by Jon White
May 26, 2022
A so-called new shooter strikes again.
A “new shooter” is a Preakness starter who did not run in the Grade I Kentucky Derby.
And it turned out that a new shooter, Early Voting, won last Saturday’s 147th running of the $1.65 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
From 2000 through 2016, only three new shooters won the Grade I Preakness: Red Bullet (2000), Bernardini (2006) and Rachel Alexandra (2009).
Now we’ve seen new shooters win four of the last six editions of the Preakness: Cloud Computing (2017), Swiss Skydiver (2020), Rombauer (2021) and Early Voting (2022).
For many years, I automatically took a stand against all new shooters in the Preakness. No more. Going forward, based on recent results, I will be taking a serious look at new shooters in the Preakness.
In this year’s renewal of the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, Early Voting showed a new dimension by rating off the pace for jockey Jose Ortiz. This was quite similar to what Epicenter did in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes earlier this year.
In Early Voting’s three career starts prior to the Preakness, he had either set the early pace or vied for the early advantage. How would Early Voting react if he ever would be asked to come off the pace, even if just slightly off it? Trainer Chad Brown certainly did his best to have Early Voting prepared as well as possible for such an eventuality. In more than one of Early Voting’s workouts before the Preakness, he was given a target to run at, enabling him to gain some experience in this regard.
In Early Voting’s only loss, he set the pace in Aqueduct’s Grade II Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles on April 9. After leading by two lengths with a furlong to go, Early Voting had to settle for second when not quite able to hold off the late charge of Mo Donegal, who prevailed by a neck.
“This horse, he’s better with a target,” Brown said of Early Voting after the Preakness. “I think when we ran him in the Wood, he was waiting on horses when he got to the lane. It’s not because he can’t go that far. So, I was hoping for a target [in the Preakness], that somebody would send. Given the way the track was playing all day, very speed favoring, I certainly wasn’t going to take him out of his game. So, we were prepared to go to the lead. But when the other horse [Armagnac] went to the front, Jose got a good position with a target in front of him.”
Early Voting began alertly in the Preakness, then was perfectly willingly to concede the pacesetting role to Armagnac. Early Voting found himself 1 1/2 lengths off the lead through a moderate pace of :24.32 for the first quarter and :47.44 for the half. Compare that to the torrid tempo of :21.78 and :45.36 two weeks earlier in the Kentucky Derby.
Early Voting dueled for the lead on the far turn while outside Armagnac. Turning for home, Early Voting edged away to lead by 1 1/2 lengths. Armagnac threw in the towel, eventually finishing seventh in the field of nine.
While being ridden aggressively, Early Voting shook away in upper stretch to boast a 3 1/2-length lead at the furlong pole. He drifted out in midstretch, then came in late. There was no need for an inquiry or objection because when Early Voting came in late, he was clear of the oncoming Epicenter.
Early Voting won by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:54.54. Epicenter finished second, 2 1/4 lengths clear of Creative Minister in third. Secret Oath, a filly taking on the boys, ended up fourth.
Epicenter had a rather rough go of it early, as did Secret Oath.
“Epicenter steadied when squeezed back in the opening furlong,” according to the Equibase chart comments.
“Secret Oath, brushed at the break, checked sharply between rivals when put in tight by Happy Jack in the opening sixteenth,” again according to the Equibase chart comments.
Through the first half-mile, Epicenter raced eighth, while Secret Oath trailed.
Epicenter came on steadily turning for home and down the lane when keeping to his task and racing next to the inside rail. But the 6-5 favorite simply was unable to catch 5-1 Early Voting.
Secret Oath, another off at odds of 5-1, rallied to loom menacingly while racing about five wide into the stretch. But she lacked the necessary additional punch in the final furlong. She also had rallied before flattening out in the lane against males when she finished third in the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April prior to winning the Grade I Kentucky Oaks on May 6.
KENTUCKY DERBY RUNNER-UP LOSES AGAIN
While new shooters have been successful lately, the dreadful record of Kentucky Derby runners-up in the Preakness continues.
As I noted last week, from 1994 to present, there has been exactly one Kentucky Derby runner-up who went on to win the Preakness. That was Exaggerator in 2016.
“Of course, not every Kentucky Derby runner-up during this period raced a fortnight later in the big event at Old Hilltop,” I wrote. “Even so, again from 1994 to present, the record of horses to have finished second in the Derby before running in the Preakness is an unenviable 1 for 14 during this 29-year period.”
In the aftermath of Epicenter’s defeat last Saturday, Kentucky Derby runners-up are now 1 for 15 when starting in the last 30 editions of the Preakness.
Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman took this even further.
“Epicenter’s second-place finish continued an inglorious streak for [Kentucky] Derby winners who come back in the Preakness,” Privman wrote. “Since 1961, the Derby runner-up has competed 44 times, and has won just three times, and only once since 1993.”
CLOUD COMPUTING 2.0
Early Voting’s Preakness triumph was a wonderful 65th birthday present for oenrt Seth Klarman (Klaravich Stables), who grew up just three blocks from Pimlico.
Cloud Computing, racing for the partnership of Klarman and William Lawrence and trained by Brown, finished third in the 2017 Wood Memorial, skipped the Kentucky Derby, then won the Preakness in only his fourth career start.
Early Voting ran second in the Wood Memorial, skipped the Kentucky Derby, then captured the Preakness in just his fourth career start.
“For any horse to win a classic in his fourth start is really a tremendous accomplishment,” Brown said after this year’s Preakness.
After Cloud Computing won the Preakness, he never won another race. The Kentucky-bred Maclean’s Music colt was 0 for 4 after the Preakness.
I will be surprised if Early Voting does not win another race. He has been ruled out of the Grade I Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on June 11. Early Voting is expected to run at Saratoga in the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes on July 30 and Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 27.
Cloud Computing finished fifth in the Jim Dandy (won by Good Samaritan), then ran fifth in the Travers (won by West Coast).
BEYER MISSES AGAIN
I thought Epicenter was in big trouble going into the Preakness. Why? He was Andy Beyer’s top pick.
Okay, my top pick, Secret Oath, didn’t win, either. But if you like a horse in any of the Triple Crown races, the last thing you want to see is that Beyer is picking him or her to win it.
Beyer is the first to admit that his record when it comes to forecasting the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. At least he did manage to get Medina Spirit right in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Medina Spirit later was disqualified from his Kentucky Derby victory due to a medication violation, but Beyer’s selection counts as a win for betting purposes, which is what matters with horseplayers.
Mo Donegal was Beyer’s pick to win in this year’s Kentucky Derby. But I won’t hold that one against the father of the important Beyer Speed Figures too much. I don’t know of anyone whose top pick was Rich Strike, who pulled off an 80-1 shocker. That made Rich Strike the horse with the second-highest odds to ever win the Run for the Roses, exceeded only by Donerail’s victory at 91-1 in 1913.
Beyer’s picks in the 2015 Triple Crown races were especially awful. While American Pharoah was putting an end to a 37-year drought by sweeping all three races, Beyer picked against him each time.
In the Kentucky Derby, Beyer picked Upstart to win. Upstart was eased and finished 60 1/2 lengths behind American Pharoah.
Beyer then picked Kentucky Derby runner-up Firing Line to win the Preakness Stakes. Firing Line stumbled at the start, was eased and finished 45 lengths behind American Pharoah.
Next, Beyer picked Materiality to win the Belmont. Materiality finished last, 22 1/4 lengths behind American Pharoah.
Beyer’s top pick lost the three races by a combined 127 3/4 lengths.
When it comes time for this year’s Belmont, you can only hope that Andy Beyer’s top pick is not the horse you like.
EARLY VOTING GETS BEST BEYER YET
When Early Voting won an Aqueduct maiden race at one mile by 1 1/4 lengths in his career debut last Dec. 18, he was assigned a 76 Beyer Speed Figure.
In his next start, Early Voting recorded a 78 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths on Feb. 5. It is clear that Voting’s performance in the Withers did not impress the DRF’s Privman.
“Early Voting seized the opportunity,” Privman wrote. “He came into this race off a debut win going a mile, and stepped right up to stakes company and remained unbeaten. Credit to Brown and owner Seth Klarman for taking advantage of this spot. That’s how you’re supposed to manage a horse at this stage of his career. But in terms of proving to have any serious impact on the Derby trail, I’d be circumspect.”
When Early Voting received just a 78 Beyer Speed Figure for his Withers victory in early February, I thought at the time it might have been a tad lower than it should have been. Well, as it turned out, it was a lot lower than it should have been. On March 15, the DRF’s David Grening reported that “the Beyer Speed Figure for the horses who ran in the Grade III, $250,000 Withers Stakes on Feb. 5 at Aqueduct has been elevated by nine points with the winner, Early Voting, having now been assigned an 87.”
That’s what you call a significant adjustment.
Andy Beyer, head of the Beyer Speed Figure-making team, takes the approach that if at some point a figure looks like it’s off, it’s best to change it. I do not have a problem with that. It tells me that it’s Beyer’s goal to make his speed figures as accurate as possible. For that, I salute him.
Grening wrote that the Withers figures had been changed “to reflect the improvement horses who finished behind Early Voting have shown in their subsequent starts following the Withers.”
Un Ojo, second in the Withers, went on to win the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 26.
Grantham, fourth in the Withers, ran second to Classic Causeway in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby.
Smarten Up, sixth in the Withers, lost by a scant nose when he finished second in the City of Brotherly Love Stakes at Parx Racing on March 8.
“Andrew Beyer, who developed the speed figures decades ago, said there was some discussion among his team early on that the Withers figure might have been too low,” Grening wrote. “Beyer noted the figure was difficult to make in part because it was the only two-turn race on that day’s nine-race card.”
According to Beyer, races are frequently flagged for possible adjustments when the figure was deemed difficult to make due to weather/track conditions or possible timing issues.
“There was enough of a body of evidence to suggest that 78 was too low,” Beyer said. “At the time of the race we wouldn’t have been smart enough to know that. None of the top six finishers in the Withers had ever run a figure of 76. It looked like it could have indeed been a weak field, but when these horses started coming back we boosted the number to an 87 to jibe with the subsequent performances of the horses. There are plenty of times when the two-turn races will have a different character, a different variant than one-turn races. If there had been another two-turn race on the card we wouldn’t have been so wary of this.”
After Early Voting had his Withers figure boosted from 78 to 87, he posted a 96 Beyer when he finished second to Mo Donegal in the Wood. That certainly justified Andy Beyer’s decision to raise Early Voting’s Withers figure to an 87.
Early Voting continued the upward trajectory of his Beyer Speed Figures by being credited with a career-best 105 in the Preakness.
Below are the Beyers for Preakness winners going back to 1991:
2022 Early Voting (105)
2021 Rombauer (102)
2020 Swiss Skydiver (105)
2019 War of Will (99)
2018 Justify (97)
2017 Cloud Computing (102)
2016 Exaggerator (101)
2015 American Pharoah (102)
2014 California Chrome (105)
2013 Oxbow (106)
2012 I’ll Have Another (109)
2011 Shackleford (104)
2010 Lookin At Lucky (102)
2009 Rachel Alexandra (108)
2008 Big Brown (100)
2007 Curlin (111)
2006 Bernardini (113)
2005 Afleet Alex (112)
2004 Smarty Jones (118)
2003 Funny Cide (114)
2002 War Emblem (109)
2001 Point Given (111)
2000 Red Bullet (109)
1999 Charismatic (107)
1998 Real Quiet (111)
1997 Silver Charm (118)
1996 Louis Quatorze (112)
1995 Timber Country (106)
1994 Tabasco Cat (112)
1993 Prairie Bayou (98)
1992 Pine Bluff (104)
1991 Hansel (117)
FIRST CLASSIC WINNER SIRED BY GUN RUNNER
Gun Runner finished second to Arrogate in the Group I, $10 million Dubai World Cup in 2017. After that, Gun Runner was unstoppable. He reeled off four straight Grade I victories (Stephen Foster Handicap, Whitney Stakes, Woodward Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic) en route to being voted 2017 Horse of the Year.
In the BC Classic, Gun Runner recorded a 117 Beyer Speed Figure and turned the tables on Arrogate, who finished in a dead heat for fifth.
Early in 2018, Gun Runner won the Grade I Pegasus World Cup, a race in which he registered a career-best 119 Beyer. He then exited the racing stage to embark on a career at stud.
What Gun Runner already has achieved as a sire is remarkable. From his first crop, in addition to Preakness victor Early Voting, Gun Runner has sired Echo Zulu (the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old filly of 2021), Cyberknife (winner of the Grade I Arkansas Derby), Taiba (winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Derby) and Gunite (winner of the Grade I Hopeful Stakes).
While Gun Runner’s best Beyer Speed Figure was a 119, his sire, Candy Ride, recorded an even higher Beyer. Candy Ride received a 123 Beyer Speed Figure when he defeated Medaglia d’Oro and company in the Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic in 2003. Candy Ride completed 1 1/4 miles that day in 1:59.11 to set a track record that still stands.
PREAKNESS ODDS ON SOME TRULY BAFFLING
Not surprisingly, Epicenter was sent away as the 6-5 favorite in the Preakness. But the final odds of 11-1 on Happy Jack and 13-1 on Fenwick left a lot of people bewildered.
Pimlico oddsmaker Keith Feustle nailed it in terms of Epicenter, installing him as the 6-5 morning-line favorite for the Preakness. Feustle made Happy Jack 30-1, Fenwick 50-1.
Most people, like the DRF’s Privman, are of the opinion that the shorter than expected final odds on Happy Jack and Fenwick were owing to Rich Strike’s gigantic upset at 80-1 in the Kentucky Derby.
Rich Strike’s “80-1 upset two weeks ago obviously impacted the mindset of bettors, because no one in the Preakness was longer than 18-1, and seemingly rank outsiders like Happy Jack and Fenwick were only 11-1 and 13-1, respectively,” Privman wrote.
Horseracingnation’s Mark Midland was not shocked to see those final odds for Happy Jack and Fenwick as a consequence of Rich Strike’s stunning Derby win at 80-1. Midland felt that this was a case of history repeating itself.
“When a huge bomb wins the [Kentucky] Derby, they [the public] bet every single horse in the Preakness,” Midland said.
Horseracingnation’s Ron Flatter cited evidence as to the validity of Midland’s point by noting that when Giacomo and Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby, both at 50-1, bettors then “chased big odds” in the Preakness.
“There was no one longer than 27-1 in the 14-horse Preakness in 2005 and 25-1 with 13 starters in 2009,” Flatter wrote.
Others, like Horseracingnation’s Ed DeRosa, see it differently. DeRosa felt this running of the Preakness was an outlier that he had never seen before.
“You can’t have a horse be 80-1 in a $1 million double pool and 13-1 in the win pool and seriously think that’s a bunch of Joe Blows taking a flyer on a longshot,” DeRosa said. “Two horses [Happy Jack and Fenwick] with a 1% chance to win both took 6% of the money. It’s incredible.”
For whatever reason or reasons, the crazy wagering support for Happy Jack and Fenwick enabled Epicenter to go off at 6-5 instead of even money or odds-on. This also inflated the final odds on contenders Early Voting and Secret Oath to 5-1 apiece when their prices otherwise would have been lower.
RACE BOOKS IN NEVADA CLEANED UP
Regarding Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby upset 80-1 in pari-mutuel wagering, not only did it seemingly affected the betting in the Preakness, it also produced a huge payday for the race books in Nevada in terms of Kentucky Derby future bets.
Think of it. For months, thousands and thousands of dollars were wagered on horses in the Kentucky Derby future book in Las Vegas at Circa and Caesars at William Hill. Hardly any money was bet on Rich Strike. Consequently, the two race books were able to keep the vast majority of the future-book money bet on the Kentucky Derby, thanks to Rich Strike.
On March 21, Horseracingnation.com’s Flatter reported that Circa and Caesars at William Hill “combined to list 182 3-year-olds in their Derby futures.”
Think of all the money being bet back then on horses considered contenders like Epicenter, Smile Happy, Classic Causeway, Forbidden Kingdom, Messier, Morello, Charge It, Simplification, White Abarrio and Emmanuel.
All the money on those horses went down the drain (actually to Circa and Caesars at William Hill).
On March 21, it’s obvious that very little money had been bet on Rich Strike to win the Kentucky Derby. His odds at Circa were 300-1. Caesars at William Hill did not even have him listed.
NTRA TOP THROUGHBRED POLL
There are no newcomers in the Top 10 on this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. The Top 10 is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 284 Country Grammer (20)
2. 282 Letruska (10)
3. 233 Life Is Good (3)
4. 180 Olympiad
4. 180 Speaker’s Corner
6. 172 Hot Rod Charlie
7. 148 Jackie’s Warrior
8. 83 Express Train
9. 68 Golden Pal
10. 47 Flightline
NTRA TOP THREE-YEAR-OLD POLL
Going into the Preakness, Epicenter ranked No. 1 in the NTRA Top Three-Year-old Poll. Epicenter now shares the top spot with Preakness winner Early Voting.
This week’s Top 10 is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 311 Early Voting (11)
1. 311 Epicenter (20)
3. 244 Zandon
4. 235 Rich Strike (8)
5. 168 Jack Christopher (1)
6. 165 Secret Oath (4)
7. 135 Mo Donegal
8. 69 Creative Minister
8. 62 Simplification
10. 36 Taiba