The restraint showed by owner John Fradkin earlier this season with Rombauer paid off handsomely when his homebred colt rallied for a decisive victory in the $1 million Preakness S. (G1) at Pimlico on Saturday under jockey Flavien Prat.
Admitting in the lead-up to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown that he had taken Rombauer out of consideration for races like the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita and the Kentucky Derby (G1) because they had come up too tough, Fradkin settled instead for having a fresh horse for the Preakness, for which Rombauer had earned an automatic entry with a victory in the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
“I think if a horse runs his best race ever, he should be earning money,” said Fradkin, who bred and owns Rombauer with his wife Diane, earlier this week. “I felt that probably would not have happened in the Robert B. Lewis and it probably wouldn’t have happened in the Kentucky Derby either. We could have run our best race ever and wouldn’t have made any money. So that’s why we’ve chosen the path we’ve chosen.”
Passing on the Kentucky Derby after finishing an even but not competitive third in the April 3 Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland behind eventual Derby favorite Essential Quality, Rombauer trained up to this 1 3/16-mile test for the past six weeks and started as the 11-1 fifth choice in the field of 10.
Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Medina Spirit, who was relatively cool in the wagering but eventually started as the 2-1 choice, was hustled to the lead as he had been at Churchill Downs. Second choice Midnight Bourbon, who was off slow in the Derby and finished sixth, got a much better start this time and stayed a half-length behind Medina Spirit through a quarter in :23.77 and a half-mile in :46.93. Meanwhile, Rombauer had settled into sixth between rivals heading down the backstretch.
Medina Spirit came under pressure from Midnight Bourbon passing the six-furlong mark in 1:10.97, by which time Rombauer had advanced clearly into third while no one else was gaining ground from behind. Midnight Bourbon poked his head in front of Medina Spirit turning for home, and it briefly appeared the race might come down to a duel between the two favorites.
Rombauer, however, had other plans — and fresher legs. Rallying outside Midnight Bourbon to take command passing the eighth pole, with Medina Spirit weakening along the inside, Rombauer romped home by 3 1/2 lengths over Midnight Bourbon, with Medina Spirit two lengths farther behind in third.
Trained by Michael McCarthy, who was winning his first classic with his first Triple Crown race starter, Rombauer paid $25.60 after completing the course in 1:53.62 over a fast track. The order of finish was rounded out by Keepmeinmind, Crowded Trade, Unbridled Honor, France Go de Ina, Risk Taking, Concert Tour, and Ram.
“It’s hard to believe. You work hard to get to days like this,” an emotional McCarthy said after the race. “To enter a horse into a Triple Crown race for the first time, and get lucky enough first time out of the box, is pretty special.
“I’ve been bullish on the horse all along. He’s lightly-raced this year. I definitely thought the distance would be well within him.”
For Prat, this was his second classic following the 2019 Kentucky Derby, which he won aboard Country House via disqualification.
A winner on debut over the turf at Del Mar last July, Rombauer finished sixth in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf in his next start, and then was beaten less than a length in the American Pharoah (G1) on dirt. He concluded his first campaign with a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland.
Scratched in early February from the Robert B. Lewis, won by Medina Spirit, Rombauer was re-routed to the El Camino Real Derby a week later and won by a neck after overcoming an 11-length deficit. He’s the fourth winner of that race to win the Preakness, the others being Tank’s Prospect (1985), Snow Chief (1986), and Tabasco Cat (1994), all of whom won the El Camino Real Derby in its pre-synthetic incarnation at the now-defunct Bay Meadows.
The Preakness was the first victory on dirt for Rombauer, who’ll carry a record of 7-3-1-1, $890,500 into his next start.
“We’ll definitely see how we come out of this and give a long, hard look at the Belmont (G1) in three weeks’ time,” McCarthy said.
Bred in Kentucky, Rombauer was produced by Cashmere, a Cowboy Cal half-sister to the classy turf sprinters California Flag and Cambiocorsa. The latter has reared Grade 2 winners Moulin de Mougin and Schiaparelli.