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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

GOOD HANDICAPPING AND HORSEMANSHIP MEET IN THE WINNERS’ CIRCLE AT PIMLICO

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, May 16, 2021 – This morning had an odd sense of calm after a storm. All the horses that were supposed to run in the Preakness, Mandaloun notwithstanding, did.

The race was formful, per usual, and all horses returned safely. The Preakness-146 undercard looked strong on paper and played out that way. The bettors liked it; up about $15-million compared to 2019’s record setting handle of $99-mllion.

The first three Preakness finishers ran very well, especially Rombauer, who bounded away impressively with less than a furlong remaining, winning in full stride and with ears pricking, the kind of move that should play very well in Elmont three weeks hence.

Midnight Bourbon, the over-bet second choice, ran his best race, the one many expected two weeks ago—before the starting gate exploded into furious Derby chaos. The one who benefitted most from a clean getaway won that race.

The start of the Derby virtually eliminated two horses who returned to run well in the Preakness; the runner-up and fourth finisher, Keepmeinmind, who made his characteristic late charge.  Everyone else disappointed terribly.

Third choice Concert Tour was awful. “I’m at a loss for words,” said Mike Smith. “He didn’t seem to participate at all down the backside. He just wasn’t going anywhere and when I put my hands down, he just backed right off, it was very strange.”

Contrarily, Medina Spirit ran his race, a good third after setting moderately fast fractions throughout as Midnight Bourbon sat comfortably just outside off his right hip. Medina Spirit sped all the way to the quarter-pole where he tired but kept trying to the finish.

Since everyone has an opinion about the effects of betamethasone on his Derby performance, here’s one more. It is highly unlikely that the 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory corticosteroid found in his system enhanced his Derby performance.

In the Preakness, the pace was more pressure packed and little Medina Spirit was coming back on two weeks rest. It was his sixth race since JAN 2 and his across-the-board slate this year reads 2-3-1. He is the quintessential nice horse.

Both Chad Brown horses were awful, too; Unbridled Honor found himself ambitiously placed, and Ram was simply outclassed at this stage of his development.

Japanese import France Go de Ina was better than anticipated. Joel Rosario put him in the game at the midway point but the horse leveled off soon thereafter. Trainer Hideyuki Mori said his charge resented the kickback.

We should have rated Rombauer higher. We were duly impressed with his El Camino Real synthetic track score and said so at the time but I thought his third in a strongly run Blue Grass Stakes was workmanlike. He didn’t finish it off but did race closer to the pace than usual, which might have compromised his kick.

While that evaluation might have been an under-estimation, it was hard to envision a dirt-maiden breaker coming in an American Classic. But now he’s got everyone’s full attention, approaching the Belmont and beyond.

Rombauer’s lifetime [7] (3-1-1) slate includes victories on three surfaces as he broke maiden on debut going one mile on grass. So, while he should be a Belmont starter, considering the spacing into the Preakness, his style, lung capacity, etc., etc., will he?

There were several refreshingly honest moments re scheduling between trainer Michael McCarthy, who wanted to run in the Derby, and owner-breeder John Fradkin, who thought the win-and-in El Camino hero had a better chance in Baltimore.

Luckily for both, a “handicapping philosophy thing” did not end in divorce. While Fradkin said post-race that the Belmont could be next providing the colt rebounds from the effort, he termed a Belmont start “a possibility but probably a little less of a possibility than if he had run like a good third or something…  

“[The Belmont] is only three weeks out and the spacing isn’t superb to go into a mile-and-a-half race with just three weeks of rest… I know Michael is a disciple of Todd Pletcher. They don’t like running on three weeks’ rest.”

There’s another factor, too. Sometimes the mile and a half Belmont Stakes, given today’s less hardy stock, precludes success in the Fall season when championships are won.

Going into Saturday’s event, chances are the connections thought the Belmont was their best chance of enjoying Classics success. Now that they’ve notched one, bringing a fresh horse to the Haskell, Travers and beyond might be more prudent in the long term.

Doing what turned out to be the best decision for Rombauer paid huge dividends yesterday at Old Hilltop. And now that Essential Quality is back in the Belmont conversation, it could be another “handicapping” decision that will tip the scales.

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