The days ticked away last summer at Saratoga Race Course as the meeting loomed and Chad Brown prepared to launch the careers of two colts bought for one of his main clients at the same yearling sale almost a year before.
Both were by promising young stallions and Brown ranked them among the best juveniles in the barn. One was a bay named Practical Joke, a son of Into Mischief who cost $240,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale. The other was a dark bay named Cloud Computing, a son of Maclean’s Music who cost $200,000.
The two were working steadily over the Oklahoma Training Track, the perfect place to give young horses an education with a quiet setting in the spring and early summer before the hubbub of the racing season gets in full swing in the upstate New York town. They weren’t working together, but they were showing all the signs they’d be ready to run early at the meet.
As June folded into July only Practical Joke remained on that path, steadily breezing 4 and 5 furlongs on the deep Oklahoma dirt and eventually on Saratoga’s main track once it opened. Cloud Computing turned in five breezes on Oklahoma in June – three at three-eighths and two at a half-mile – then disappeared from the work tab.
“He had a small chip in his front ankle, he was sound,” Brown said. “We checked him one day, picked it up. He was getting ready to debut at Saratoga, he was pretty close, a couple works away.”
Disappointed but knowing what needed to be done, Brown made the call trainers abhor. He called Seth Klarman, who races as Klaravich Stable and owns Cloud Computing in partnership with Bill Lawrence.
Unsurprisingly, Klarman took the news pretty well.
“Do your thing, whatever you think,” he told Brown.
“I like this horse,” Brown told the owner. “I think we should clean it up.”
Ten months later, Cloud Computing was clean as new money, winning the 142nd Preakness Stakes-G1 at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course May 20. The classic win proved to be not only a reward but also confirmation that time and patience often lead to success at the highest levels of the game.
“I could have run him a few times, maybe do surgery after he runs, but it’s not my style,” said Brown. “I’m always waiting. Bobby Frankel taught me that; fix problems right away and you’ll be rewarded down the road.”
For his part, Practical Joke proved that success takes many forms by winning his debut at Saratoga Aug. 6, adding Grade 1 tallies in the Hopeful and Champagne as a juvenile and finding a spot in the 20-horse starting gate for the Kentucky Derby-G1 May 6. He finished fifth while his stablemate – who didn’t debut until February at Aqueduct – skipped the Derby in favor of the Triple Crown’s second step.
He made it count.
In just his fourth start, Cloud Com-puting caught 2016 juvenile champion Classic Empire in the stretch to win by a head in 1:55.98 for 13⁄16 miles. Senior Investment rallied for third at 31-1. Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming set much of the pace, while stalked for every step by Classic Empire, and faded to eighth in a field of 10.
Cloud Computing gave Brown his first success in an American classic – he’d made only five attempts, four in the Derby and one in the Belmont – and also the first for Klarman and Lawrence. Javier Castellano, who landed the mount thanks to a long association with Brown, added a second Preakness to his victory with Bernardini in 2006.
The victory set off a wild celebration in the tight owners’ box area at Pimlico, with Klarman, Lawrence, Brown and the entourage whooping it up not far from the connections of the beaten rivals. Cloud Computing got a warm reception from the record crowd of 140,327.
The ovation was fitting for a colt who drew raves for his good looks training at Belmont Park, where he completed his Preakness preparations, and once on the grounds at Pimlico. The dark bay – with a white dot (maybe) between his eyes – looked like Batman walking the shedrow a few days out. Sleek, long, fit, rested, ready, he was the potential upsetter despite a lack of seasoning and a single win against Aqueduct maidens on his race record.
“We had a weird feeling today,” said Lawrence. “We just looked and said, ‘Why not today?’ You never want to get there way ahead, but this horse was really training well. We weren’t . . . Chad’s first plan was let’s take a break. We just thought we had a good horse.”
Derby Trail leads to Preakness Road
With its news choppers, airplane advertisements, thumping music and even a rattling shopping cart or 12, the Preakness walkover can undo any mammal.
“This is nuts. I don’t know how these guys do it. I get nervous about little races,” said Anthony Bonomo, co-owner of Always Dreaming back at the barn with 45 minutes to post. “It’s worse [than the Derby]. You know, you win the Derby you’re supposed to win the next one. Everybody’s rooting for you. Oh boy.”
Always Dreaming had won the Derby for Bonomo, his wife Mary Ellen, Vinnie and Teresa Viola, West Point Thor-ough-breds and Siena Farm – living up to a flawless prep schedule of Tampa Bay Downs maiden win Jan. 25, Gulfstream Park allowance win March 4 and then a 5-length romp in the Florida Derby-G1 April 1.
At Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, the dark bay colt slapped around 19 rivals including New Jersey-bred Irish War Cry (who finished 10th) and Pennsylvania-bred Fast and Accurate (17th) while winning by 23⁄4 lengths on a wet track.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who got his second Derby win, sent Always Dreaming to Pimlico early in hopes of finding some peace for his horse.
The track, which hosted a 12-day Preak-ness meet, cooperated and the horse seemed to thrive. He’d gotten sharp and strong at Churchill, prompting Pletcher to install draw reins and change exercise riders to strong-armed, light-handed Nick Bush.
“We got to Churchill and, snap, he was on it,” said Pletcher the day before the Preakness. “I thought, ‘OK, he’ll breeze and blow off some steam and be back to normal.’ Not all all. Nobody could have galloped him without draw reins at Churchill.”
The draw reins stayed on at Pimlico, and Always Dreaming seemed to continue the same trend. He acted fresh, happy, sharp – really sharp – and he’d essentially run the best race of his life while training similarly a few weeks earlier. Six days before the race, Always Dreaming jigged down the horsepath to the track for a 6 a.m. gallop. He walked on at the top of the stretch and wasted little time making Bush earn his money. Just past the wire, the Derby winner threw in a little buck – some hesitation, a jump – before galloping 11⁄2 miles like a Labrador Retriever heading for the neighborhood pond.
“The problem was that he was trying to buck with the draw reins on,” Pletcher said. “That’s why he kind of stumbled a little bit. Without the draw reins he would have wanted to have a little breeze. What we’re seeing out there gives us the same feel we were getting at Churchill. He’s on it. He’s feeling good. He’s high-energy. We came in here [early] because he could relax, but we don’t want him too relaxed. His appetite is really good. His energy level is outstanding. What we’ve seen is what we were hoping for.”
That vision remained in place through the week. Always Dreaming training, Pletcher answering questions, counting on a repeat of the Derby effort.
“Like everyone coming back from the Derby, your biggest concern is trying to repeat a top performance in 14 days,” Pletcher said, nine days out. “Based off the strength of his race and the way he seems to have come out of it so far, we’re really happy.”
But, like always, Pletcher added his caveat when it comes to wheeling a horse back on short rest, “…a lot of times you don’t know until the quarter pole.”
At Belmont Park, Cloud Computing went through his paces. He knew nothing of Derby pressure, of Preakness Day hoopla, of draw reins, of 14-day turnarounds and “sharp-or-too-sharp?” questions. No, he just trained – on schedule for a six-week return to racing (Brown’s forte). He breezed a half-mile in :48.40 a week out and arrived at Pimlico four days before the Preakness.
Cloud Computing stepped off a Sallee tractor-trailer like a boss – ears up, forelock catching the breeze just so, lip chain firmly in place. He galloped easily the next day – a horse doing work – and got a kiss on the neck from exercise rider Peter Roman as a reward.
Bred in Kentucky by Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings and Stretch Run Ventures, Cloud Computing is part of the first crop of Hill ‘n’ Dale stallion Maclean’s Music – a son of Distorted Humor whose career lasted one start (a blast-off, 6-furlong Santa Anita maiden win in 1:07.44) in 2011. Standing for $8,500, he ranked eighth among first-crop sires in 2016 and was second (through May) among second-crop sires this year. Regionally, a Maclean’s Music colt was reserve champion at the Maryland Horse Breeders Association’s yearling show in 2016.
Cloud Computing’s dam, the A.P. Indy mare Quick Temper, placed in graded stakes, earned $259,722 and had produced two winners before the future Preakness winner went through the ring at Keeneland September (she since has had another winner, $5,000 Charles Town maiden claimer Ms. Short Fuze). Quick Temper’s roots run through the Mid-Atlantic via third dam Ameriangel – bred in Maryland by Dr. and Mrs. William Wright. Ameriangel never raced and neither did her Maryland-bred dam Ameriturn, but Ameriturn’s half-sister T. V. Highlights won stakes at Delaware Park, Penn National and Monmouth Park for the Wrights’ Labadie Mill Farm in 1980.
After a full field of 20 went to the starting gate in the Derby, the Preakness field numbered 10. Without the chaff, the second jewel of the Triple Crown boiled down to a showdown between Derby winner Always Dreaming and Classic Empire, who finished fourth in the Derby following a troubled start.
Those two dominated the wagering, Always Dreaming going to the post at 7-5 with Classic Empire right behind at 2-1. Lookin At Lee, a longshot second in the Derby, was the only other runner at single digits at 9-1. Breaking side-by-side in posts four and five, respectively, Always Dreaming (John Velazquez) and Classic Empire (Julien Leparoux) locked on each other early, guaranteeing there would be no Derby distraction.
Velazquez reached down with his right hand to adjust his right stirrup twice in the first few strides as Always Dreaming made for the front. Leparoux hustled Classic Empire away from the gate and found a spot on the Derby winner’s right hip in a few strides. Breaking from post two, Cloud Computing resisted the assistant starter’s attention for a moment just before the doors opened, then allowed the leaders to clear while inching off the rail. Castellano tapped the brakes, crouching against the reins and shifting his feet forward while passing the finish line the first time.
Always Dreaming covered the opening quarter-mile in :23.16, with Classic Empire just behind. Third, covered up, Cloud Computing listened to his jockey and stayed put – just inside longshot Term of Art through a half-mile in :46.81.
Brown and Castellano analyzed the race a few days beforehand and envisioned exactly what was materializing.
“The first thing was getting a clean break,” Brown said of his wish list before the Preakness. “Here’s a horse that had only run three times and [in] two of them he broke bad.
“It’s Javier’s first time riding the horse. What helps in situations like this is that we have good chemistry. He’s ridden a lot of top horses for me and ridden them well. We work well together and when I relay information about a horse or a plan, he knows just what I’m talking about and he can get it done. That’s big. Once he got a spot early, we figured the race can be won or lost in that first turn. I feel he won that race right in that first turn.”
This time, Pletcher was wrong about not knowing if a horse was bouncing until the quarter pole. Always Dreaming threw his anchor long before the quarter pole.
Classic Empire wrested a short lead from Always Dreaming entering the second turn as 6 furlongs went by in 1:11, pulling Leparoux to the front while Velazquez started to push on the Derby winner. Sensing the early leader was about to retreat, Castellano switched Cloud Computing outside a path and shook him up at the three-eighths pole.
“We drew it up exactly the way it happened; it rarely happens that way,” Brown said. “It worked to a T. When I saw the two heavyweights hooking up early out there I figured, one of them is going to give and there will be one of them to run down. This horse ran down a real good horse in Classic Empire, I have a lot of respect for him. I have a lot of respect for the Derby winner, too.”
Classic Empire roared off the turn in front, and opened up while Cloud Computing came alongside the slightly drifting Always Dreaming to inch into second. Leparoux and Mark Casse, who trains Classic Empire for John Oxley, hoped Always Dreaming could carry their colt a little farther into the lane so they wouldn’t be out there as a target for a late runner. That didn’t happen as Always Dreaming plummeted to eighth, leaving Classic Empire alone – and vulnerable.
Leparoux implored Classic Empire for more outside the eighth pole and they were still clear inside the final furlong, but Cloud Computing took aim. Castellano hit his horse once left-handed at the eighth pole, then threw crosses from there. Classic Empire fought back, but couldn’t withstand the rush as Cloud Computing put a head in front late and made it last.
“We got the trip we wanted, outside of Always Dreaming,” Leparoux said after talking with Casse on the track. “Always Dreaming backed out of the race early and I got to the lead early, maybe too early.”
Casse didn’t offer any excuses, saluted the winner and told Leparoux, “You did all you could,” as they walked off the track.
Senior Investment, the race’s second longest price at 31-1, finished 43⁄4 lengths back in third with Lookin At Lee a half-length behind in a three-way photo for fourth with Gunnevera and Multiplier.
Lightly raced classic winner
Cloud Computing, who boasted only a maiden victory and two placings in New York’s top Derby preps in his three previous starts, became the first Preakness winner to not run in the Derby since Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and just the fourth since Deputed Testamony won in 1983.
Cloud Computing earned enough points in his two prior starts to gain a spot in the Derby but with Practical Joke already in the race and Brown sensing he needed a bit more time he eschewed Louisville and the first jewel of the Triple Crown. Brown credited Frankel with teaching him that type of patience, which isn’t always easy to exercise given the allure of the Derby for anyone with a classy 3-year-old.
“I was thinking about this in the winner’s circle, I’ve always praised my mentor Bobby Frankel, who taught me so much,” Brown said. “And it just seems like he’s won every race but the Derby and the Preakness.”
Frankel only started four horses in the Preakness during his Hall of Fame career, and only eight in the Derby. He didn’t go unless he felt he had a chance, preferring to wait for other spots down the road rather than chase an empty wagon.
Brown learned similar lessons and said the decision to skip the Derby was easy, preferring the six-week break between the Wood and the Preakness and then taking on foes coming back on two weeks’ rest.
“I often ask myself, ‘What would Bobby do in this situation?’ because I had so much respect for him when I worked for him,” Brown said. “I just felt with a lightly raced horse like that, he always taught me give him time, there’s other races down the road, always do the right thing, don’t get caught up in the emotion of pressing, trying too hard to get that first Derby. What made the decision a little bit easier was we had Practical Joke for the same owners.
“Seth asked me, after we ran Practical Joke, how much factor did that play? It played a little, but I ultimately wouldn’t have run Cloud Computing in the Derby. I knew it wasn’t the right thing management-wise for the horse. For the long term of the horse. And let’s face it, if the horse didn’t get up today I still have to live with the aftermath of the horse coming out of the race. What to do next, how’s the rest of his campaign go? As a trainer I have to use good management with these horses to make them last their whole career.”
Cloud Computing’s future now looks bright, in contrast to what it looked like back on that early summer day when Brown pulled the plug. Once the chip was removed and he recovered, Cloud Computing went back into serious training. He joined Brown’s string at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida but was back in New York before Christmas.
He made it to the races Feb. 11 at Aqueduct and won a 6-furlong maiden special weight on the inner track. That earned him a trip to the 11⁄16-mile Gotham-G3, where he finished second to J Boys Echo and ahead of the multiple graded stakes winner El Areeb. Cloud Computing then finished third in the Wood Memorial-G2, 7 lengths behind runaway winner Irish War Cry.
“We knew he was good right away. How did we know he was this good, Preakness good? I’d say in his second start in the Gotham when he was chasing a fast pace then made another run in the lane, he just never quit,” Brown said. “We huddled up and said, ‘This horse is really special and he can go that far, how can we get to the Derby?’ It just didn’t work out in the Wood . . . Looking back it was a bit of a speed-biased track that day, he was one of the only horses that closed ground really.”
Two weeks after the Wood, Cloud Computing worked a half-mile on the Belmont training track. He fired bullet 5-furlong moves in a minute-and-change April 29 and May 7 (the latter a day after the Derby). In the Baltimore twilight, Lawrence recalled a conversation with Brown about those works and a potential next start.
“This horse can win whatever we put him in,” the trainer told the owner.
The Preakness was in play with two weeks to go and then became a serious reality when Cloud Computing went a half-mile in :48.85 a week out. The six-week break worked for Cloud Computing, whose chief Preakness rivals had run 11⁄4 miles in the Derby two weeks earlier.
Of course, the final margin came down to about a foot after a long stretch run – meaning everything matters.
“I wasn’t positive the horse was going to get there right at the wire,” said Brown of what he saw watching in the boxes. “We had time on our side today. Six weeks of rest might have made the difference.”