Well-rested Early Voting upsets favored Epicenter to win Preakness Stakes

Maybe there is something to the idea that two weeks’ rest isn’t enough time to run two of the most important races of your life.

Early Voting, coming off six weeks’ rest, upset heavily favored Epicenter to win the 147th running of the Preakness Stakes. It was Chad Brown’s second Preakness victory, having taken the second leg of the Triple Crown in 2017 with Cloud Computing. Seth Klarman, who grew up three blocks from Pimlico Race Course, also was the winning owner that day.

It was the first Preakness win for jockey Jose Ortiz.

“We had a similar game plan to come in here, and Jose executed it beautifully,” Brown said. “I just want to say how happy I am for another Classic victory for one of my best friends Seth Klarman. It’s really memorable for me.”

Early Voting broke sharply but let Armagnac go to the lead, setting up slightly on the outside of him. The pace was very reasonable in the 1 3/16-mile race. Going down the backstretch, it was clear that Early Voting was moving well.

Jockey Jose Ortiz celebrates atop Early Voting after winning the Preakness Stakes. It was Ortiz’s first victory in the Preakness.

(Nick Wass / Associated Press)

Around the far turn, he started to make his move on the outside and took an easy lead at the top of the stretch. However, he appeared to be tiring in the deep stretch and even veered to the inside in front of a late-charging Epicenter. But there was enough clearance that no foul was called, and the winning margin was 1¼ lengths.

Early Voting paid $13.40 for the win, $4.60 to place and $3.60 to show. Epicenter was second, followed by Creative Minister, Secret Oath, Skippylongstocking, Simplification, Armagnac, Happy Jack and Fenwick.

The two-week turnaround has long been a point of discussion in horse racing. Since 2015, only two horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and they were both Triple Crown winners. There was American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018, both trained by Bob Baffert.

But this year, there was no possibility for a repeat because the owner of Rich Strike, the 80-1 longshot winner of the Kentucky Derby, decided not to race in Baltimore. Usually, it’s customary for the Derby winner to run in the Preakness.

“Skipping the Preakness was still one of the toughest decisions I had to make as a trainer,” trainer Eric Reed said Saturday. “I just don’t think he would’ve been mentally ready to run against those horses again.”

In one of the strangest bits of pari-mutuel wagering, Fenwick, who was 50-1 on the morning line, was bet down to 12-1. It was a case of people dreaming that for the second race in a row, a miracle could happen. However, because so much was bet on him, Armagnac was the longest shot at 17-1. In this case, though, there was no need to believe in miracles.

Everyone expected this to be Epicenter’s day, although history was not on his side. Since 1994, only one Kentucky Derby runner-up came back to win the Preakness — Exaggerator in 2016. The colt broke his maiden at Churchill Downs and then won the Gun Runner Stakes, Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby, all at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Early Voting was mysteriously made the 7-2 second choice on the morning line, a move that now seems prescient. He was coming off a second in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and was making only his fourth start.

Many couldn’t resist the story line of a filly going up against the boys and trained by the legendary Wayne Lukas. So, Secret Oath was entered in the race after winning the Kentucky Oaks two weeks ago. A filly has won the Preakness six times in the past, so this wasn’t that inconceivable a possibility, especially given her talent. Lukas had won the Preakness six times himself. Saturday wasn’t the only time that Secret Oath had run against males. She finished third in the Arkansas Derby, which was good considering the troubled trip she was given. She finished fourth Saturday.

From here, it’s on to Belmont Park in New York to complete the Triple Crown series for 3-year-olds. However, the horses will get a little more of a break with three weeks between races, rather than the two between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

It will be determined there whether Rich Strike’s win in the Derby was a fluke or a horse that everyone misjudged.

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