Future Hall of Fame trainer Chad Brown is best known for his prowess with grass horses. Now, it can also be said that he sure knows his way to the Preakness Stakes winner’s circle.
Brown captured the middle jewel of the Triple Crown for the second time in five years when Early Voting, masterfully ridden by Jose Ortiz, repelled Epicenter by 1 ¼ lengths on Saturday at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.
Brown used a formula strikingly similar to the one he followed when Cloud Computing gave him his first Triple Crown victory in 2017. Each colt received its early development through races in New York and bypassed the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
Each made only its fourth start in the Preakness in winning for owner Seth Klarman of Klaravich Stables, who grew up three blocks from Pimlico. In the case of Early Voting, he provided one heck of a 65th birthday present for Klarman when he turned back Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter.
Ortiz, shedding tears of joy, praised Brown and Klarman for their shrewd handling of the son of Gun Runner. “They had enough points to go in the Derby and they passed. It’s very hard to pass on the Derby,” he noted. “They did the right choice by the horse. I don’t think he was seasoned enough for a 20-horse field. They proved they were right today.”
Klarman also pointed to the decision to skip the Derby, despite all of its prestige, as pivotal. Early Voting had missed by neck to Mo Donegal in the April 9 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct.
“He was 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 and we would probably have not done that well,” he said. “We wanted to do right by the horse and I’m so glad we waited.”
Creative Minister, supplemented for $150,000 to boost the Preakness purse to a gaudy $1.65 million, justified the faith of his connections and trainer Kenny McPeek by snagging third. Secret Oath rallied from last of nine to be fourth for legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas. She was bidding to become the seventh filly to win the Preakness in the race’s 147-year history.
Skippylongstocking, Simplification, Armagnac, Happy Jack and Fenwick completed the order of finish. Early Voting completed the mile and three-sixteenths in 1:54.54. He paid $13.40 for a $2 win wager.
Many observers expected Early Voting to seize the early advantage and attempt to take the field gate to wire. The key, though, turned out to be Ortiz’s willingness to tuck in behind early pacesetter Armagnac as that allowance winner took the field through an opening quarter-mile of 24.32 seconds and a half-mile in 47.44.
“Honestly, I was never worried. Once we had a good target, I actually preferred that,” Brown said. “We were fine going to the lead, but I thought down the backside it was going to take a good horse to beat us. And a good horse did run up on us near the wire, and that was about the only one that could run with us.”
It appears highly unlikely that Early Voting will go on to the June 11 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. The marathon will feature 80.80-1 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike who was, indeed, the beneficiary of an impossible early pace in the run for the roses.
“I’m not sure he will go a mile and a half, but that’s Chad’s call,” Klarman said. “But I think he will develop even more. He’s gotten better every single race.” Brown, who grew up near Saratoga Race Course in Mechanicville, N.Y., pointed to the Runhappy Travers Stakes on Aug. 27 as a primary target. The “Mid-Summer Derby,” a race he covets, has been maddeningly elusive.
Klarman purchased Early Voting in the name of Klaravich Stables for $200,000 at Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale. In a prime example of the patience that is one of the keys to Brown’s success, the youngster did not make his debut until Dec. 18. He won a maiden race at Aqueduct by a length and a half for Ortiz, his only rider throughout his brief career.
Early Voting slogged through the mud to win the Grade 3 Withers Stakes by 4 ½ lengths on Feb. 5 at Aqueduct. He set the pace in the mile-and-an-eighth Wood Memorial only to be run down by Mo Donegal in the final strides of the Grade 2 contest.
That exasperating defeat convinced Brown that the 3-year-old had a tendency to wait on rivals. He began working him behind horses in the morning to allow him to grow accustomed to chasing a target if that scenario developed in the Preakness.
Ortiz executed the plan to perfection.