By Bill Finley
The best horse didn't win the GI Preakness S. Saturday. That's not a knock on the victorious Cloud Computing (Maclean's Music). He ran a big race, but he won this not because he was better than Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) or Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile), but because he had what is clearly a huge advantage in horse racing: rest.
I don't get it and I don't like it. But modern day horses and, more so, modern day trainers, just can't handle running horses back in anything less than four or five weeks. Cloud Computing hadn't run in six weeks. The two horses who dominated the wagering–Always Dreaming and Classic Empire–were coming back two weeks after racing in the GI Kentucky Derby. Is there any other way to explain why a horse that was so electric in the Kentucky Derby beat just two horses home in the Preakness or that the 2-year-old champion looked like he had the field put away at the eighth-pole yesterday, but couldn't hold off the late charge of a 13-1 shot whose only prior win had come in a maiden race?
“Certainly,” winning trainer Chad Brown replied when asked by NBC's Bob Neumeier if the extra time helped him. “I'm not going to dispute the fact I brought in a fresh horse. That was part of our strategy. Our horse is very talented, too, but Classic Empire and Always Dreaming are two outstanding horses. Our strategy was that if we were ever going to beat them, let's take them on when they've had two weeks rest and we've had six. And it worked.”
This may have been Brown's finest hour, which is saying something for a trainer who has come as far and as fast as, perhaps, anyone in the sport's history. Cloud Computing had the points to get into the Kentucky Derby field. No one passes the Derby when they can get in the field, but Brown was practical enough to understand that his horse would have been a rank outsider in the Derby field and was an unlikely winner. He and owners William Lawrence and Seth Klarman weren't going to run just because they could.
Coming off a distant third-place finish in the GII Wood Memorial S. Apr. 8, Cloud Computing's defection from the first leg of the Triple Crown barely earned a mention in anyone's Derby coverage. The move gave Brown just what he needed–time. He went to work and brought a better horse to Pimlico than the one who showed little in his third-place effort in the Wood, a race that initially looked like one of the weakest Derby preps run this year.
It all worked out perfectly and Brown picked up his first win in a Triple Crown race. Anyone who had been paying attention already knew he was far more than just a grass trainer, but the Preakness win will definitely put to rest any lingering notions that he can't train a dirt horse.
It was also the first American Classic win for co-owner Seth Klarman of Klaravich Stables, who moved to Baltimore when he was six and has fond memories of going to Pimlico as a child. He's done far better on the racetrack of late than he's done on the baseball field. Klarman is a part owner of the Boston Red Sox, a lifeless, underachieving team going nowhere. (OK, those were the words of a die-hard, disgruntled Sox fan who watched his team get thrashed again yesterday).
The other participant who experienced a shining moment was jockey Javier Castellano. He's regarded as the top jockey in the nation, yet, remarkably, he had won exactly one Triple Crown race prior to yesterday, the 2006 Preakness with Bernardini (A.P. Indy). Castellano took off GII Fountain of Youth S. winner Gunnevera (Dialed In) to ride Cloud Computing, a mildly surprising move since Gunnevera's credentials appeared to stronger than Cloud Computing's. Gunnevera was 11-1 yesterday, two points lower in the odds than Cloud Computing. Likely, the decision had more to do with Brown than Cloud Computing. Obviously, Castellano has tremendous confidence in the trainer and he also needs to keep him happy because of their business relationship. Doing the same for Gunnevera's trainer, Antonio Sano, is not high up on his list of priorities.
The Preakness did not unfold the way most thought it would. Riding the speedy Conquest Mo Money (Uncle Mo), unknown jockey Jorge Carreno did not send his horse once the stalls opened. That left Julien Leparoux, aboard Classic Empire in a bind. If Carreno was not going to do the dirty work softening up Always Dreaming, it was up to him to do it. Leparoux knew he couldn't let Always Dreaming get away, so he pushed Classic Empire and went after his rival right from the start. Though the pace was not lightning fast, Always Dreaming and Classic Empire did battle. It really cost Always Dreaming and it cost Classic Empire enough that he was running on fumes in the last 100 yards.
Meanwhile, Castellano rode the perfect race and his horse got the perfect trip. He stalked the dueling pair from third and when he pushed the button, Cloud Computing was good enough to get past Classic Empire.
As for Derby hero Todd Pletcher, this was a nightmare revisited. This was 2010 Derby winner Super Saver (Maria's Mon) all over again. With a ground-saving, perfect trip, Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby and then came into the Preakness as the favorite. He finished eighth. With a ground-saving, perfect trip, Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby and then came into the Preakness as the favorite. He finished eighth. There's a reason why Pletcher so rarely runs horses in the Preakness. He aims every good 3-year-old in his barn for the Derby and then wants nothing to do with the two weeks and the Preakness.
I yearn for the days when horses were made of something stronger than popsicle sticks, didn't need pampering and could run 25 times a year. But, for reasons I still don't understand, those days are gone. In his fourth lifetime start, 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.