

“We will pick out some races that will be building blocks for him and allow him to develop a little bit,” Yakteen said. “We took a shot. Our next race for him will be to build up his confidence a little bit more.”

Calumet Farms' Happy Jack, who faded in the final furlong of the Preakness and finished eighth, was still on the Pimlico grounds Sunday morning. He is expected to head back to Southern California in the next few days. Trainer Doug O'Neill said the colt will get some time off before a plan is made for his next race. He was one of three Preakness horses – Epicenter and Simplification being the others – that came to Baltimore after running in the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Kevin McKathan said Villa Rosa Farm and Harlo Stables' Fenwick exited his ninth-place finish in good order.

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