BALTIMORE - Maybe extra rest isn't such a bad thing for a racehorse after all.
In the Preakness Stakes that was run without the Kentucky Derby winner because Rich Strike's owner felt he needed more time off after his 80-1 upset, Early Voting validated a gutsy decision to skip the Derby and aim for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Early Voting held off hard-charging favorite Epicenter to win the Preakness on Saturday, rewarding trainer Chad Brown and owner Seth Klarman for their patience. Early Voting stalked the leaders for much of the race before moving into first around the final turn and finished 1¼ lengths ahead of Epicenter, who was second just like in the Derby.
'We thought he needed a little more seasoning, the extra rest would help him,' Klarman said. 'He was pretty lightly raced - only three races before today. And as it turned out, that was the right call. We wanted to do right by the horse, and we're so glad we waited.'
The initial plan in the Preakness was for Early Voting not to wait and for jockey Jose Ortiz to take him to the lead. That looked especially important on a day when the dirt track at Pimlico Race Course was favoring speed and making it hard for horses to come from behind down the stretch.
But when Armagnac jumped out to the lead, Ortiz settled Early Voting, who had plenty of speed left before the finish line with Epicenter threatening inside at the rail.
'I was never worried,' Brown said. 'Once we had a good target, I actually preferred that. We were fine to go to the lead, but I thought down the back side it was going to take a good horse to beat us. And a good horse did run up on us near the wire and it was about the only one that could run with us.'
After just two Triple Crown winners in the past four-plus decades, Rich Strike owner Rick Dawson took plenty of criticism for skipping the Preakness because he felt the horse needed more rest to prepare for the Belmont Stakes on June 11.
Some of that might be muted in the aftermath of Early Voting's impressive performance.
'That's very hard to get an owner to pass on the Derby, and they did the right choice,' said Ortiz, who won the Preakness for the first time. 'The horse, I don't think he was seasoned enough to run in a 20-horse field and they proved that they were right today. I've been on him since he was a baby. We always knew he was very talented, but we knew he was going to be a late developer.'