Rombauer Upsets 146th Preakness With Powerful Stretch Run

Trainer Michael McCarthy made his first start in a Triple Crown race a big one at Pimlico race course in Baltimore, Md., winning Saturday’s 146th running of the Grade 1, $1-million Preakness Stakes with John and Diane Fradkin’s homebred Twirling Candy colt Rombauer. Ridden to perfection by Flavien Prat, Rombauer came from off the pace to win the Triple Crown’s middle jewel, racing past dueling leaders Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit in midstretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

Midnight Bourbon held second, with 2-1 favorite Medina Spirit another ttwo lengths back in third, Keepmeinmind fourth and Crowded trade fifth in the field of 10 3-year-olds. Unbridled Honor, France Go de Ina, Risk Taking, Concert Tour and Ram completed the order of finish.

Rombauer paid $25.60 for the win, his third from seven  career starts. He ran the 1 3/16 miles in 1:53.62.

“I’m so proud of this horse, everybody involved,” said McCarthy, fighting back tears as he spoke to NBC’s Kenny Rice. “It means a lot to be here and participate on a day like this. I’m happy for the Fradkins. It just goes to show you that small players in this game can be successful, as well. Hats off to everybody. I wish my family could be here. Fantastic.”

Rombauer was produced from the Cowboy Cal mare, Cashmere, one of two broodmares owned by the Fradkins, who reside in Santa Ana, Calif. Rombauer was foaled at Machmer Hall in Paris, Ky., and as a youngster spent time at Ben Berger’s Woodstock Farm in Lexington. For several months at Woodstock, he shared a paddock with Hot Rod Charlie, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby and is likely headed to the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes next.

The Fradkins typically sell their foals but opted to race Rombauer after COVID-19 altered the 2020 auction schedule of 2-year-olds in training, which John Fradkin said he prefers to yearling sales. On the advice of consignor Eddie Woods, they pulled Rombauer out of consideration for any sales and put him in training instead, sending the colt to McCarthy in California. They had hoped to sell him privately once he raced.

Rombauer won his debut on July 25, coming from off the pace to win a one-mile maiden race on turf by a half length. John Fradkin was thinking that would generate interest in the horse, but when the initial Beyer Speed Figure came up  a relatively low 48, there were no calls.

Trainer Michael McCarthy, left, celebrates the Preakness victory with jockey Flavien Prat and owners John and Diane Fradkin

After Rombauer’s Preakness victory, Fradkin said he later would learn that Del Mar’s timing system was not working properly last summer and the race was probably run much faster than the official time.

“That was another lucky break, because if the real time was given to the horse, he probably would have sold,” John Fradkin said. “We probably would have sold him in that time period.”

Following the debut win, Rombauer ran a troubled sixth in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes on Sept. 7, then showed in his next start he could handle a dirt surface just as well – finishing a close second to Get Her Number in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 26. Next came a fifth-place finish behind champion Essential Quality in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland on Nov. 6.

Rombauer didn’t surface again until Feb. 13, opting out of the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and heading to Golden Gate Fields in Northern California instead, where he won the El Camino Real Derby on the synthetic Tapeta surface. The call to run  in that race was made by Fradkin, who said he had a “heated” conversation with McCarthy about the decision. Following the Preakness, he said he likes to find the easiest spots possible for his horses.

The victory at Golden Gate was a “win and in” race, giving the winner at expense-paid berth in the Preakness. McCarthy wanted to run Rombauer in the Kentucky Derby after a third-place finish behind Essential Quality and Highly Motivated in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, but, once again, Fradkin wielded his influence.. He opted to skip the Derby and go to the Preakness instead.

When asked if he had any regrets about that decision, Fradkin said: “None whatsoever.”

Most of the attention Preakness week was on the controversy surrounding Medina Spirit and his trainer, Bob Baffert. Eight days after the colt was first across the wire in the Derby, Baffert revealed that he was notified of a positive drug test for the corticosteroid betamethasone. Maryland Jockey Club officials put Medina Spirit and two other Baffert runners under tighter scrutiny, testing them three times before Preakness weekend as part of an agreement allowing Baffert to run.

One of those Baffert runners was Concert Tour, who was removed from consideration for the Derby after suffering his first loss in four starts when running third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. He was one of seven starters who did not run in the Derby and was made the third choice in the wagering behind Medina Spirit and the Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bourbon, who ran a troubled sixth in the Derby.

Medina Spirit, breaking from the No. 3 post under John Velazquez, sped to the early lead as he did in Kentucky, but Midnight Bourbon and Irad Ortiz Jr. got away cleanly from the five post and raced alongside him in the run past the Pimlico grandstand the first time around. Rombauer settled into sixth position early in the third flight of horses, about 5 1/2 lengths behind the leaders in the early stages.

After fractions of :23.77 for the opening quarter mile and :46.93 for the half, Rombauer was on the muscle and beginning to gain on the top pair as the field reached the far turn, the six furlongs clocked in 1:10.97.

Rombauer (pink silks, left) chases Medina Spirit (right) and Midnight Bourbon into the stretch of the Preakness

Turning into the stretch, it looked as though this Preakness would come down to the two favorites, as Concert Tour faded after going wide around both turns. But Prat had moved Rombauer into third position rounding into the stretch and had all the momentum as Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon continued their battle on the front end.

Rombauer still had 1 1/2 lengths to make up on Midnight Bourbon – who had put away Medina Spirit – with a furlong to run, but Prat encouraged his mount with four left-handed strikes with the whip and Rombauer responded, taking command in the final furlong and drawing away.

“Oh, what a feeling,” Prat told NBC after the win. The French-born, Southern California-based rider won his first Triple Crown races in 2019 aboard Country House via the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby.

“It’s a lot different when you cross the wire first,” he said. “You get that feeling where it’s a lot of joy.”

Prat said Rombauer was keyed up before the Preakness and said that “the groom and the pony girl that was with me, they did a good job and we tried to get him to relax and it worked out well.”

McCarthy said he was pleased with how Rombauer was moving in the early stages of the race. “Coming to the quarter pole, I started to get a little excited,” McCarthy said. “The two horses in front of him were traveling well. At the eighth pole, I’ve said it before, it was like an out-of-body experience.”

McCarthy, who went out on his own late in 2006 after spending a number of years as an assistant to Todd Pletcher, said he was touched that one of the first people to congratulate him was Pletcher, whose Highly Honored finished sixth in his quest to win his first Preakness.

“Everything that we do sort of channels what we did when I worked there,” McCarthy said of Pletcher. “I kind of always try to refer to something he would do. Strange to believe that I’ve won something he hasn’t. I’m sure that won’t last for long. It means the world to me.”


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