As post time for Preakness (G1) 147 drew near, bettors recalled the shocking upset two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby (G1) won by 80-1 Rich Strike.
Following their hearts, they bet down 50-1 longest shot Fenwick to 7-1 and 30-1 Happy Jack to 8-1 by the call to post.
But there would be no lightning in the saddle on this warm, sunny day at Pimlico as 7-2 second choice Early Voting broke quickly, took an early lead, stepped back and tracked pacesetter Armagnac into the far turn, then stuffed his ballot box for an easy 1:54.54 victory over the 1 3/16 miles.
Derby runner-up Epicenter, near the back of the pack for much of the early going, took advantage of wearying competitors and space along the rail in the stretch to finish second with the choice of many handicappers, Creative Minister, a fast third.
Secret Oath, seeking to become only the seventh filly to win the Preakness, finished fourth. She started well on the fast, firm Pimlico dirt, but was drawn to the rear early by jockey Luis Saez. A closer, Saez moved her quickly into contention around the far turn, but she was furthest outside and could not make up the lost distance.
Bred for speed and unknown to many, owner Seth Klarman on the advice of trainer Chad Brown chose not to vote his inexperienced son of Gun Runner (out of Amour d’Ete by Tiznow) into the Kentucky Derby field though he was eligible on the strength of a 3:2-1 record. It included a win in the Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct and a runner-up finish in the Wood Memorial (G2) at the same track.
Jockey Jose Ortiz endorsed the plan coming off the track after the victory.
“We knew he was very talented, but that he would be a late developing colt,” explained Ortiz.
He added, as a jockey who may have been disappointed to have missed a chance with a serious Derby challenger: “They [Klarman and Brown] deserve all the credit. It’s hard to get an owner to pass on the Derby. They made the right choice for the horse. They didn’t think he was experienced enough to run in that 20-horse field. Today proved they were right.”
Owner Klarman was rewarded for his hesitance with a Triple Crown Classic win on his 65th birthday. ForBrown, it was a redemption of sorts. His Derby contender Zandon finished third in the Derby and was not saddled for the Preakness.
Dissembling his winner’s Preakness trip, he said “I wasn’t worried. Down the backside, I thought it was going to take a good horse to beat us, and a good horse [Epicenter] did run up on us near the wire.
“This [the Preakness] was our plan B. It’s beautiful when a plan comes together.”
Owner Klarman immediately said there was no immediate future plan for Early Voting’s next race or his summer and fall campaigns. But he did confirm he would not run in the June 11 Belmont Stakes because “[we’re] not sure he’s a mile-and-a-half horse. That’s Chad’s call. He’ll develop more. He’s gotten better with every race.”
Based in New York, this was Early Voting’s first racing venture outside the Empire State. He won his first race at Aqueduct on Dec. 18, then followed with a front running win in the G3 Withers Feb.5. He was taken to the lead similarly in the Apr.9 Wood Memorial but was caught near the finish by Mo Donegal.
Beyond the winner’s tale, the story becomes Epicenter, now 0-2 as the favorite in the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. Trainer Steve Asmussen was denied by a length in the Derby and was closing at the finish to lose again by a length-and-a-quarter to a wobbly-knee d Early Voting.
No immediate next-race plans were announced for dual-Classic runner-up Epicenter, the son of Not This Time, the story so far of his early promising three-year-old season.