Perfect trip gives Early Voting a Preakness score

In a Triple Crown season marked by the Derby winner’s skipping the Preakness, it was a horse who skipped the Derby who took down the Preakness.

For the second time in five years, Baltimore native Seth Klarman will see his red-and-white colors painted on the cupola weathervane in the Pimlico infield, the traditional memento for the Preakness winner. And this one came on his birthday.

“Winning once was like the dream of a lifetime, and winning twice is beyond belief,” Klarman said. “It’s an extraordinary experience.”

Klarman’s runner, Early Voting, stalked the early pace and then surged to a 1 ¼-length victory in Saturday’s 147th running of the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, turning back the belated bid of post-time favorite Epicenter to win in 1:54.54 over a fast main track.

“We thought he needed a little more seasoning,” Klarman said of the decision to bypass the Run for the Roses. “The extra rest would help him – 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.”

Five years ago, Klarman, who races as Klaravich Stables, sent out Cloud Computing to win this race, and the similarities between the two were remarkable. Both arrived off a defeat in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, New York’s major prep race for the Kentucky Derby, and both were making just the fourth starts of their career.

“With both horses, it’s also important to know that they’re coming out of the Wood, and giving them time, but they’re lightly raced horses,” Brown said.

In Saturday’s Preakness, it was 18-1 shot Armagnac, arriving off an allowance score, who grabbed the early advantage. While Early Voting had led throughout his prior starts, in this contest jockey Jose Ortiz was willing to cede the advantage and instead attain a stalking position.

“Honestly, I was never worried,” Brown said. “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.”

Klarman said that the pair had discussed the plan to cede the lead, and when Armagnac cleared to the lead, he had a wry comment.

“Down the backside, we looked at each other and he said, ‘Well, you got your wish. So let’s see if he  runs,’” Brown remembered. “It unfolded perfect.”

Armagnac tugged the field through a half-mile in 47.44 seconds and three quarters in 1:11.50. Early Voting was 1 ½ lengths back of the leader after a half-mile and had tightened the margin to a half after three quarters.

The ideal trip Ortiz gave his mount was one key to Early Voting’s victory. The other was Epicenter’s travails.

Epicenter, the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby and off as the 6-5 choice here, was a step slow leaving the gate, got squeezed back, and he and jockey Joel Rosario found themselves in eighth place in the nine-horse field. That left him with a lot to do – more, it turned out, than he could accomplish though he did close willingly.

Epicenter became the first runner since Improbable in 2019 – and one of the few ever – to go off the favorite in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but lose both. Trainer Steve Asmussen put the blame squarely on the trip, and rider Joel Rosario.

“Disappointed, you know what I mean? Where he was early, and they go 24-and-1 [for the opening quarter-mile], he just left him way too much to do,” Asmussen said.

Rosario admitted the trip did not work for his mount.

“He was fine with [being inside], but if I had another opportunity, I wouldn’t have been inside,” he said.

The additional time between races – the Wood was April 9 – allowed Early Voting to continue to develop. He worked strongly, breezing weekly starting April 23 and concluding with a five-furlong move May 13. That one went in 1:00 ⅗ at Belmont Park, the fastest of 11 at the distance.

“My horse has honestly been working unbelievable,” Ortiz said.

Still, that Ortiz was aboard Early Voting was, perhaps, a sign of its own of the runner’s readiness. Ortiz had ridden the Antonio Sano-trained Simplification in the Kentucky Derby, that runner turning in a willing fourth-place finish.

“I was very confident,” Ortiz said. “I had to jump off Simplification, who ran a huge race [in the Kentucky Derby]. But I felt like I’m going to jump off a good horse to ride the horse that is going to win the Preakness.”

When the field straightened away for home, Early Voting kicked away and led by more than three lengths leaving the furlong grounds. Epicenter, slipping through inside, made a willing run. But Ortiz sealed off the rail late, and in moments, Epicenter was out of time.

Creative Minister, the Ken McPeek trainee who was supplemented to the Triple Crown series for $150,000, went off at 10-1 and finished third, 2 ¼ lengths behind Epicenter. That allowed his connections to collect $181,500, showing a slight profit on the Crown transaction.

Early Voting, off as the third choice, returned $13.40 to win. The exacta paid $12.90 for one dollar.

Secret Oath, the filly bidding to give trainer D. Wayne Lukas his record-tying seventh Preakness victory, made a bold middle move into contention from last but flattened out to be fourth.

In a race that most observers had handicapped as a four-horse affair, perhaps the biggest surprise was the indifferent performance of Simplification, who finished sixth. But trainer Antonio Sano said the horse had an excuse.

“The horse bled in the race,” he said. “I’ll send him to the farm for a rest right now. He never bled; it was the first time.”

It was also a race in which betting patterns consumed a lot of attention. Fenwick, 50-1 on the morning line – “[W]atch the last race, he needs to be 80-1,” his trainer, Kevin McKathan said Monday – was mystifyingly in single digits on the toteboard for much of the day. He went off at 13-1, the second-longest shot on the board. Fenwick finished ninth.

It’s unlikely that Early Voting will head to the Belmont Stakes, however. Klarman suggested the distance might be too much, and Brown indicated the Travers is the likely target. That decision ensures that for the fourth consecutive year, each leg of the Triple Crown will be won by a different horse.

But no one was too worried about what was next this evening. Winning the Preakness is one accomplishment that stands on its own.

“It’s amazing,” Ortiz, who won the Middle Jewel for the first time, said. “This race is a dream come true for any rider, you know? It’s a Triple Crown race.”

  • Early Voting won the Preakness. Photo Allison Janezic.
  • Early Voting won the Preakness. Photo Allison Janezic.
  • Early Voting won the Preakness. Photo Allison Janezic.
  • Early Voting at Pimlico. Photo by Allison Janezic.
  • Early Voting at Pimlico. Photo by Allison Janezic.
  • Early Voting at Pimlico. Photo by Allison Janezic.
  • Early Voting won the Preakness. Photo Allison Janezic.