Another Santa Anita trainer finds glory at Preakness Stakes with Rombauer's triumph
All the attention this week at the Preakness Stakes was directed at the Santa Anita trainer who wasn’t there. But the race was won by the one who was there.
Mike McCarthy, hidden amid the all the controversy surrounding the positive drug test by Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby, just went about his business prepping Rombauer for the second leg of the Triple Crown. It appears he did a pretty good job.
“Stunned,” McCarthy said of Rombauer’s win. “[But] not totally surprised. Not sure if that makes any sense.”
The race developed as expected with Medina Spirit on the lead and Midnight Bourbon back a half-length. Midnight Bourbon was able to draw even on the far turn and it appeared as if the two would fight to the wire. But, quietly Rombauer had been picking off horses on the turn and by mid-stretch was moving with energy on the outside and blew by the leaders to win by 3½ lengths.
It’s the first time in seven tries that a Bob Baffert-trained Derby winner didn’t win a Preakness held in May. Baffert chose not to come to the Preakness amid the controversy surrounding the failed drug test that puts Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby win in jeopardy. On Saturday, Medina Spirit finished third and stablemate Concert Tour ran a disappointing ninth.
It was also the second Triple Crown win for Santa Anita-based jockey Flavien Prat but the first time he won by crossing the finish line first. In 2019, Prat won the Kentucky Derby aboard Country House after Maximum Security was disqualified for interference.
“Well, of course it’s a lot different when you cross the wire first,” Prat said. “You get that feeling where it’s a lot of joy. … But I’m really proud of both races anyway."
Rombauer paid $25.60, $10.00 and $5.20. Midnight Bourbon was second followed by Medina Spirit, Keepmeinmind, Crowded Table, Unbridled Honor, France Go De Ina, Risk Taking, Concert Tour and Ram.
McCarthy recalled watching Rombauer moving well through the early stages of the race.
“He seemed like he was traveling awfully well,” McCarthy said. “First time underneath the wire, Flavien had a snug hold. When he turned up the backside I thought he might be doing a little too much at that point. At the half-mile pole he still looked comfortable. … At the eighth pole, it was like an out-of-body experience.”
McCarthy got his trainer's license in 2006 and studied under Todd Pletcher, who races mostly in New York and Florida. McCarthy went on his own in 2014 and his biggest success had been winning the Pegasus World Cup in 2019 with City Of Light.
Rombauer came to this moment after winning the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, a race run on a synthetic surface. By winning, he was guaranteed an all-expenses trip to the Preakness as part of a promotion by the Stronach Group, which owns Golden Gate, Pimlico, Santa Anita and other tracks.
But he had his eyes on running the horse in the Kentucky Derby first and took the colt to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, where he finished third.
John and Diane Fradkin, of Santa Ana, had other ideas about what to do with the colt they not only own but also had bred.
“I was bullish on running in the Kentucky Derby,” McCarthy said. “Jack and Diane thought this was the better route.”
The trainer and the owners still don’t agree on the issue of the Kentucky Derby.
“I believe in running him in the easier spots if possible, and I didn’t think that the Kentucky Derby really suited him,” John Fradkin said. “I thought there was a pretty good chance we would not hit the board just because of his running style.”
So, the trainer and owner worked it out about not running in the Derby?
“We had a pretty heated discussion about that,” Fradkin said. “Let’s just leave it at that.”
The conventional thinking is that Rombauer now will head to New York and run in the Belmont Stakes.
“It would have been nice to have [wife Erin and daughter Stella] here today,” McCarthy said. “We’ll get them to New York. Actually, you know what, maybe we better not get them to New York. We don’t want to jinx it.”
Fradkin isn’t as sure as McCarthy.
“Now that we’ve won this one it kind of takes the pressure off to do that,” Fradkin said. “That race is three weeks out and the spacing isn’t superb to go a mile-and-a-half with just three weeks of rest. … I’d say it’s a possibility, but it’s probably less a possibility than if we had run a good third or something.”
Following Rombauer’s win, it was as if horse racing found something else to talk about rather than the medication positive that has roiled the sport.
How long that will last remains to be seen.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.