by Jon White
May 19, 2021
Trainer Michael McCarthy sent out Rombauer for an upset victory in last Saturday’s $1 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
While Rombauer’s triumph in the Grade I event took many bettors by surprise, it really was not an upset for his 50-year-old conditioner to win a Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont. His background indicated such a victory probably was only a matter of time.
Early in 2014, McCarthy was training only one horse -- that’s right, his entire “stable” consisted of just a single Thoroughbred -- after he had struck out on his own following a long stint as an assistant to Todd Pletcher.
Prior to hanging out his own shingle, McCarthy soaked up much knowledge about training Thoroughbreds from Pletcher, who earlier this year was voted into racing’s Hall of Fame.
You might say McCarthy graduated from the University of Pletcher.
Pletcher? You might say he graduated from the University of Lukas.
Before Pletcher went out on his own toward the end of 1995, he spent many years as an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, who has six Preakness victories to his credit (Codex in 1980, Tank’s Prospect in 1985, Tabasco Cat in 1994, Timber Country in 1995, Charistmatic in 1999 and Oxbow in 2013).
Lukas is a member of both the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. Just how tough is Lukas? At the age of 85, there he was at this year’s Preakness despite becoming seriously ill last August with COVID-19.
“It was closest you can come to dying,” Lukas said in an April 26 story on WDRB.com written by Rick Bozich.
While McCarthy, Pletcher and Lukas each ran a horse in this year’s Preakness, another former Lukas assistant, Mike Maker, did not. However, Maker did enjoy a terrific Friday and Saturday at Pimlico.
Maker won four graded stakes races during the two days at Pimlico with non-favorites (Friday’s Grade III Pimlico Special with Last Judgment, Friday’s Grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes with Army Wife, Saturday’s Grade III Maryland Sprint Stakes with Special Reserve and Saturday’s Grade II Dinner Party Stakes with Somelikeithotbrown).
McCarthy won the Preakness with 11-1 Rombauer. Pletcher saddled 13-1 Unbridled Honor. Lukas was represented by 15-1 Ram. When these three trainers were interviewed on NBCSN prior to the 1 3/16-mile classic, they were asked, as a group, which one of them was going to win the Preakness.
Pletcher spoke first, saying, “I hope one of us does.”
That prompted Lukas to say, “I’ll beat both of them.”
And then it was McCarthy’s turn.
“I don’t usually say much, but I’ve got a surprise for both of them,” McCarthy said.
“Good for you,” Lukas said to McCarthy.
While that brief conversation among the three trainers was taking place, they all were chuckling.
As it turned out, McCarthy had the last laugh.
A STRONG KICK IN THE LANE
Sixth early in the field of 10, Rombauer surged to the front a little more than a sixteenth from the finish and powered away to snag the middle jewel of the Triple Crown by 3 1/2 lengths. Midnight Bourbon finished second as the 3-1 second choice in the wagering. Medina Spirit ended up third as the 2-1 favorite.
Pletcher, who has yet to win a Preakness, watched Unbridled Honor come in sixth.
Ram ran last for Lukas.
Pletcher said after the Preakness that if he couldn’t win it, he was “very happy” that his former assistant did.
As for McCarthy, what was it like to win a Preakness?
“It was like an out-of-body experience,” said the graduate of Arcadia High School, which is located just a few furlongs from Santa Anita.
MEDINA SPIRIT ONCE AGAIN THE EARLY LEADER
As Medina Spirit had done when he won the Grade I, 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, he scooted immediately to the front in the Preakness. Medina Spirit was pushed in the early furlongs last Saturday by Midnight Bourbon.
These were the early fractional times set by Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby:
:23.09, :46.70, 1:11.21
These were the early fractional times set by Medina Spirit in the Preakness:
:23.77, :46.93, 1:10.97
It would seem running the first six furlongs as fast as he did off just a two-week layoff understandably took something of a toll on Medina Spirit in the final stages of the Preakness. He weakened and lost by 5 1/2 lengths. It was the first time in seven lifetime starts that Medina Spirit did not finish first or second.
In the Kentucky Derby, Midnight Bourbon broke a step slowly and immediately encountered traffic woes. He found himself much farther back early than he had ever been before. This time in the Preakness, Midnight Bourbon was “away in good order,” as noted in the race chart. The good start allowed him to show the early zip many had expected to see from him in Louisville.
Approaching the eighth pole during the stretch drive of the Preakness, Midnight Bourbon opened a clear lead when he edged away from Medina Spirit. With a furlong left to run Midnight Bourbon had a 1 1/2-length advantage. But Midnight Bourbon then was overtaken by Rombauer in the final furlong. After Midnight Bourbon relinquished command, he did continue on well enough to finish second, two lengths in front of Medina Spirit.
TIME OF RACE RANKS HIGH
Rombauer’s final time of 1:53.62 tied for the sixth-fastest in Preakness history when adjusted to fifths of a second.
These are the 13 fastest final times in the history of the Preakness:
1:53 flat Secretariat (1973)
1:53 1/5 Swiss Skydiver (2020)
1:53 2/5 Curlin (2007)
1:53 2/5 Louis Quatorze (1996)
1:53 2/5 Tank’s Prospect (1985)
1:53 3/5 Rombauer (2021)
1:53 3/5 Summer Squall (1990)
1:53 3/5 Gate Dancer (1984)
1:53 4/5 Sunday Silence (1989)
1:54 flat Hansel (1991)
1:54 flat Canonero II (1971)
1:54 1/5 War of Will (2019)
1:54 1/5 Codex (1980)
1:54 1/5 Spectacular Bid (1979)
TRAINER JOINS CLUB, ALSO WINS ANOTHER GRADE I
McCarthy became just the third trainer in the last 40 years to win a Preakness when running a horse in a Triple Crown race for the first time. The other two were John Lenzini with Aloma’s Ruler in 1992 and Joe Orseno with Red Bullet in 2000.
According to Equibase, these are McCarthy's Grade I victories:
Year Grade I Race (Winner)
2021 Preakness Stakes (Rombauer)
2020 Apple Blossom Handicap (Ce Ce)
2020 Ashland Stakes (Speech)
2020 Beholder Mile (Ce Ce)
2019 Pegasus World Cup (City of Light)
2019 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (Ohio)
2018 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (City of Light)
2018 Triple Bend Stakes (Grade I)
2017 Malibu Stakes (City of Light)
2016 Gamely Stakes (Illuminent)
2007 Las Virgenes Stakes (Rags to Riches)
When Rags to Riches won the Las Virgenes, McCarthy had not yet gone out on his own as a trainer. He was an assistant to Pletcher at that time. McCarthy was listed as the trainer of record for Rags to Riches’ Las Virgenes victory because it came when Pletcher was serving a suspension for a medication violation.
McCarthy’s Preakness win with Rombauer is not even close to the trainer’s biggest victory with respect to a race’s purse. When City of Light won the Pegasus World Cup, the race had a $9 million purse.
BloodHorse’s Evan Hammonds wrote glowingly of McCarthy this week.
“Starting in racing in 1990, McCarthy began working for trainer Todd Pletcher in 2002, and it didn’t take long to work his way up to assistant trainer, calling himself the ‘organizer’ in a 2006 interview,” Hammonds wrote.
“Based at Churchill Downs for a good part of his apprenticeship, he worked with several of Pletcher’s Derby hopefuls, and nobody has sent out more Derby starters than Pletcher. And that number, 59 starters in the Run for the Roses, doesn’t include back-to-back morning-line favorites Eskendereya and Uncle Mo, who were scratched ahead of the first Saturday in May in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
“We met McCarthy some 15 years ago at Churchill Downs. With a busy Pletcher not only tending to his top 3-year-olds but also managing several barns around the country, we found McCarthy to be an approachable, straight-up horseman. He was the kind of guy you knew would make it big when he decided to carve his own path.”
I certainly can vouch for McCarthy being an “approachable, straight-up horseman.” When I was at Churchill Downs for HRTV at the 2006 Breeders’ Cup, I stopped by the Pletcher barn one morning. McCarthy gave me a horse-by-horse tour of the entire Pletcher string. Considering how many horses resided at the Pletcher barn, it took a lot more than just a few minutes out of McCarthy’s busy day. I will never forget McCarthy’s kindness that morning.
One of the horses I saw during the barn tour was The Green Monkey -- yep, the world-record $16 million auction purchase. At the time, The Green Money was an unraced 2-year-old. He had fetched his final bid of $16 million (equal to $21.2 million today) at a Fasig-Tipton sale of 2-year-olds early in 2006 at Calder.
I was especially interested in what McCarthy had to say about The Green Monkey. Why? Because my fantasy league draft for 2007 was coming up soon after the Breeders’ Cup. If McCarthy really talked up the colt, I would seriously consider using one of my eight draft picks to get him.
I pointed to The Green Monkey and asked McCarthy, “What do you think of him?”
I can’t recall exactly what McCarthy said. But I do remember that, in a very diplomatic way, McCarthy in so many words told me this was not someone I should be thinking of drafting. To this day, I appreciate McCarthy steering me away from The Green Monkey.
The Green Monkey’s entire racing career consisted of three starts, all in 2007. The Florida-bred son of Forestry was sent off as the favorite all three times. He finished third at 2-5 when unveiled at Belmont Park on Sept. 15, ran fourth at even money at Belmont on Oct. 13, then ran fourth at 6-5 on the turf Nov. 21 at Hollywood Park.
Despite The Green Monkey’s lack of success as a racehorse, he has his own Wikipedia page, obviously because of the huge sum he brought at public auction.
According to Wikipedia, The Green Monkey “was not a success as a stallion,” either.
“His best progeny include 2015 Panama Triple Crown winner Monkey Business, and North American black-type winners Kinz Funky Monkey and Green Doctor,” Wikipedia states.
Also according to Wikipedia, The Green Monkey was euthanized in May 2018 due to laminitis.
A SPLENDID RIDE BY PRAT (AS USUAL)
Rombauer was helped in the Preakness by a typical flawless ride on the part of Flavien Prat. Such rides are seen all the time from him these days at the Southern California tracks. At the age of 28, he has established himself as the top jockey on the SoCal circuit.
Prat’s first win in a Triple Crown event came when he rode Country House in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Country House finished second, but was moved up to first when the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th for committing a foul when he veered out nearing the five-sixteenths pole, causing interference to War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress.
It was the first time in the history of the Kentucky Derby that a winner had been disqualified for an incident during the running of the race.
In a gigantic upset, Country House returned $132.40 for each $2 win wager.
Rombauer returned $25.60 for each $2 win wager (nearly identical to Swiss Skydiver’s $25.40 win mutuel when in 2020 she became the sixth filly to capture the Preakness).
Prat understandably cherishes his Kentucky Derby victory despite it coming through an opponent’s disqualification. He also understandably was thrilled to be aboard the 3-year-old who crossed the finish line first in the Preakness, as evidenced by the talented rider thrusting his right fist in the air several times in a display of jubilation once the victory had been accomplished.
Prat was asked at the post-Preakness press conference to compare his feelings of actually winning the Preakness versus what happened in the Kentucky Derby when being elevated by disqualification.
Prat answered by saying “of course, it’s a lot different, but when you cross the wire first, you get that feeling where it’s a lot of joy. It was a lot different in the Derby, but I’m very proud of both races.”
SIRE A SANTA ANITA TRACK RECORD HOLDER
John and Diane Fradkin own and bred Rombauer, a son of Twirling Candy and Cashmere.
Twirling Candy holds the Santa Anita track record of 1:19.70 for seven furlongs, a mark he set when he won the Grade I Malibu Stakes in 2010. Santa Anita’s main track was lightning fast that day, as they say. On the same card, The Factor ran six furlongs in a sizzling 1:06.98 to break that Santa Anita track record.
The track records set on Dec 26, 2010, by The Factor and Twirling Candy both still stand.
The Factor broke the track record of 1:07.20 established by Sunny Blossom on Dec. 30, 1989.
Twirling Candy broke the track record of 1:20.00 set by the great Spectacular Bid when he won the Malibu -- a Grade II race at that time -- with Bill Shoemaker in the saddle. Spectacular Bid lowered the seven-furlong track record by three-fifths of a second. The 1:20 3/5 record had been set by Imbros in 1954, then tied by Jacinto in 1965, Lightning Mandate in 1975 and Beat Inflation in 1977.
I was at Santa Anita the day Spectacular Bid won the Malibu. I was working for the Daily Racing Form at tracks in the Pacific Northwest back then. Since Yakima Meadows had not started its 1980 meeting yet, I decided to fly down to Los Angeles in order to see Spectacular Bid run in the Malibu. I stayed with an uncle in Buena Park.
The Malibu was the first win in the Bid’s perfect nine-for-nine campaign in 1980. He literally ran out of competition that year. The final start of his career was a walkover in the 1980 Woodward Stakes.
Rombauer’s dam (by Cowboy Cal, a multiple Grade II winner trained by Pletcher) never raced. But she is a half-sister to a pair of California-bred multiple graded stakes winners, millionaire California Flag and Cambiocorsa.
California Flag ran in five editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, finishing 10th in 2008 at Santa Anita, first in 2009 at Santa Anita, eighth in 2010 at Churchill, 12th in 2011 at Churchill, then 13th in 2012 at Santa Anita.
When the exceedingly swift California Flag won the 2009 BC Turf Sprint, the race was run down Santa Anita’s unique and popular hillside turf course.
During Cambiocorsa’s racing career, she became a “queen of the hill” at the Great Race Place. The first seven times she sprinted down the hill, she won every time. When she retired from racing to become a broodmare, Cambiocorsa’s record down the hill was 10 starts, eight wins and a third.
“As a broodmare, Cambiocorsa has produced graded stakes winners Moulin de Mougin and Schiaparelli, as well as stakes winners Alexis Tangier and Bronson,” Daily Racing Form’s Nicole Russo wrote. “Her stakes-placed daughter Vionnet produced four-time Group I winner Roaring Lion, the 2018 European Horse of the Year.”
VERSATILITY IN TERMS OF RACING SURFACE
Thanks to Rombauer’s latest victory, he now has managed to win on dirt, synthetic and turf.
Earlier this year on Feb. 13, Rombauer won the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby on the synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields.
In his career debut last year on July 25 at Del Mar, Rombauer won a one-mile maiden race on turf.
MY PREAKNESS PICK WAS DREADFUL
I picked Concert Tour to win the Preakness. He finished ninth.
I thought Concert Tour might go right to the front. Wrong. He bumped with Risk Taking leaving the gate. Sure, that didn’t help Concert Tour. But I’m not going to blame Concert Tour’s loss on that. It was not as if he got creamed at the start. Fourth in the early going, Concert Tour was all done before going six furlongs.
When Concert Tour finished third as the 3-10 favorite in the Grade I Arkansas Derby, I have heard it said that he ran “a stinker” and that his performance was “awful.”
I felt that many had judged Concert Tour too harshly for his Arkansas Derby defeat.
“Did he disappoint as an overwhelming favorite? Yes. But did he run a stinker? No,” I recently wrote. “He lost by 2 1/2 lengths, not 12 1/2 or 22 1/2 lengths.”
Well, folks, Concert Tour did run a “stinker” in the Preakness. Yes, he was just plain “awful.” He lost by 34 1/4 length and recorded a 54 Beyer Speed Figure.
NEW TOP BEYER FOR PREAKNESS VICTOR
Going into the Preakness, Rombauer’s highest Beyer Speed Figure had been an 88 when he ran third in Keeneland’s Grade II Blue Grass Stakes on April 3. Essential Quality was credited with a 97 Beyer for his neck victory in the Blue Grass. Runner-up Highly Motivated likewise received a 97 Beyer. Rombauer finished 5 3/4 lengths behind Essential Quality on that occasion.
Rombauer’s 102 Beyer in the Preakness matches the figure posted by Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby.
It is interesting that Rombauer’s 102 Beyer also equals American Pharoah’s Preakness figure of 102, plus it is higher than Justify’s Preakness figure of 97. American Pharoah and Justify both were Triple Crown winners.
Below are the Beyers for Preakness winners going back to 1991 (the figures prior to this year are listed in the 2021 American Racing Manual, which is now digital only and available for free on The Jockey Club’s website):
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)
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
No newcomers in the Top 10 of the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 350 Mystic Guide (31)
2. 283 Charlatan (5)
3. 224 Colonel Liam
4. 220 Knicks Go (1)
5. 199 Monomoy Girl
6. 153 Letruska
7. 145 Gamine
8. 139 Maxfield (1)
9. 91 Shedaresthedevil
10. 64 Domestic Spending
Following Rombauer’s win in the Preakness, he took over the top spot in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. He had ranked No. 30 last week.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 311 Rombauer (7)
2. 298 Essential Quality (13)
3. 281 Mandaloun (7)
4. 236 Hot Rod Charlie
5. 221 Medina Spirit (8)
6. 204 Midnight Bourbon
7. 202 Malathaat (2)
8. 74 Jackie’s Warrior
9. 55 Life Is Good (1)
10. 54 Rock Your World