Chad Brown knew exactly what to do with Early Voting last fall, first at Saratoga Race Course with just about all the leaves on the ground and later at Belmont Park with long shadows and chilly afternoons.
Unlike some of his more heralded stablemates – Jack Christopher, Zandon, Gerrymander, Portfolio Company and Consumer Spending for starters – Early Voting had yet to make a start despite making an impression. Brown described the son of leading freshman sire Gun Runner as “big, handsome, burly,” and “like a bar fighter,” but didn’t want to take the late developing colt out of his routine. So, when it came time to shuffle his sizable stable’s deck – with the perceived “A String” going south to Florida and Payson Park Training Center – Brown opted to keep Early Voting in New York for the winter.
“I didn’t want to interrupt his schedule,” Brown said. “Sometimes you ship horses down to Florida that are just getting started, and then you have to adjust to, ironically, the humidity and heat and such, when he is just getting going. The weather looked good, so I left him there.”
A similar decision worked five years before with Cloud Computing, like Early Voting owned by Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stable. Brown left Cloud Computing in New York for the winter of 2017 with Klarman’s blessing and that colt thrived enough to go from a debut maiden winner in February to classic winner by May.
Early Voting pulled off a similar feat, repaying his connections with maturity and enough professionalism from his morning lessons to win his debut going a mile at Aqueduct in December. He added the Withers Stakes-G3 in early February. And a little more than three months later he repaid them again with a classic victory in his fourth start, winning the 147th Preakness Stakes-G1 in front of a “reimagined” sweat-soaked crowd of more than 60,000 at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course and millions more watching from afar May 21.
Early Voting and jockey Jose Ortiz held off the late run of favorite and Kentucky Derby-G1 runner-up Epicenter (Joel Rosario) to win the $1.65 million stakes by 1 1⁄4 lengths. Creative Minister, an allowance winner on Derby Day at Churchill Downs making his stakes debut, finished 2 1⁄4 lengths back in third with Kentucky Oaks-G1 winner Secret Oath fourth. Early Voting won in 1:54.54 over the fast track in temperatures above 90 degrees for most of the stakes-laden card.
The victory came after Klarman and Brown made the decision to bypass the Kentucky Derby despite having enough points (courtesy of a second in the Wood Memorial-G2 April 9) to run in the opening jewel of the Triple Crown.
“He is just a really cool horse to be around,” Brown said. “I’m so proud of him. He really did all the work. He came over here in his fourth start, and he stepped on to the turf course, and there’s everything going on; there’s bands, there’s this and that. I didn’t know how he was going to take it, and I’m so proud of the horse that he kept his composure, and he did exactly what we trained him to do.”
Skipping the Derby
Brown, already a four-time Eclipse Award winner and potential first-ballot Hall of Famer when his time comes, wants to win the Kentucky Derby. He considers himself a “student of the race,” and has sent out horses to finish second, third and fourth from seven starters since 2013. Unlike some, however, Brown isn’t one to force a square peg into a round hole when it comes to the Derby.
Cloud Computing earned enough points to make the gate in 2017 and didn’t run. Early Voting earned even more points – 50 to 40 thanks to his efforts in the Withers and the Wood – and also didn’t run.
The final decision came the day before entries were due, although Brown hinted at the possibility he’d skip the race days before, telling media in Louisville “the horse is still at Belmont, if that tells you anything.”
“Sometimes it’s not pretty,” Brown said of running in the Derby. “Those horses need time physically or mentally, and it can really cost a good part of your 3-year-old year if you swing and miss. You could ship all the way over there, draw terrible, the weather. You name it.”
Early Voting’s defection set in motion a scenario that led to arguably the most shocking outcome in Kentucky Derby history. Keeping Early Voting at Belmont to await the Preakness allowed Pioneer of Medina to make the top 20 for the Derby. The defection of Un Ojo the morning entries were due allowed Ethereal Road to also make the field. Ethereal Road was scratched before wagering opened the day before – before the Kentucky Oaks-G1 card started – and that allowed Rich Strike to draw in off the also-eligible list.
The Derby unfolded with a Quarter Horse-fast pace set by Summer Is Tomorrow and Crown Pride (Jpn), which Early Voting likely would have been caught up in and cooked, to set up Rich Strike’s come-from-behind win at 80-1. Brown finished third in the race with Zandon, beaten 1 1⁄2 lengths, and he immediately knew the decision to pass with Early Voting was correct.
“This horse just didn’t have the experience,” Brown said. “He is out there on loose leads. He didn’t have dirt in his face really. A nice horse, but to throw him in a 20-horse field would not have worked out well for him. It really wasn’t that hard of a decision.”
Early Voting stayed at Belmont – where he’d been since leaving Saratoga when Brown closed his barn on the Oklahoma side in early November – while 10 of his stablemates won or placed in nine stakes over the Oaks/Derby weekend. He breezed 5 furlongs over the Belmont main track in 1:02.03 the morning of the Oaks, before Brown tightened him up with another 5-furlong move in a bullet 1:00.63 in company with 2021 Travers Stakes-G1-placed three-time winner Miles D.
Ortiz was aboard for the work, and clockers caught Early Voting getting his last quarter in just over 24 seconds and galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:13. Brown called the gallop out “super” and Ortiz showed up for Preakness Weekend filled with confidence.
“I knew my horse was ready. Chad had him ready,” Ortiz said. “He has been working with a very good horse . . . a player on the older division, and we’ve been working with him. Honestly, he has been working unbelievable. Like I say, they deserve all the credit. They passed on the Derby. Not a lot of people would do it, and it paid off.”
Path to Success
Rich Strike’s connections opted to pass on the Preakness, deciding more than a week before the Triple Crown’s second jewel to instead wait five weeks for the Belmont Stakes-G1. Brown also kept Derby third Zandon out, but Steve Asmussen went ahead with runner-up Epicenter. They were joined by fellow Derby runners Simplification (fourth) and Happy Jack (14th).
Secret Oath, winner of the Kentucky Oaks and trying to become D. Wayne Lukas’ seventh Preakness winner, joined the fray along with Derby Day allowance winner Creative Minister, Santa Anita Derby-G1 fourth Armagnac, Wood Memorial third Skippylongstocking and maiden winner Fenwick to make it a field of nine.
Bettors hammered Epicenter down to 6-5 by post time on a sweltering Baltimore afternoon replete with B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber flyover, thumping bass Infield Fest performances by The Chainsmokers and other Millennial and Generation Z favored acts and all the usual libations. Secret Oath, looking to join Swiss Skydiver and Rachel Alexandra as fillies to win the Preakness in the modern era, came next at 5-1 with Early Voting the third choice at almost 6-1 and Simplification at 8-1.
Early Voting broke sharp from post five as Armagnac cleared from seven. Epicenter started a half-step slow, lost position and was eighth going into the first turn. Asmussen, who marveled before the Preakness that Epicenter had done everything in the Derby “except win,” could barely watch.
“You’ve got to leave the gates,” the perplexed trainer said on the track after the race. They go 24-and-1. . . First time by, you saw where he was. I was past surprised, I was disappointed. When they throw up 24-and-1 and you’re that far back, with a horse that obviously has pace. . . He just gave him too much to do.”
The race’s early stages didn’t leave Epicenter and Rosario much choice. The slow break hurt, but he lost even more ground when pinched between Skippylongstocking and Happy Jack coming to the wire the first time. Rosario steadied, and got to the inside – eighth of nine – while the race unfolded. Ortiz let Early Voting do his thing, tracking Armagnac, a recent transfer to trainer Tim Yakteen while his former boss Bob Baffert waited out a suspension dating to the 2021 Kentucky Derby and Medina Spirit’s medication issues. An allowance winner 13 days earlier, Armagnac led the way on an open lead through splits of :24.32 and :47.44.
“He is a very good horse out of the gate,” Ortiz said of Early Voting. “He always has been. He broke well, and that was the main thing. Break good. Go forward. We knew that Armagnac had speed . . . we knew he was probably going to the lead and he did.”
Just when it looked like Armagnac might be able to find a comfort zone, Ortiz gave Early Voting a little more rein. Second, in the clear and awaiting a cue up the backside, Early Voting ranged alongside Armagnac with about a half-mile to go. Oaks winner Secret Oath tried to match the move from the outside. Epicenter still toiled toward the back and inside, waiting for a chance while seventh on the turn.
Ortiz asked for more near the end of the turn. Early Voting responded, rolled past Armagnac off the turn and led by a length passing the quarter pole. Ortiz looked over his right shoulder for a threat as Epicenter finally found room and enough energy to mount a proper rally along the rail. Ortiz said after he didn’t realize Epicenter got away slow and that he was looking for Secret Oath late.
Checked sharply and trailing in last early, and running four wide on the turn, Secret Oath made it to third at the top of the stretch, but the late run that landed her the Oaks never came as Early Voting blasted past Armagnac off the turn to open up 31⁄2 lengths in mid-stretch. Ortiz left plenty in the tank to hold off Epicenter’s too-late rally. Creative Minister finished third, followed by Secret Oath, Skippylongstocking, Simplification, Armagnac, Happy Jack and Fenwick.
“This race is a dream come true for any rider, you know? It’s a Triple Crown race,” said Ortiz. “Already won the Belmont, but I’ve never won the Preakness before. We were very close with Good Magic. I still feel he was the best horse in the race that day, but it was crazy conditions and fog, sloppy. And honestly, I didn’t have the best trip.”
This year was different.
“I had the trip I wanted,” he said. “We planned it out, we executed [it] with perfection and we came out on top.”
Ortiz won his first Preakness in his fifth ride in the race, with his best prior finish a fourth aboard Good Magic in Justify’s 2018 victory through the rain and fog. He admitted that Good Magic didn’t get the best of trips that day but made amends in 2022 with a colt who didn’t exactly give off the impression he’d give the leading rider his second classic victory.
Walking back to the jockeys’ room after the post-race press conference, after the final race of the day was run and the heavy bass from the infield died down, Ortiz remembered the first time he saw Early Voting one fall morning at Brown’s Belmont barn.
“The first time I got on him, I walked in the shedrow at Chad’s, saw him and thought he looked good,” Ortiz said. “Then while he was walking, the next thing I knew he’d knocked off every bucket that was hanging up in the shed.”
Ortiz hesitated for a beat, took a look around and asked, “I’m getting on him?”
That opinion changed after that first breeze on Belmont’s main track, and maybe even before the 2017 Eclipse Award-winning jockey put the big dark bay colt through his paces.
“He was different though once I got on him, acted completely different,” said Ortiz, who offered Brown some immediate feedback.
“This is a nice horse,” the jockey told the trainer. “He just might need time.”
He got plenty.
Early Voting ran to his works – three bullets in 11 breezes at Saratoga and Belmont – and won his debut going 1 mile at Aqueduct Dec. 18 with Ortiz aboard. Ortiz spent much of the winter in South Florida riding at Gulfstream Park, but was still able to return to New York to breeze Early Voting and ride him to victory in the Withers-G3 at Aqueduct Feb. 5.
Ortiz also rode Zandon, who spent the winter at Payson Park, in the Risen Star-G2 at Fair Grounds Feb. 19. Brown wanted to keep Zandon and Early Voting separate after the Withers and Risen Star, and opted to send the former to Keeneland for the Blue Grass-G1 and keep the latter in New York for the Wood Memorial-G2. Brown also made the call to keep Ortiz on Early Voting while giving the mount on Zandon to Flavien Prat.
“Boss, I’ll go where you tell me to go,” Ortiz told Brown when informed of the decision.
Brown, who has teamed with Jose Ortiz and his older brother Irad Ortiz Jr. for scores of stakes wins, came away impressed.
“It’s hard to be taken off Zandon when they’re on the same day because we knew that horse was probably going to go win the Blue Grass and go to the Derby as one of the favorites,” Brown said. “That’s how he is. He said, ‘I’ll go where you tell me to go.’
He didn’t win the Wood [missing by a neck to Mo Donegal], but it’s our feeling that’s his horse. He went there for us that day, and that’s going to remain his horse. It was never even a thought after the horse got beat to make a change.
“He went up there and rode him for us, and he rode him brilliantly. I want to point that out. Talk about being a team player. He doesn’t give me any trouble with those conversations, and he is very nice to work with that way.”
Zandon did indeed win the Blue Grass, and finished third in the Derby with Prat while Jose Ortiz finished fourth on Simplification. Two weeks later in the Preakness, the jockey stuck with Early Voting while John Velazquez took the mount on Simplification.
Second Happy Homecoming
Ortiz added the Preakness to his 2017 Belmont Stakes-G1 victory aboard Tapwrit. Brown and Klarman, who co-owned Cloud Computing with former longtime partner Bill Lawrence, now have two classics in Klarman’s hometown of Baltimore.
Klarman grew up three blocks from Pimlico, on Whitney Avenue in Mt. Washington, and went to the races at Old Hilltop while attending Baltimore Polytechnic Institute high school. A graduate of Cornell University and Harvard University, Klarman founded the Boston-based private investment partnership Baupost Group in the 1980s.
Klarman dipped his toe into racehorse ownership long before he became a billionaire – he jokes that his wife Beth made him sleep on the couch after buying into his first horse – but he’s on board in a big way now. Originally formed with Klarman’s friend Jeff Ravich, Klaravich is perennially a leading owner, with an Eclipse Award as such in 2019, and has campaigned champion Bricks and Mortar, two classic winners and dozens of other stars.
Klarman bought Early Voting for $200,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September sale, the same price he paid for Cloud Computing at the same auction in 2015. Nearly all of the horses that carry his red and white colors fall in that price range, and Klarman uses a team that includes Brown, Mike and Mary Ryan, Niall Brennan and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital’s Dr. Scott and Debbie Pierce.
“We have a great team,” Klarman said. “Chad goes to the sales. Chad works with the team that he has assembled at the sales. We have a long list. We narrow it down to a short list. The horse needs to have a decent pedigree, needs to be physically a horse that we think will be able to handle training and be healthy. It has to be in the right price range. We’re not going to pay any amount for a horse. When you meet those three criteria, there’s a chance we’ll buy at the sale.”
Gonçalo Borges Torrealba’s Three Chimneys Farm bred Early Voting. A son of 2021 leading freshman sire, Horse of the Year and $15,988,500-earner Gun Runner, he’s the third foal out of the unraced Tiznow mare Amour d’Ete. The first foal, the now 6-year-old Distorted Humor mare Shocking Fast, won for Three Chimneys and Asmussen. Her second foal, the winning Super Saver filly named Caught Looking, sold for $75,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September sale. She’s also the dam of a 2-year-old full-sister to Early Voting named Isn’t She Sweet. One step backward, Early Voting’s pedigree gets deeper than the Chesapeake Bay as Amour d’Ete is a half-sister to leading sire Speightstown, West Virginia stallion star Fiber Sonde and Grade 2 winner Irap.
Early Voting earned $990,000 for the victory, which came on Klarman’s 65th birthday, to boost his bankroll to $1,311,500 from three wins and a second in four starts.
“You know, I’ve lived my adult life in Boston, but it’s an incredible experience to come back to my hometown and have a chance to compete at this level,” Klarman said. “It’s one of the highlights of a career owning racehorses. A really extraordinary feeling.”