Early Voting Defeats Epicenter in Preakness


Photo: Skip Dickstein/Tim Lanahan
Early Voting with Jose Ortiz up wins the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course

When trainer Chad Brown watched Zandon  finish a hard-fought third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), the disappointment did not linger too long. 

He knew he had Klaravich Stables' Early Voting  in reserve.

Early Voting charges to the lead at the Preakness
Photo: Skip Dickstein/Tim Lanahan
Early Voting charges to the lead at the Preakness.

"This is a lightly raced horse and when you start participating in the Kentucky Derby enough, you realize what a tough race it is with 20 horses," Brown said. "As a trainer you have to deal with the aftermath and sometimes it's not pretty, physically or mentally. It can cost you a good part of the 3-year-old year if you swing and miss ... This horse just didn't have the experience."

Perhaps if he were stabled in a different barn, the speedy Early Voting would have started in the May 7 Run for the Roses after finishing second by a neck in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2). But Brown was not swayed by the temptation.

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He kept Early Voting out of the Kentucky Derby, avoiding the son of Gun Runner's inclusion in a brutal early pace on the first Saturday in May that might have left him gasping for air in the stretch.

Instead, he targeted the Preakness Stakes (G1) and was rewarded for his patience and savvy judgment when Early Voting rolled to a 1 1/4-length victory over favored Epicenter  in the $1,650,000 middle jewel of the Triple Crown for 3-year-olds May 21 at Pimlico Race Course, giving Brown and Klaravich owner Seth Klarman, who celebrated his birthday Saturday, their second classic victory together-both of them coming in the Preakness.

"To win this race on Seth's birthday in Baltimore where he grew up and to be able to deliver a gift like that is hard to explain," Brown said. "When you can deliver a classic win it makes the job worthwhile."

Dick Hageman paints the weathervane at Pimlico Race Course following Early Voting winning the Preakness Stakes
Photo: Chad B. Harmon
Dick Hageman paints the weathervane at Pimlico Race Course following Early Voting winning the Preakness Stakes

For Klarman, a billionaire investor and hedge fund manager who has teamed with Brown to form one of the sport's premier stables, his 65th birthday will be one he will never forget.

"This was extraordinary. It was a brilliantly executed plan by Chad and (jockey Jose Ortiz). It's hard to think of a better birthday," Klarman said. "It's such a wonderful feeling. This sport has a lot of ups and downs but the ups are incredibly sweet."

After his 3-year-old benefited from six weeks of rest, Brown said he would not run Early Voting three weeks from now in the June 11 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) that closes out a Triple Crown chase which lost much of its drama when 80-1 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike 's connections decided to skip the Preakness. 

Instead, Brown would welcome an opportunity to win the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course, giving the Mechanicville, N.Y., native an opportunity to savor the same time of hometown thrill Klarman has enjoyed from his two Preakness wins.

"I know it's a tick farther," Brown said about the Travers, "but I don't think he will have any trouble getting the mile-and-a-quarter. Growing up just 20 minutes from Saratoga, what this race is for Seth, the Travers would be for me. So that's at the top of the list."

The plan that resulted in a second Preakness win for Brown and Klarman was a familiar one. In 2017, they also won the 1 3/16-mile classic with Cloud Computing, a horse who ran in the Wood and was held out of the Kentucky Derby. Both Cloud Computing   and Early Voting were not only New York-based during the winter, but also came into the Preakness with just three career starts. (Cloud Computing raced for co-owners Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence.)

"They were both lightly raced horses. There will be Wood Memorials when we'll run in the Derby, but it depends on the horse," Brown said. "I can't thank my staff enough, especially the winter-time crew. I've always felt that New York is a fine place to develop these kind of horses."

Connections for Early Voting celebrate winning the Preakness Stakes
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Connections for Early Voting celebrate winning the Preakness Stakes

Bred by Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, Early Voting provided Horse of the Year Gun Runner with a classic winner in his first crop. Bought for $200,000 by Triphammer Farm from the Hill 'n Dale Sales Agency consignment at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, his dam, Amour d'Ete, is a daughter of two-time Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Tiznow. Early Voting is the third of six foals and the lone stakes-placed runner for his dam, who also has a yearling filly by Constitution   and a Volatile   filly who was born earlier this year.

From a tactical standpoint, on a steamy 90-degree day in Baltimore, the plan was to use Early Voting's speed to the fullest, preferably with a target he could chase from close range.

That plan also worked to perfection when 17-1 shot Armagnac  rushed out to the lead under Irad Ortiz Jr. and led by 1 1/2 lengths after a half-mile in :47.44, with Early Voting a clear second.

"I told Seth having a target would be better," Brown said, "and down the backstretch we looked at each other and he said 'You're getting your wish."

Meanwhile, the start put 6-5 favorite Epicenter, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, was an extreme disadvantage. Winchell Thoroughbreds' son of Not This Time   was squeezed twice in the early stages and was an uncharacteristic eighth in the field of nine after the opening half-mile.

"When you leave the gate and don't have any position whatsoever and then they throw up a (:24.32) quarter-mile and you are that far behind with a horse who has some pace you are obviously leaving him with too much to do," trainer Steve Asmussen said.

Early Voting and Jose Ortiz win the Preakness Stakes
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Early Voting and Jose Ortiz win the Preakness Stakes

Jockey Joel Rosario said any thought of running with Early Voting early disappeared at the start.

"They cut me off right away and I couldn't get my position. I was unlucky. It was not the trip we wanted," he said.

Up front, after six furlongs in 1:11.50, Early Voting put away Armagnac and surged to the front, with Ortiz taking a few peeks behind him to see what was happening. He loved what he saw.

"When I took a look back at the three-eighths pole, I couldn't believe it," said Ortiz, who collected his second Triple Crown win after taking the 2017 Belmont Stakes with Tapwrit  . "I was just traveling nicely. I knew I was in the right position and I knew the pace was moderate. I wanted to see where Epicenter was at and I wanted to see where Secret Oath  was because I thought she had a shot."

As Early Voting surged to a 3 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole, the only serious threat came from Epicenter, who cut into the margin in the final furlong but fell short by a little more than a length as Early Voting crossed the wire in 1:54.54 on a fast track. He paid $13.40 to win as the 5-1 third choice.

Early Voting with Jose Ortiz, second from left, make their move during the Preakness Stakes
Photo: Skip Dickstein/Tim Lanahan
Early Voting with Jose Ortiz, second from left, make their move during the Preakness Stakes.

"He was moving, moving but the other horse had the jump on us," Rosario said after the Epicenter's second straight runner-up finish in a Triple Crown race.

"The trip adds to it," Asmussen said about back-to-back seconds in Triple Crown races. "It adds to how you feel and not in the right direction."

At least for Winchell Thoroughbreds owner Ron Winchell, there was some consolation in that he owns a major share of Gun Runner, who stands at Three Chimneys. Asmussen trained Gun Runner for Winchell Thoroughbred and Three Chimneys Farm.

Fern Circle Stables, Back Racing, and Magdalena Racing's Creative Minister , a son of Creative Cause   trained by Ken McPeek, was 2 1/4 lengths back in third in his stakes debut.

"He showed he belonged," McPeek said. "Considering his lack of experience, he was fantastic."

Secret Oath, trying to become the seventh filly to win the Preakness, was last after the opening half-mile and rallied mildly before leveling out for fourth, 2 3/4 lengths behind Creative Minister and 6 1/4 lengths behind the winner.

"The fractions being slow like that, it was hard to run (them) down," 86-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas said about the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner who was the 5-1 second choice. "She flattened out a little bit in the last eighth. It wasn't her day."

Simplification , the 8-1 fourth choice, finished sixth and bled during the race.

"I'll send him to the farm for a rest right now. It just wasn't our day but he tried hard," trainer Antonio Sano said.


Video: Preakness S. (G1)