Although the betting market in Saturday’s $1.65 million Preakness (G1) at Pimlico proved a bit odd in the eyes of prognosticators, the end result was more than logical. Justifying connections’ decision to bypass the Kentucky Derby (G1) two weeks ago, Early Voting captured the second leg of the Triple Crown by 1 1/4 lengths over 6-5 favorite Epicenter.
It was the second Preakness win for owner Seth Klarman, who grew up near Pimlico and was celebrating his 65th birthday on Saturday, and trainer Chad Brown. The pair also teamed up to win the Preakness in 2017 with Cloud Computing, who similarly bypassed the Derby despite having earned enough qualifying points to enter. It was jockey Jose Ortiz’s first Preakness win.
A lightly-raced colt from an outstanding initial crop by 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, Early Voting entered the Preakness with just three prior starts. He used his natural early speed to win his debut at Aqueduct in December going a mile, and then wired the field in Feb. 5 Withers (G3) by 4 1/2 lengths going 1 1/8 miles. In his most recent start, the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2), Early Voting led for nearly every jump except the last few, losing to Mo Donegal by a neck.
Displaying little public enthusiasm at pursuing the Kentucky Derby in the weeks and days leading up to it, Klarman and Brown ultimately decided to pass that race and point to Pimlico.
“We thought he needed a little more seasoning and that the extra rest would help him,” Klarman said. “As it turned out, that was was the right call, because the pace in the Derby was kind of suicidal. He probably would not have done that well.”
The pace of the Derby was indeed the fastest in its long history, and it set things up for Rich Strike, an 80-1 outsider, to run down Epicenter, who was favored at Churchill Downs, too.
This Preakness was the first since 1985 not to have attracted a non-injured Derby winner, the connections of Rich Strike feeling he would do better waiting the five weeks between the Derby and the Belmont S. (G1). Regardless, Epicenter was expected to be, and was, the favorite among Preakness bettors, thought the tote provided some surprises. The most notable were the final odds on Fenwick, who started at 13-1 off a morning line price of 50-1, and Happy Jack, a Derby also-ran who started at 11-1 off a 30-1 morning line price.
Early Voting started at 5-1, just behind Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath in the wagering, who started at the same price. The only other horse among the field of nine in single digits was Derby fourth-place finisher Simplification, who started at 8-1.
Over a track that was very kind to horses on or near the lead for nearly all the main track races Saturday, Early Voting settled into an ideal stalking position in second behind Armagnac, who set a pace of :24.32, :47.44, and 1:11.50.
One of the more surprising trips in the Preakness was Epicenter’s. Breaking from post 8 under Joel Rosario, Epicenter was taken to near the back of the field passing the stands and had only Secret Oath beaten heading into the first turn. It was a far cry from the tactics that earned him victories in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2) earlier in the season.
In prime position to pounce throughout, Early Voting did so approaching the turn for home while drifting out. Easily dispensing with Armagnac, Early Voting kicked clear to a 3 1/2-length advantage in mid-stretch. Epicenter, who was forced to rally up the rail, was the only horse to make up any appreciable ground late. But it was all Early Voting, who registered a comfortable victory in a time of 1:54.54 over a fast track on a hot day when the mercury reached the mid-90s, and returned $13.40 to win.
“We always knew he was very talented, but we also knew he was going to be a late developer,” said an emotional Ortiz. “We were always very high on him.”
Epicenter, who joined Phalanx (1947), My Dad George (1970), Easy Goer (1989), and Bodemeister (2012) as horses who finished second as the favorite in the both the Derby and Preakness, was 2 1/4 lengths clear of Creative Minister, who was making his stakes debut Saturday in his fourth career start.
Secret Oath, who endured a rough passage passing the stands for the first time, made a five-wide move into contention on the far turn, but hung through the stretch and finished fourth. She was followed by Skippylongstocking, Simplification, Armagnac, Happy Jack, and Fenwick.
While the 1 1/2-mile Belmont on June 11 is expected to feature Rich Strike, Klarman said it was unlikely Early Voting would point for the final classic.
“I’m not sure he’ll get a mile and a half,” Klarman said. “Obviously there are some big races over the summer to choose from.”
Bred in Kentucky by Three Chimneys Farm, Early Voting was produced by the Tiznow mare Amour d’Ete, a half-sister to 2004 champion sprinter Speightstown and a full sister to the Grade 2-winning Irap. All were reared by Canadian champion juvenile filly Silken Cat.
Early Voting sold for $200,000 at Keeneland September and has now earned $1,311,500.