After a few hours of sleep, trainer Michael McCarthy was back at Pimlico Race Course the morning of May 16, quietly talking about Rombauer’s emphatic victory in the 146th Preakness Stakes (G1) Saturday and looking ahead to the June 5 Belmont Stakes (G1).
Bred and raced by John and Diane Fradkin of Santa Ana, Calif., Rombauer rallied from off the pace in the second turn and passed tiring pacesetters Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon to win the Preakness by 3 ½ lengths. His time of 1:53.62 was the eighth-fastest since the race distance was changed to 1 3/16 miles in 1925.
While McCarthy, 50, acquired plenty of experience in Triple Crown races during his long tour as an assistant to Hall of Fame-elect trainer Todd Pletcher, Rombauer was his first starter in the series since he opened his own stable in 2014. The well-respected, low-key, California-based horseman started receiving congratulatory calls and texts as soon as the race was over.
“It’s been great,” McCarthy said. “It’s nice to see this all kind of come together. The horse justified what I thought of him all along.”
The Fradkins and McCarthy have decided to ship Rombauer to Belmont Park Monday and are seriously considering running him in the 1 ½-mile Belmont June 5.
“We will go ahead and go to Belmont,” McCarthy said. “We will get there and see how he is and where he is at and go from there.”
Not counting 2020 when the Preakness was the last of the Triple Crown races to be run because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rombauer is the seventh horse since 1980 to win the Preakness after skipping the Kentucky Derby (G1). Three of the six – Codex (1980), Aloma’s Ruler (1982), and Deputed Testamony (1983) – failed to win the Belmont Stakes. The other three – Red Bullet (2000), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Cloud Computing (2017) – did not enter the third leg of the Triple Crown. A total of 18 horses have completed the Preakness-Belmont double. Since the current Triple Crown schedule was adapted in 1932, no horse that skipped the Derby has won the Preakness and Belmont.
McCarthy was pushing to run Rombauer in the Kentucky Derby after he picked up enough qualifying points with his third-place finish in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) April 3. However, the owners opted to bypass the Derby and wait for the Preakness. The colt, which the Fradkins had been unable to sell as planned as a 2-year-old, earned a fees-paid entry in the Preakness by winning the El Camino Real Derby, a ‘Win & In’ race Feb. 13 at Golden Gate Fields.
As he held Rombauer’s lead shank Sunday morning outside the Preakness Stakes Barn, McCarthy did not second-guess the decision to skip the Derby but pointed to his consistency.
“It’s right there on paper, the horse shows up every time,” McCarthy said. “The way the race shaped up at Churchill Downs, I’m not sure if he would’ve made any noise or not, but I think he would have been running late.”
The off-the-pace style that has worked on turf and Golden Gate’s synthetic surface carried Rombauer to his first career dirt victory in the Preakness. Jockey Flavien Prat, riding the horse for the first time, sat sixth in the field of 10 about five lengths off the pace after a half-mile in :46.93 seconds. Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby first-place finisher, had a half-length lead at the time, but could not shake pressing Midnight Bourbon.
The race was developing as McCarthy had hoped and he watched from the stands as Prat and Rombauer accelerated entering the second turn and moved into contention.
“I thought it was fairly formful,” McCarthy said. “If anything, I thought we were maybe just a touch closer than what I expected. It always looked like Flavien was traveling well. He was never in a bad spot. It’s only a 10-horse field but never at any time was the horse in a bad spot, finding any difficulty. The horse seemed to be responding to whatever Flavien was asking of him.”
In the stretch, Midnight Bourbon finally got his head in front of Medina Spirit. Rombauer had arrived, engaged Midnight Bourbon while racing about four wide and took command approaching the sixteenth pole.
“We got a good setup yesterday,” McCarthy said. “The way the track was playing, I was a bit concerned earlier in the day. The speed was good. The inside was good. I could see horses coming off the pace a little bit later on in the afternoon yesterday. So that sort of gave us a little sort of hope that the track was on the fairer side or getting to the fairer side.”
McCarthy and Prat discussed strategy for the Preakness and were in agreement on how Prat should ride the race.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to take the horse out of his style,’” McCarthy said. “I said, ‘that’s the best thing to do. We’ve gotten here. We’ve come this far. It’s the right move. Go ahead and do what you’re comfortable with.’”
In the seven-plus seasons since he went home to the West Coast and launched a one-horse stable, McCarthy has emerged as one of the top trainers on the Southern California circuit. Among his big wins came with City of Light, who captured the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) in 2018 and the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) in 2019.
Though Rombauer was 11-1 in the betting Saturday, McCarthy said he was confident going into the Preakness.
“It’s one of those things where you like to say it would be pleasant surprise, but I thought the horse would run well,” he said. “I kept telling everyone that he would definitely run a mile and three-sixteenths. I just hoped he would do it as fast as everyone else. He did that and a little more.”
Belmont Stakes Likely for Preakness Runner-Up Midnight Bourbon
Steve Asmussen, the Hall of Fame trainer of Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon, said Sunday that the June 5 Belmont Stakes is under consideration for the runner-up in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
With Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle, Midnight Bourbon prompted a solid pace set by Medina Spirit, who led throughout in the May 1 Kentucky Derby, before drawing clear in upper stretch. The son of Tiznow looked home free until Rombauer swept by in the final sixteenth of a mile for a 3 1/2-length victory.
“Proud of his effort,” said Asmussen, who was seeking a third victory in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown following two-time Horse of the Year Curlin (2007) and filly Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year. “Irad gave him a great chance, and the horse ran hard and ended up second. But I don’t think everybody is that far off. He’s a quality horse, continuously running better.
“He had every chance yesterday and he ran second. He’s a good horse who needs to continuously get better,” he added, “but, we have a lot of confidence that he will, pedigree-wise, and who he is physically and the fact that he has continuously improved to this point.”
Midnight Bourbon left Pimlico to van back to Churchill Downs right before dawn Sunday morning. Asked if the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes might in the plans, Asmussen said, “Of course it is… all major 3-year-old races are under consideration for the rest of the year. Let’s get him back to normal circumstances just to see where we’re at with him. That also gives us time to see everything that’s out there and knock out a plan for him for the second half of the year.”
Midnight Bourbon went off as the 3-1 second choice behind 2-1 favorite Medina Spirit. The massive colt came into the 1 3/16-mile classic with a 2-2-3 record in eight starts, his only out-of-the-money finish coming when he broke awkwardly before finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby. Midnight Bourbon won the Lecomte (G3), was third in the Risen Star (G2) and checked in second in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds. He had beaten and held his own against Mandaloun, who was second by a half-length in the Kentucky Derby.
Midnight Bourbon’s pedigree and his up-close running style would seem to lend itself to the Belmont Stakes. Tiznow, who was pensioned as a stallion last fall, is the sire of 2005 Belmont winner Da’ Tara.
“Absolutely,” Asmussen said of the Belmont suiting Midnight Bourbon. “I think he has proven he is more than worthy of consideration for the best 3-year-olds in the country.”
Medina Spirit, Concert Tour Exit Preakness in Good Order
Jimmy Barnes, the longtime assistant of trainer Bob Baffert, was packing up shop Sunday morning at Pimlico Race Course. Medina Spirit, who tired to third in the Saturday’s Preakness, and Concert Tour, who checked in ninth, got on a van bound for Churchill Downs at 10 a.m.
Once they get to Kentucky, it will be up to Baffert to decide what is next for the two colts.
“We will evaluate everything and Bob will see what direction he wants to go with them,” Barnes said.
Both Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit and Gary and Mary West’s Concert Tour came out of the Preakness in good shape, he said. Medina Spirit, who led throughout the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, set the pace before being overtaken in the stretch by Midnight Bourbon, who was then passed by the late-charging Rombauer.
“He ran his race,” Barnes said. “The second quarter is what got us. Once they threw up that 46 (46.93 seconds), it was a bit much,” Barnes said. “We just need to give him a little bit more time between races. Bob knows what to do and I will feed him the information and he will tell us what to do.”
Concert Tour was never a factor in the Preakness. He was bumped at the start by Risk Taking and the colt that was expected to vie for the lead never got there.
It was his second straight loss after starting his career with three wins.
“That’s horse racing,” Barnes said. “You can’t go out there and win every race. You try to. There were nine other horses out there and if you don’t get your trip, you don’t get your trip.”