BALTIMORE — Classic Empire took the fight to the Kentucky Derby winner from the start, and he knocked out Always Dreaming midway on the far turn. Classic Empire and Julien Leparoux seemed home free when they drew clear by three lengths at the eighth pole, but not so fast. On a cool, cloudy afternoon, a lightly raced long shot named Cloud Computing would darken their day.
After winning the duel, Classic Empire was ambushed. Javier Castellano had kept Cloud Computing in third and had plenty of horse when it mattered most. About 50 yards from the finish, Cloud Computing stuck his nose in front of Classic Empire’s and inched away to win the Preakness by a head Saturday before a record Pimlico crowd of 140,327.
“It’s special, because Chad [Brown] gave me a lot of help in my career,” Castellano said of Cloud Computing’s trainer, “We’ve had a lot of great winners, but today is special because it’s part of the Triple Crown.”
The late-blooming son of the obscure sire Maclean’s Music was making only the fourth start of a career that began Feb. 11. He lost ground in the stretch in the Gotham and Wood Memorial, and was winless beyond 6 furlongs. Not since the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009 had a Preakness winner skipped the Derby. Cloud Computing hadn’t run since finishing a distant third April 8 in the Wood Memorial, and the six-week layoff is the longest for a Preakness champion since Red Bullet (five weeks, 2000).
“Certainly I’m not going to dispute the fact that I brought in a fresh horse as part of our strategy,” Brown said. “Our horse is very talented, too. Classic Empire and Always Dreaming are two outstanding horses, and our strategy was if we are ever going to beat them, let’s take them on when they have two weeks’ rest and we have six, and it worked.”
Always Dreaming, the 6-5 favorite, cracked under Classic Empire’s pressure. After leading through 6 furlongs in 1:11 he backed up to eighth, about 14 lengths behind.
“He ran so hard in the Derby, and I think the turnaround was a little too quick,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who is 0-for-9 in the Preakness. “We kind of anticipated what Classic Empire would do, take it to us, but he didn’t have that reserve today.”
Brown, 38, is one of the world’s top turf trainers, but he had acknowledged the absence of a Triple Crown win was a hole in his resume. He is 0-for-4 in the Derby, and this was his Preakness debut. He got off the schneid with a jockey he has teamed with to win dozens of grass stakes, most from off the pace.
Co-owner William Lawrence kidded Brown, saying he was “the best dirt trainer in the country. People think he can only train turf horses.”
Trainer Mark Casse thought Classic Empire would rebound from his rough-trip fourth in the Derby and prove he was the best 3-year-old. For most of the stretch, they thought he had done that. “I thought he ran outstanding,” Casse said. “We were going to be aggressive, and that’s what he did.”
Casse and Leparoux thought their colt lost focus when he was alone in front. “We got the trip we wanted, outside Always Dreaming,” Leparoux said. “The only thing is, Always Dreaming backed out of the race early, so I got to the lead early, maybe too early.’’
Behind Classic Empire it was 4¾ lengths back to 31-1 shot Senior Investment. Completing the order of finish were Lookin At Lee, Gunnevera, Multiplier, Conquest Mo Money, Always Dreaming, Hence and Term of Art.
Cloud Computing paid $28.80 after running 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.98 on a track rated fast after being upgraded from muddy to good four hours earlier. He earned $900,000, raising his total to $1,071,000 for Seth Klarman, who grew up three blocks from Pimlico, and Lawrence.
Castellano, who will enter the Hall of Fame in August and is known for perfect trips, also made a good move by leaving his Derby mount, Gunnevera, for Cloud Computing.
“I always had a lot of confidence in this horse,” he said, “but I didn’t have the opportunity to ride him. Then Mr. Brown gave me the opportunity, and it worked out perfectly.”
AT THE WIRE
$2 Exotic payoffs
Triple Crown Watch
Next: Belmont Stakes
When: June 10, 2017
Track: Belmont Park
Last year: Creator, hanging back almost the whole way, chased down Destin in a furious stretch run and won by a nose at the wire in 2:28:51.