2022 Preakness Stakes Follow-up

So, the Derby winner doesn’t run in the Preakness and the Preakness winner isn’t running in the Belmont. That’s it, the Triple Crown is doomed. Look, things happen every year, but we’ll get into that later in the column. But first let’s look at whatever story there is about the Preakness winner and who really were the dominant figures in the second leg of the Triple Crown. ~ Steve Haskin

2022 Preakness Stakes Follow-up

By Steve Haskin

Photo courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club

No Hanging Chads in Early Voting

And so another colt punches his ticket on the 3-year-old championship ballot. Let’s be honest, though, there isn’t much in the way of a human interest back story when it comes to Early Voting, who had a pretty easy time of it in the Preakness after the two favorites, Epicenter and Secret Oath, got squeezed back to next to last and last, respectively, leaving Early Voting with the simple task of putting away Armagnac, the longest shot in the field, and being unopposed the rest of the way on a track that was pretty much favoring speed all day. Adding to the lack of opposition was Simplification bleeding and dropping out of it after being in excellent position down the backstretch.

To his credit, however, he was able to rattle off fractions of :23, :23 4/5, :24, and 18 4/5 and no top-class horse is going to be easy to catch closing in under :19 off those fractions. But if Epicenter had been ridden a bit more aggressively early to get good position he wouldn’t have been in the position to get squeezed back. So once again we have to praise Epicenter in defeat, making up two lengths in the final furlong. It’s been a very frustrating Derby and Preakness for his connections to see him run two huge races only to finish second each time, being the victim of a too fast a pace in the Derby and too slow a pace in the Preakness that was not contentious at all.

Early Voting no doubt is a very talented horse who first made a big impression in the Withers Stakes over a very deep and slow track. His immediate story goes back to 2013 when Three Chimneys Farm, looking for potential well-bred broodmares, spent $1,750,000 to purchase a Tiznow yearling half-sister to champion sprinter and top sire Speightstown and full-sister to $1.6 million earner Irap.

Named Amour d’Ete, they tried to get her to the races, but she developed a corneal ulcer in her left eye in October of 2014 of her 2-year-old year. With her losing a lot of time and having some growth and maturity issues it was decided to retire her early the following year. She did give birth her first year, but her daughter by Distorted Humor won only one of five starts. When she was barren the second year in foal to Super Saver, Three Chimneys decided to test the market and put her in the Keeneland November mixed sale. But her market value proved less than what Three Chimneys valued her at, so they bought her back for $725,000 and bred her back to Super Saver the following year, but the resulting foal, another filly, managed to win only once in nine starts, with eight unplacings.

In 2019, she was ready to drop a colt by Gun Runner, but in the last 30 days of her gestation she came down with a tendon sheath infection that forced her to be hospitalized. The infection had to be drained and she had to be treated with heavy doses of antibiotics. She returned to Three Chimneys on Feb. 24, and 11 days later on March 7 she gave birth to her Gun Runner foal, a colt later to be named Early Voting.

The colt weighed in at 120 pounds, which was five to seven pounds below the average weight at the farm. But when he was weighed as a yearling he was 175 pounds, which was about 12 percent above the average weight and he stood 15 hands, two inches, which was slightly above average. He was very athletic at a young age with no major issues, but was considered more muscular and compact than the typical Gun Runners, who are more long and lean and looked more like stayers. Three Chimneys sells a number of yearlings each year, and being from the first crop of their own stallion Gun Runner they targeted him for the Keeneland September sale. When they saw that they had valued him more than he was going to sell for they lowered his reserve, based on level of interest and who they had bought and sold already, and were willing to sell him for $200,000.

Turned over to Chad Brown, Early Voting always trained well, had a “great eye” according to Brown, but was tough around the starting gate. He made his debut on December 18, his trainer’s birthday, and began “improving rapidly.” Right from the beginning, following his victory in the Withers Stakes in only his second career start, Brown said “it would be great to do the Wood Memorial and Preakness, which he thought was “more practical” than rushing him into the Derby.

Even having sold the eventual Preakness winner, all is great at Three Chimneys.  They still have the mare, her two daughters and all their future offspring, and of course they have Gun Runner, who now has sired an amazing five Grade 1 winners from his first crop, including a Preakness winner and the Santa Anita and Arkansas Derby winners, as well as last year’s 2-year-old filly champion and the Hopeful winner.

I remember seeing Gun Runner returning following his victory in the Whitney with a horseshoe that was thrown during the race somehow entwined in his tail. No one had any idea how something as heavy as a horseshoe could become knotted up in a horse’s tail during a race. Trainer Steve Asmussen kept the shoe, which turned out to be a lucky horseshoe for Gun Runner. But Gun Runner’s good luck in the Preakness turned into bad luck for Asmussen, who was beaten by Gun Runner’s son. Sometimes luck can be awfully fickle.

The Real Stars of the Preakness

No, the real stars of the Preakness were not Early Voting or Chad Brown or Jose Ortiz. The real stars have been dead for several years. John Nerud Is one of the true geniuses the sport has ever seen, and from that genius came super stud Fappiano, the Nerud homebred who paid for his owner’s Long Island estate. The Preakness is all about both these iconic figures, and it’s not even close.

We’ll start by blowing your mind. In the pedigrees of the first five finishers of the Preakness, horses bred by Nerud either for himself or for Tartan Farm and horses purchased by Nerud appear a total of 85 times. Fappiano’s name appears in the first five finishers and in five of the first six finishers, with the victorious Early Voting and fourth-place finisher Secret Oath being inbred to Fappiano, whose male line includes Unbridled (bred by Nerud), Unbridled’s Song, Candy Ride, Empire Maker, and Quiet American.

Fappiano’s broodmare sire, the immortal Dr. Fager, who Nerud bred for Tartan Farm and trained, appears a total of 12 times in the names of the first six finishers of the Preakness, with his half-sister and fellow Hall of Famer Ta Wee appearing in the names of three of the first six finishers. That means their dam, Aspidistra, appears 15 times.

To further demonstrate the impact of Nerud, Dr. Fager, and Fappiano on the breed, his two homebreds appear in the pedigrees of classic winners American Pharoah, Grindstone, Real Quiet, Empire Maker, Orb, Mine That Bird, Birdstone, Rachel Alexandra, Nyquist, Shackleford, Tonalist, Always Dreaming, Tapwrit, Creator, Cloud Computing, War of Will, Tiz the Law, Mandaloun, Rombauer, Essential Quality, and Early Voting, with the Nerud-bred Ogygian in the pedigree of Justify, giving Nerud a part in two Triple Crown winners. Ogygian also is in the pedigree of Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver, while Ta Wee is in the pedigree of Derby wnner Giacomo. In addition, the Nerud owned and bred Cozzene is in the pedigree of California Chrome. So you can find Nerud’s influence in the pedigrees of 11 Kentucky Derby winners, 11 Preakness winners, including the last six, and nine Belmont winners. Looking outside the classics, Dr. Fager and Fappiano appear in the pedigrees of Arrogate, Holy Bull, Gun Runner, Game On Dude, Will Take Charge, Catholic Boy, and Frosted. And finally, Fappiano is in the pedigree of the great stallion Tapit and all the stakes winners he has sired.

As a side note, no one could spot a stallion prospect like Nerud. When he was looking for a young stallion to breed to his Dr. Fager mare Killaloe he turned to Butch Savin, who had a young unproven stallion in Florida named Mr. Prospector, who Nerud remembered because of his blazing speed.

He decided he was the perfect match for Killaloe, but she had a late foal that year and it was already June. Savin did not want Mr. Prospector having any May foals and turned Nerud down.

But in typical Nerud fashion, he told Savin, “Butch, you’re so rich you don’t want to take my money? Look out the window and tell me what the hell Mr. Prospector is doing now.” Savin said, “Nothing,” to which Nerud replied, “Well, neither is my mare. Let me worry about having a May foal.” Savin finally agreed, and Nerud bred Killaloe to Mr. Prospector and got Fappiano.

Just think of racing today without the influence of John Nerud, the unquestionable star of Preakness 2022.

Time For Another Five-Week Freak

So the Derby winner is skipping the Preakness; time to panic again. Let’s settle down; almost everyone believes Rich Strike would have had little or no shot in the Preakness. His Thoro-Graph numbers, with a gigantic jump from a less than mediocre“9 ¾” to a “1 ½ ,” indicated a huge “bounce.” And there wasn’t going to be any blistering pace to set it up for him, especially on a speed-favoring track. Trainer Eric Reed said after the Derby that the plan was to go to New York for the Peter Pan if he didn’t get into the race. So he wasn’t too crazy about running in the Preakness anyway.

I am tired of hearing about horses being forced to come back in two weeks; it’s not enough time. In the 19-year span from 2001 to 2019, 17 Preakness winners had no trouble coming back and winning two weeks later. The two that didn’t were when Derby winners Barbaro and Always Dreaming were stopped by serious injury and a lesser physical problem. Yes, the last three Preakness winners did not run in the Derby, but the 2020 Triple Crown was a farce due to Covid changes and really doesn’t count with the Derby being run in September and the Preakness in October. And in 2021 the second- and third-place finishers of the Preakness came out of the Derby and in 2022 the runner-up came out of the Derby.

The truth is, this is not about the horse and whether the two weeks will hurt him; it is about the trainers, who are much more conservative today and just are not comfortable running a horse back in two weeks, regardless of what the facts have shown this century.

I respect all opinions on this, for each person has his or her own feelings on this matter. If you want the Triple Crown races to be run the first Saturdays in May, June, and July so be it. I’m not here to change your mind. But let’s look beyond the horses and the trainers. What really separates the Triple Crown from all other races is its ability to attract the general public, most of whom have either a casual interest or no interest in the sport. It is just the place to be, and to many the ultimate party where they can place a bet and boast about picking the winner. So my question is this: do you have any idea what the attention span is of the general public? Does anyone really believe they are going to maintain their interest in the Triple Crown over a two-month period, spilling over into July and the holiday weekend when thoughts are now of family picnics, vacations, and trips to the beach or the nearest lake? Racing fans are already planning their trips to Saratoga and many New Yorkers and New Jerseyites are looking ahead to the Haskell Invitational, which will suffer greatly being crammed tightly between the Belmont and Travers.  And so will the Belmont, as few if any trainers will want to come back and run in the Travers dropping back from a mile and a half without a shorter prep and not giving their horse some down time between the spring and summer season, which they would with the Belmont remaining the first Saturday in June.

From a TV standpoint, remember, Fox is now televising the Belmont and they are going to make sure the race is run when it suits them best. And you can be sure they are going to want interest in the final leg of the Triple Crown to carry over from the Derby and Preakness and not stand as an island in July trying to generate interest from the Derby run two months earlier.

And finally, more horses get hurt training than in a race. The Derby horses are still on an adrenaline high coming off the Derby, which is why they run so well in the Preakness. Imagine a horse winning the Derby and Preakness in May and June and then getting hurt training or in his stall or coming down with a fever the week of the Belmont. “Oh, if only the Belmont had been run in June, I would have had a Triple Crown winner.” You know it’s going to work both ways.

Anyway, just some thoughts to ponder before we start tinkering with something that might not need tinkering with after all.


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