Preakness Stakes: everything you need to know as Rombauer runs down Pimlico rivals

By Nicholas Godfrey

So you know controversial Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit was overwhelmed in the stretch as surprise winner Rombauer landed the second leg of the Triple Crown in the Preakness at Pimlico. Here’s some other stuff you might be interested in – plus videos and tweets.

What’s going on?

Baffert horses pass pre-race tests

The 146th edition of the Preakness Stakes was largely overshadowed by the controversy swirling around Bob Baffert following Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s positive post-race test at Churchill Downs for the corticosteroid betamethasone.

LATEST: Churchill Downs bans Bob Baffert for two years after Medina Spirit positive test confirmed

Under an agreement with the Maryland Jockey Club, Baffert’s runners at Pimlico this weekend were allowed to participate only after passing stringent pre-race tests. Baffert himself did not travel to Baltimore, leaving his senior assistant Jimmy Barnes to do the honours.

Horse Racing Rombauer Flavien Prat Preakness Stakes
Rombauer (Flavien Prat) wins the Preakness. Photo: Bill Denver/MJC

Medina Spirit run down by Rombauer

Medina Spirit made the running again under John Velazquez with market rival Midnight Bourbon pressing the pace, only to fade into third in the stretch as Rombauer rallied from mid-division to win going away by 3½ lengths. He had never won on dirt before.

Midnight Bourbon, who briefly assumed the lead in the stretch, claimed second a couple of lengths ahead of 12-5 favourite Medina Spirit, whose Baffert-trained stablemate Concert Tour was unable to get near the lead from his wide draw in gate ten and failed to land any significant blow before beating only one home.

Final time was 1m53.62s. The winner was returned just short of 12-1 on the US pari-mutuel.

Rombauer probable for Belmont

Although there was no immediate decision, Rombauer is a likely runner in the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown on June 5. “You’d have to think so,” said trainer Michael McCarthy. “See how he comes out of it, and we’ll take a good look tomorrow.”

Belmont Stakes ruled out for Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat

Owner-breeder John Fradkin added: “All along I actually thought that our best chance of a race to win was actually the Belmont, because I think he’s going to like the distance.

“But now that we’ve won this one, it kind of takes the pressure off to do that, and that race is only three weeks out, and the spacing isn’t superb to go into a mile-and-a-half race with just three weeks of rest.”

First time lucky for McCarthy

Trainer Michael McCarthy was in tears after the $1m event as he made a successful debut in the Triple Crown, having never had a previous runner in any of the three legs.

“So proud of this horse and everybody involved,” said the west-coast trainer. “It means a lot to be here to participate on a day like this.”

McCarthy started training in his own right in 2014. His best horse since then was the brilliant City Of Light, who won the Pegasus World Cup in 2019 after claiming the Breeders’ Cup Dirt MIle. 

Horse Racing Preakness Stakes
Medina Spirit leads the Preakness field at Pimlico. Photo: Bill Denver/MJC

Succeeding where the boss fails

McCarthy was a longtime assistant to seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who has never won the Preakness.

Pletcher, who is among this year’s inductees to the Hall of Fame, saddled sixth-placed Unbridled Honor at Pimlico.  “Everything we do channels through what we did when I worked there. I always try to refer to what he would do,” said McCarthy.  ‘It’s strange to believe I’ve won something that he hasn’t but it means the world to me.”

The record books list McCarthy’s name against a handful of graded winners in 2007 when he was trainer of record while Pletcher was serving a 45-day suspension.

‘Oh what a feeling!’ – Flavien Prat

Rombauer’s jockey Flavien Prat was winning his second Triple Crown race after partnering Country House, promoted to first in the Kentucky Derby of 2019 following Maximum Security’s DQ.

“It does feel different – oh what a feeling!” exclaimed the former French champion apprentice, who moved to the States full-time in 2015 and is now a leading figure in the west-coast jockey colony. The 28-year-old’s sole G1 win in France came on Indonesienne in the 2013 Prix Marcel Boussac.

“When I left France it was to do better than I was doing there,” he added. “I didn’t know the magnitude of the Triple Crown races, but I’ve since realised there is so much history behind them. To win one was amazing – to win the Preakness is even better.”

Horse Racing Rombauer Preakness Stakes Flavien Prat
Rombauer and Flavien Prat after their Preakness Stakes win. Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

Fanfare for the common man

A homebred son of G1 winner Twirling Candy, Rombauer represents owner-breeders John and Diane Fradkin. “It just goes to show you that small players in the game can be successful as well,” commented trainer Michael McCarthy.

“The Fradkins have a small breeding operation. They’re passionate about it. They make informed decisions, to say the least. They put a lot of time and effort into it.”

Rombauer has now won three of his seven career starts, his previous biggest success having come in the El Camino Real Derby, a Listed event on Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields in February.

On his most recent outing, Rombauer was a well-beaten third behind beaten Kentucky Derby favourite Essential Quality in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

A difference of opinion

McCarthy revealed that he had been keen on running Rombauer in the Kentucky Derby, only to be overruled by Rombauer’s owner-breeders John and Diane Fradkin.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m going to give most of the credit to John because I would have preferred to have run two weeks ago,” he said.

“We had a pretty heated discussion about that,” added John Fradkin. “Let’s just leave it at that. You know, I can understand why Michael wanted him to run, but I think he can understand why I didn’t want him to run.

“So I think Michael and I are actually a really good team. I think there’s going to be some clash at times because I come at it from a total handicapping angle, and I’m not a horseman.”

Shall we talk about it?

Michael McCarthy (Rombauer’s trainer): “I thought the horse would run well. Turning up the backside, I was a little concerned. He’s usually a little bit farther back than that.
“Coming through the half-mile pole, looked like the horse was still travelling well. I saw Chad’s horse inside of us going to three-eighths pole, was starting to go up and down, looked at the horses behind us, didn’t see anybody posing a threat behind us. Two horses in the lead, obviously carried each other through the quarter pole. When we wheeled out coming to the three-sixteenths pole, the head of the lane, I started to get excited.
“Watching live, going back to the Jumbotron, when he hit the front, I don’t think I said a word. I certainly didn’t root, at least I don’t think I did. Just kind of watched the horse in a rhythm, him and Flavien.
“The hold card for this horse is his stamina and his smarts. He has both of those. He will, I think, run as far as they write races. But he has no quit in him. All he knows to do is just run, and he lays it down every time.
“He’s made me look smart today. Actually I take that back. I don’t know if he’s made me look smart. Take a little bit more than a racehorse to make me look smart, but he’s made me look good.”

Flavien Prat (Rombauer’s jockey): “I had a great trip. We broke well but I never intend to rush him. Naturally down the backside he was traveling well and was passing horses one by one. So I was pretty confident going to the three-eighths pole, and then as you said, I was behind two – some of the favourites in the race, and I was traveling well, and I thought, well, maybe if he switched it and give me a good kick, I might be able to run them down.”

Steve Asmussen (Midnight Bourbon’s trainer): “Irad gave him a dream trip. When he went under the wire the first time, I was thinking, ‘man, I wish the Derby would have looked like that.’ But he ran hard; he really did. You want to win them all and stuff but I thought he ran extremely well. He showed up and he ran his race; he took it to Medina Spirit. I think he showed some true ability, and he’s a very good horse that’s getting better.”

Jimmy Barnes (assistant to Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert): “It looked like Johnny got him into the spot where he wanted to be. That horse was right on him the whole way and never really gave him a break. It’s tough going back in two weeks off of that race. A little disappointed, but we go on from here.”

John Velazquez (Medina Spirit’s jockey): “I knew he was going to be pressed today and I was hoping he wasn’t going to overdo it but he did. By the quarter-pole, the other horse put his head in front but he kept fighting. He didn’t stop, he just got beat. He kept running – he still finished third. Most horses at the quarter-pole like when they get passed they just give up and he kept running. You gotta give it to him.”

Mike Smith (Concert Tour’s jockey): “As far as Concert Tour goes, I am at a loss for words. He didn’t seem to participate at all down the backside. He just wasn’t going anywhere and when I put my hands down he just backed right off. It was very strange.”

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