JC / Railbird

Preakness Stakes

Feeling Fresh

Cloud Computing earned a career-best Beyer speed figure of 102 for winning the Preakness Stakes by a head over Classic Empire, news delivered to Jay Privman via a text from Andrew Beyer. The colt was assigned a TimeformUS speed figure of 122. “Preakness is not an easy figure to make,” tweeted TFUS figuremaker Craig Milkowski. “Track was changing and route before it (Sir Barton) had slow pace that probably affected time.”

The pace was set by Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Classic Empire, who broke side by side from the gate and then ran the first six furlongs together, matching strides through the first quarter in :23.16, the half in :46.81, and three-quarters in 1:11. The race was over for Always Dreaming before the quarter pole, as he ceded the lead to Classic Empire on the turn into the stretch, who opened up by three lengths on the rest of the field.

Just as it looked as though last year’s juvenile champion and jockey Julien Leparoux had the win, Cloud Computing struck — after stalking the top two with a trip as untroubled as anyone could wish for, jockey Javier Castellano and his mount ran down Classic Empire in the final sixteenth. No excuses for the finish, said Leparoux after the Preakness:

“We had a good trip. We got the trip we wanted, outside Always Dreaming. The only thing is, Always Dreaming backed out of the race early, so I got to the lead early, maybe too early. I got to the lead early, and the winner just came at us at the end.”

It was a valiant effort for the runner-up, considering the way the race unfolded from the start. Conquest Mo Money, widely assumed a likely factor in the early pace, was no factor at all, running in fifth and finishing seventh, and Leparoux had a mission aboard the fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher:

“Second doesn’t mean anything,” the trainer of Classic Empire, Mark Casse, told Leparoux in the paddock before the race. “Let’s go and try to win this thing.”

The winner, making just his fourth career start, skipped the Derby and entered the Preakness with six weeks rest following a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial. That was the plan, said trainer Chad Brown:

“Certainly I’m not going to dispute the fact that I brought in a fresh horse as part of our strategy,” said Brown, last year’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer, who scored his first ever win in a Triple Crown race. “Our horse is very talented, too. Classic Empire and Always Dreaming are two outstanding horses, and our strategy was, if we are ever going to beat them let’s take them on two weeks’ rest when we have six (weeks), and it worked.”

“I have no regrets about missing the Derby,” Cloud Computing’s co-owner Seth Klarman told Bob Ehalt after the Preakness:

“I think possibly some of the reason that we won today was because we were patient and didn’t throw an inexperienced horse against a 20-horse field in the Derby on a very difficult track.”

Being fresh was “clearly a huge advantage,” Bill Finley concludes in his recap:

… a horse that had never won a stakes race and was coming off a modest performance in the Wood Memorial beat a Kentucky Derby winner and the 2-year-old champion in the Preakness. He was fresh. They weren’t. Case closed.

As for the Wood — downgraded to a Grade 2 for its lack of impact in recent years as Derby prep — Cloud Computing’s finish was a better-than-it-looked performance, writes Mike Watchmaker:

When Cloud Computing finished third in the Wood Memorial in his start before the Preakness, he was the victim of a passive ride that found him much farther off the early pace than he should have been. And this approach in the Wood Memorial was egregiously ill-timed because it occurred on a day when the main track at Aqueduct was profoundly biased toward speed horses. In other words, Cloud Computing’s third-place finish in the Wood wasn’t even close to a true representation of his ability. It was actually a good effort considering how he was so up against the bias.

Credit to NYRA handicapper Andy Serling, who touted Cloud Computing before the Preakness, tweeting:

“For those wondering who can beat Always Dreaming in the Preakness, I have two words for you…..Cloud Computing.”

Final time for the Preakness was 1:55.98. Cloud Computing, the sixth-favorite at 13-1, paid $28.80 to win. Here’s the chart (PDF). Watch the replay:

Get a closer look at key moments with the Blood-Horse race sequence gallery.

It sounds as though Cloud Computing, back in his stall at Belmont Park before noon on Sunday, may pass on the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. Brown was non-committal about the prospect on Saturday night:

“We haven’t ruled it out,” Brown said. “We’re just going to evaluate the horse this week and probably by next weekend we may have a decision.”

Todd Pletcher

Always Dreaming finished eighth as the 6-5 post-time favorite. It had to hurt:

A win was all [trainer Todd] Pletcher wanted on Saturday.

He paced in front of his Kentucky Derby winner’s No. 40 stall on Saturday evening, about an hour before the race, chatting on his cell phone as though it was just another day at the office.

He was anxious, he said, but not driven by his highly publicized winless record at the Preakness Stakes. Always Dreaming was only the ninth horse Pletcher had ever raced in the Preakness, and only the second in the past five years.

“I want to win it today,” he said.

Tim Layden also caught up with Pletcher before the Preakness:

“He’s ready,” Pletcher said, gripping a rolled-up program in his right fist. “He’s really ready.”

It wasn’t to be, although the trainer gave the appearance of taking the results about as well as anyone could:

Pletcher was a genuine stand-up guy Saturday, giving a clinic on how to conduct yourself when things don’t go your way by answering rapid-fire questions without the slightest hint of irritation.

“We didn’t have an excuse,” he said:

“We were in the position we expected to be and I think the turnaround was a little too quick. He ran so hard in the Derby and today just wasn’t his day.

“He didn’t seem to relish the track, but I don’t really think that was it. It was just that he put so much into the Derby that it wasn’t meant to be.”

“I was a little concerned coming by the wire the first time. He was there, but it wasn’t like he was dragging Johnny there, actually. It felt like he was on a loose rein by the time they turned up the backside, That’s kind of what we anticipated Classic Empire would do, take it to us, but he just didn’t have that reserve today.”

Jockey John Velazquez kept his post-race quotes brief:

“He just got beat. I didn’t have it. That’s it. I knew I was in trouble on the backstretch when the other horse got to him, almost head to head, and engaged him. I knew I didn’t have it. That’s horse racing.”

More Preakness recaps: Cloud Computing pulls off upset in 142nd Preakness (Baltimore Sun), Cloud Computing wears down Classic Empire in Preakness (Blood-Horse), Cloud Computing edges Classic Empire in Preakness Stakes; Always Dreaming fades (Daily Racing Form), Cloud Computing edges Classic Empire to win Preakness at Pimlico (Washington Post).

Intertwined

A week before the Preakness Stakes, the Baltimore Sun delivers a story on Park Heights, the neighborhood that surrounds Pimlico. Three quotes:

1.

“We’re going to continue to invest heavily in Laurel,” Ritvo says. “Laurel is a much better place to have a year-round facility.”

State law requires the organizers of the Preakness to hold the race in Baltimore, unless there’s an emergency. But Ritvo says crime and blight are keeping the track in Pimlico from greater success.

“We have more murders around Pimlico than a place like Laurel,” he says. “We had a security guy, 22 years old, get shot in the parking lot. It’s heartbreaking.”

Security guard Kevin Jones was fatally shot in June 2015.

“When we run the Preakness here,” Ritvo says, “we try to get everybody out before it gets too dark.”

2.

City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who represents the area near Pimlico, says a race track renovation plus connected businesses could help spur economic growth in the neighborhood.

Schleifer says the Stronach Group is standing in the way of progress.

“If we found a partner to rebuild that facility, you would see private investment come in on every corner,” he says. “These guys are holding Park Heights hostage.”

3.

Losing the Preakness would be a huge blow to the neighborhood’s rebirth, he says.

“If you had the Super Bowl in your backyard every year, you would never let it go,” Hurley says. “I don’t understand how anybody could be OK with it going to Laurel.”

Read more: Here’s a good overview of the money and politics involved at the Maryland Reporter. The Stronach Group is committed to keeping the Preakness in Maryland, if not at Pimlico, Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra says.

From the department of far-fetched ideas: A New Jersey state senate candidate sees opportunity for Monmouth Park. “Pimlico is struggling to keep up its end of the bargain … let’s edge them out. With the right investments, Monmouth Park has the potential to be the new home of the Preakness.”

5/17/17 Addendum: So, about the Preakness moving to Laurel …

The subject is bound to stir powerful emotions, says Anirban Basu, an economist with the Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group who has studied the Maryland racing industry. But in pure financial terms, he agrees with Ritvo that the Preakness could thrive at Laurel Park.

“I’m not advocating one way or another, but I don’t see any reason the race would not work much better at Laurel,” Basu says. “It’s a more upscale track, the MARC station is right there, there’s more parking and it’s in closer proximity to BWI and the D.C. airports. I very strongly believe the race at Laurel would be a more upscale affair that would attract more well-heeled patrons from around the nation and the world.”

On the other hand, the event would sacrifice some of its tradition and its quirky juxtaposition of corporate tents and college debauchery on the infield, he says.

“It would be more of a corporate race at Laurel,” he says. “At Pimlico, it’s more of a populist affair.”

From the archive, about that “populist” aspect: Whose Party? (5/12/15)

And here’s a stinging Baltimore Sun editorial taking the Stronach Group to task on the idea of moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico to Laurel:

It might well be smarter to talk about an entirely new Pimlico rather than investing in renovations …

But as for the wisdom of investing in Pimlico, we would note that the good condition of Laurel and deteriorating one of Pimlico didn’t happen by accident. It is the result of a deliberate strategy by Stronach and its predecessors to consolidate operations and investments in Laurel …

Rather than warning that it would require a “huge” commitment of state resources to keep the Preakness at Pimlico — and not acknowledging the “huge” amount of money the state is already sending their way as a result of the legislation that legalized slots and casino gambling — Stronach officials ought to be focused on finalizing an agreement with the Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Development Corp. on a second phase of the Pimlico study.

Royal Mo Settles In at Pimlico

It’s quiet at Pimlico, and that’s why Always Dreaming shipped in early for the Preakness. Royal Mo did too, getting his first tour of the place on Wednesday morning, as captured in the very peaceful short video below that acted (for me) as a delightful antidote to all the recent non-racing news:

His exercise rider is 17-year-old Taylor Leatherman, who would like to be a jockey. “He’s a super cool horse,” she said of her new ride:

5/14/17 Update: An unfortunate development — Royal Mo suffered a right front sesamoid fracture while working at Pimlico early on Sunday morning. Jockey Gary Stevens heard a pop; he pulled the colt up and held the leg. Royal Mo has been transported to the New Bolton veterinary hospital.

5/15/17 Update via Jeremy Balan on Twitter: “John Shirreffs just got an update on Royal Mo. Surgery @ New Bolton successful. A long way to go to recover. Racing career officially over.”

5/18/17 Addendum: She didn’t ride him for long, but Leatherman’s time with Royal Mo has had its rewards. The aspiring jockey credited trainer John Shirreffs with some of her newfound skills; he praised her work as “perfect.”

Empire Maker, Bodemeister, and Always Dreaming

Bodemeister before the 2012 Kentucky Derby
Bodemeister awaiting the walkover for the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

Always Dreaming is now at Pimlico and trainer Todd Pletcher has sketched out a light training regimen for the Kentucky Derby winner, reports David Grening:

Pletcher said Always Dreaming would simply jog Wednesday morning at Pimlico before beginning to gallop on Thursday. He reiterated Tuesday what he said Sunday morning — that the horse would not have a workout before the Preakness.

“I’m not going to breeze him no matter what,” Pletcher said. “He’s fit, that’s not an issue. Two mile-and-an-eighth races and the Derby and now back in 14 days, I don’t see any reason to do anything.”

His win last Saturday sent me searching for things to read about both his sire, Bodemeister, and grandsire, Empire Maker, a son of Unbridled. Bodemeister finished second as the post-time favorite in the 2012 Kentucky Derby to I’ll Have Another after flying through the first six furlongs in 1:09.80, pressed by Trinniberg. Pat Forde recounts how he finished the race:

Yet instead of hitting the cardiovascular wall, Bodemeister actually opened up the lead in the stretch, threatening to shatter the barriers of equine endurance and defy more than a century of established Derby precedent.

“What kind of horse is this?” wondered Churchill Downs executive and resident Derby authority John Asher.

“The term that came to my mind was ‘Freak,’” said former trainer Elliott Walden, now president and CEO of WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky. “To run those fractions and then open up at the top of the lane, it was just incredible.”

(Bodemeister stands at WinStar.)

It was the way Bodemeister re-broke that flashed into my mind when Always Dreaming crossed the wire 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Lookin at Lee after chasing State of Honor through a swift first four furlongs in :46.53. It wasn’t that his final fraction was impressive (not at :26.32), but rather the stamina on display — it reminded me of American Pharoah, who’s by Pioneerof the Nile, another son of Empire Maker, and it was no surprise that in my searching, a relevant, prescient post by Sid Fernando popped up. Writing about owner Ahmed Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert, and the Unbridled line, Fernando observed:

Perhaps all of this will coalesce in a Derby victory for the owner, trainer, and sire line.

Spoiler! It did — American Pharoah was just two months old and three years away from winning the Triple Crown when Fernando wrote this piece in 2012.

It was via Fernando that I read this 2008 Jack Werk column about Pioneerof the Nile that included this detail about the 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up:

“I’m really high on this colt,” he said. “The big thing with this colt is his tremendous lung capacity, and that’s really important for the Derby. In fact, I’m so high on the sire that we’re sending Indian Blessing and some other top mares to Empire Maker.”

Empire Maker is now the 15th stallion to sire two or more sons who would produce Kentucky Derby winners, according to Blacktype Pedigree. “I think we can now officially refer to Empire Maker/Unbridled (also sire of Unbridled’s Song)/Fappiano as a hot two-turn Classic dirt sire line,” writes Bill Oppenheim.

It’s all an interesting fulfillment of the promise that Lauren Stich saw in Empire Maker back in 2007, at the beginning of his stud career:

Like A.P. Indy, Empire Maker not only has an impeccable pedigree, he also should be an important source of stamina in this country, a rare commodity in this era. While runners by Empire Maker should only improve with age and distance, some will certainly have tactical speed. Unbridled may be revered as a strong source of stamina, but he did thrash champion Housebuster going seven furlongs in the Deputy Minister Handicap at Gulfstream Park. And, thus far, the brilliant Unbridled’s Song has been Unbridled’s best son at stud, and is more of a speed than stamina influence.

Empire Maker’s offspring should not be as precocious as those of Unbridled’s Song, but they will be more effective at distances longer than one mile. Empire Maker’s runners should relish 1 1/4 miles and beyond, and I expect we will eventually see many of his 3-year-olds succeed in all of the Triple Crown races, possibly even in 2008, and every year thereafter.

It also seems like a good reason to trust Always Dreaming’s fitness for May 20, and that the qualities Kerry Thomas and Pete Denk discerned in the colt in their Brisnet Kentucky Derby analysis will likely hold up for the Preakness:

When rider John Velazquez let him go turning for home, Always Dreaming poured every ounce of emotional energy into his forward drive. He lengthened his stride and pulled away from the field to win by five lengths. This was a more determined, stronger version of Always Dreaming. This is a colt on a serious growth pattern.

His internal fractions of :47.34, :23.59, 24.02, :12.53 show an excellent mix of speed and stamina. His sensory system was still way out in front of his body at the wire (as a horse tires physically, that emotional extension shrinks). We think Always Dreaming is well equipped to get 10 furlongs.

Always Dreaming is a talented horse just coming into his own, getting stronger every race.

Related: Empire Maker’s profile on American Classic Pedigrees. See also, this story about Empire Maker returning to the US in 2015 after standing in Japan.

(Thanks to @superterrific and @jenmontfort for inspiring this post.)

Rivalry

Exaggerator crossing the wire first in the Preakness
Exaggerator wins the 2016 Preakness ahead of Cherry Wine and Nyquist.

Corey Lanerie on runner-up Cherry Wine gives jockey Kent Desormeaux a pat on the back after Exaggerator wins the 2016 Preakness
And Corey Lanerie on the runner-up gives winning jockey Kent Desormeaux a pat on the back as they gallop out after the wire.

Exaggerator gets a Beyer speed figure of 101 for his Preakness Stakes win over Pimlico’s sloppy track on Saturday. TimeformUS gives him a speed figure of 122, the same number assigned Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist for running third, quashing a Triple Crown bid. The two go on to the Belmont Stakes for a rematch in three weeks, and now that Exaggerator has finally beaten Nyquist — in the fifth race featuring the two of them — we have a rivalry.

So, what about the mud? “Thank the good Lord for raining on us today,” said a member of Exaggerator’s ownership team in the winner’s circle. “You have to think that the track means a lot to his performances, but his fast-track performances are not bad, either,” said rider Kent Desormeaux.

And what about the pace? Pretty similar to the Kentucky Derby, with the slight difference that Nyquist pushed to the lead and moved into the front early. He ran the first quarter with Uncle Lino in :22.38, the first half in :46.56, and the first three-quarters in 1:11.97. Here are the DRF incremental fractions:

DRF incremental fractions for the Preakness
View the official Equibase chart (PDF).

Nyquist won the Derby despite chasing a quick first quarter and running his final quarter three seconds slower; it was an impressive performance. In the Preakness, he was tired, and Exaggerator, tracking on the rail, was in place to take advantage. “The colt shimmied up the backstretch like a seal, utterly enjoying it,” and Desormeaux rode with confidence. Watch the Preakness replay, and see how he angles out and into the lead in the stretch:

5/24/16 Update: Nyquist spikes a fever, will skip Belmont Stakes.

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