Score one for the little guys.
Small commercial breeders Diane and John Fradkin are committed to selling their stock. The pandemic and other circumstances led them to retain Rombauer, and he rewarded them and trainer Michael McCarthy with a stunning 3 ½-length victory against Midnight Bourbon in the 146th Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
“It just goes to show you small players can be successful as well,” said an emotional McCarthy, a former assistant to newly-minted Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, after striking gold with his first starter in a Triple Crown race.
Controversial Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Medina Spirit was again sent to the lead by John Velazquez, but he withered despite comfortable fractions and faded to third. Rombauer, rambunctious before the 1 3/16-mile race but patiently handled by Flavien Prat during it, took command in the upper stretch after Midnight Bourbon had edged past Medina Spirit. Keepmeinmind rallied for fourth.
“There is so much history behind these races,” said Prat, who was born in France. “To win one is amazing.”
The Fradkin’s initially retained Rombauer, a bay son of Twirling Candy, because there was doubt about how brisk business at the sales might be and his dam, Cashmere, had a history of producing precocious babies. They figured his value would only increase.
Sure enough, Rombauer captured his debut on July 25 at Del Mar, eking out a victory by half a length traveling one mile on the turf. The initial time was slow, however. It was only a couple of weeks later that a new timing system was found to be faulty and the time was corrected.
The Fradkin’s had hoped for strong offers for the juvenile after that and were prepared to cash out. No significant offers came.
With each day, Rombauer impressed McCarthy more and more. Soon, the connections were not so eager to sell. The April 7 foal earned $150,500 in a 2-year-old campaign that closed with a fifth-place finish in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
Rombauer opened this season with a flourish, taking the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields to earn fees-paid entry in the Preakness. He again demonstrated quality with a third-place effort in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
John Fradkin and McCarthy readily admitted that they engaged in a heated debate after that as to whether to run in the Derby.
“The Kentucky Derby, obviously, is the greatest two minutes in sports,” McCarthy said. “I would have liked to run.”
John Fradkin saw it differently. “I thought there was a pretty good chance we would not hit the board because of his running style,” he said, “so we did this against less competition and got lucky today.”
Asked whether he had any second thoughts about his decision after Rombauer’s overpowering performance, he replied simply, “None whatsoever.”
Diane also expressed no regrets. “We won the El Camino Real Derby,” she noted. “That was our Derby.”
Rombauer returned $25.60 for a $2 win wager. He was timed in 1:53.62 for the mile and three-sixteenths.
The two-week interval between the Derby and Preakness, normally an exciting period filled with anticipation, brought hard times for racing. Surprising Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a trace amount of the corticosteroid betamethasone, leading Churchill Downs officials to immediately suspend Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert last Sunday and to say that his horse would be disqualified if the split sample that Baffert requested supported the initial finding.
That would cost Baffert a record seventh Derby triumph while Brad Cox, trainer of runner-up Mandaloun, would become the first Louisville native to saddle a Derby victor. In a testament to the rigid oversight of the nation’s premier event, only one positive test ever prompted a disqualification in the 147-year history of the Run for the Roses. That involved Dancer’s Image in 1968.
Baffert initially denied any knowledge of how Medina Spirit might have tested positive. The next day, though, he said he realized that they had used an anti-fungal ointment that contains betamethasone to treat dermatitis on the horse’s hind end.
The draw for Preakness post positions was delayed one day until Tuesday. Baffert agreed to three rounds of pre-race testing in order to be able to enter Medina Spirit and Concert Tour in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown and Beautiful Gift in the George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, a significant race for 3-year-old fillies. Samples drawn on May 6 and May 10 were screened by Industrial Laboratories in Colorado. A third sample, taken on May 11, was sent to the University of California at Davis Maddy Laboratory. All samples tested clean.
In addition, veterinary care of every starter was closely monitored and around-the-clock security was provided to ensure the integrity of the tradition-rich race.