Rombauer’s Owners at Saturday’s Preakness By Strokes of Luck

‘Fresh and Happy’ Medina Spirit, Concert Tour Set for Middle Jewel

Asmussen ‘Expecting a Very Good Run’ from Midnight Bourbon

BALTIMORE, MD – At this time a year ago, Diane and John Fradkin were trying to figure out what to do with the 2-year-old homebred colt they would later name Rombauer. A couple of unexpected turns, six races and $290,500 in purse earnings later, the versatile son of Twirling Candy has brought the Santa Ana, Calif. couple to Pimlico Race Course for Saturday’s 146th Preakness Stakes (G1). 

Rombauer is their first starter in a Triple Crown race.

“That’s exciting,” John Fradkin said. “Generally speaking, we think of ourselves as small-time, commercial breeders. We aim to sell our progeny. This is a rarity. In the past we’ve pretty much only raced horses that we couldn’t sell. This is kind of an exception, just the way it all transpired.”

Rombauer earned a fees-paid entry into the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown by winning the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby, a Preakness ‘Win & In’ event, at Golden Gate Fields. Most recently, he finished third in the Blue Grass (G2) on April 3 at Keeneland. 

Under normal circumstances, the Fradkins would not be in Baltimore to watch their colt run in the Preakness. Because 2020 was anything but normal, the Fradkins did not sell the colt from their two-mare breeding operation. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the April OBS sale of 2-year-olds was delayed a couple of months. 

Since the dam, Cashmere by Cowboy Cal, typically produced precocious babies that win early in their careers, consigner Eddie Woods advised the Fradkins to sell him in a private sale after he had proven himself at the track. They sent Rombauer to their trainer, Michael McCarthy, at Santa Anita.  Rombauer promptly won his first career start at a mile on turf at Del Mar on July 25.

“He closed, he came home really well, and I honestly thought there would be some pretty big offers after that race,” Fradkin said. “But there weren’t because the time was really bad and the initial Beyer number they gave him was 48. The time was 1:38 and change (1:38.30). It didn’t really surprise me that there really weren’t any solid offers.”

Rombauer landed in the keeper category and is writing an interesting story.

“It was sort of two lucky breaks on our part that caused us to still own the horse,” Fradkin said. “There’s actually been substantial offers since that we’ve perhaps stupidly turned down.”

Rombauer had a troubled trip in his next start, the Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes on Sept. 6 and ended up sixth, but beaten only two lengths. McCarthy recommended that they try Rombauer on dirt and he ended up second, three-quarters of a length back after a wide trip in the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita. He completed his 2-year-old season with a fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland.

In late January, Fradkin told McCarthy that he wanted to opt out of the Robert B.  Lewis (G3) and wait for the El Camino Real Derby. 

“I thought it was going to be a much easier race,” Fradkin said. “We scratched out of the Robert Lewis because I thought the field was really, really tough. We had a pretty heated discussion about that. I thought that even if we ran it really well, we were likely to finish fifth because that was probably the best field ever assembled for 3-year-old colts for only $100,000. Two weeks later, we had a race up north for the same amount of purse money and I knew the field was going to be a lot easier. So that was my thinking. That continues to be my thinking, that I want to pick easier spots for the horse.”

Fradkin, who spent a handful of years as a professional horseplayer, was right: Medina Spirit, who went on to prevail in the Kentucky Derby, won the Robert Lewis. Hot Rod Charlie was third in both races.

“And I think if a horse runs his best race ever, he should be earning money,” he said. “I felt that probably would not have happened in the Robert B. Lewis and it probably wouldn’t have happened in the Kentucky Derby either. We could have run our best race ever and wouldn’t have made any money. So that’s why we’ve chosen the path we’ve chosen.”

The road to the Preakness began in the summer of 1993 when Fradkin claimed Ruff Hombre for $25,000 at Hollywood Park. He finished last in the race and was off for two months before winning what turned out to be his career finale at Del Mar. The Fradkins invested the earnings from Ruff Hombre’s win at the Keeneland September Sale in a skinny New Jersey-bred Afleet filly they named Ultrafleet. She failed to hit the board in her four starts.

“We decided to retire her and make her a broodmare,” Fradkin said. “Pretty much everybody said that was stupid, but we did it anyway and it turned out pretty well.”

Ultrafleet became the foundation mare for the Fradkins. She dropped 14 foals before her death in 2012. Among them were California Flag, who won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), and graded stakes winner Cambiocorsa, who is the granddam of 2018 European Horse of the Year Roaring Lion. The Fradkins retained Cashmere, Ultrafleet’s next-to-last foal. Cashmere also produced Treasure Trove, who runs in the Pimlico Special (G3) on Friday.

            ‘Fresh and Happy’ Medina Spirit, Concert Tour Set for Preakness

Medina Spirit and Concert Tour, the two highest-rated colts in the morning line for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1), each galloped 1 ¼ miles Friday morning at Pimlico Race Course under the direction of Jimmy Barnes, trainer Bob Baffert’s longtime assistant. 

Medina Spirit, owned by Zedan Racing Stables, is rated as the 9-5 favorite in the field of 10 after leading the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) from start to finish. Gary and Mary West’s Concert Tour is rated second at 5-2 in the morning line. In his most recent start he was third as the favorite in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 10. 

“We had a little bit of a lighter day for them today because they have such a big day tomorrow,” Barnes said. “Both horses came off the track fresh and happy and looking awesome.”

Medina Spirit and Concert Tour are Baffert’s hopes for a record-breaking eighth Preakness winner. He is a tied with Robert Wyndham Walden, who dominated the race during the final quarter of the 19th century.

Medina Spirit will break from Post No. 3 under his regular rider, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Mike Smith, the 55-year-old Hall of Fame jockey, will ride Concert Tour for the first time from Post No. 10.  Velazquez will be riding in the Preakness for the 11th time. He has a record of 0-3-3. Concert Tour will be Smith’s 19th starter. His two wins came with Prairie Bayou in 1993 and Triple Crown winner Justify in 2018. Smith also has finished second twice and third four times.

Asmussen ‘Expecting a Very Good Run’ from Midnight Bourbon

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon galloped over the Pimlico surface the day before Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1). Irad Ortiz Jr. will be aboard for the first time. The defending three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey will seek his first Preakness victory after finishing off the board in two prior mounts.

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen again will lead the massive, good-feeling colt from the barn over to the paddock for the Preakness. When Midnight Bourbon schooled in the paddock Thursday afternoon, Asmussen was on the left side of the horse with assistant trainer Darren Fleming on the right.

One sign to expect something big from Midnight Bourbon may be that Asmussen has been using words like “giddy” and “jazzed up” for his quest to saddle a third Preakness winner with the sixth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

“He’s a fun horse to train,” Asmussen said. “The horse is obviously very strong-minded and willful. But he’s exciting to be around. He’s extremely physical. He’s a gorgeous horse to watch. Like I said, we’re very optimistic as horsemen. The giddy part, or the humorous part, was that less than two weeks after the disappointment of the Derby, here we are crazy enough to think we can do it again.”

Asmussen said it’s a positive that they haven’t noticed a change in Midnight Bourbon since before the Derby.

“We’re expecting a very good run from him,” he said. “I thought he was in great physical shape going into the Derby…everything was going extremely well. Missing the break did not put him in the position necessary for him to have success. From where he was, he ran reasonably well but not good enough. Here we are with a lot of horse going into the Preakness and expecting a better outcome.”

Asmussen earned his first Triple Crown victory in the 2007 Preakness with two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who nipped Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in a photo finish. Two years later, in her first start for majority owner Jess Jackson and Asmussen after being sold, Kentucky Oaks winner (G1) Rachel Alexandra held off Derby winner Mine That Bird to become the first filly since 1924 to capture the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Rachel Alexandra went on to be the 2009 Horse of the Year.

“Coming back to Pimlico is extremely special,” Asmussen said. “Curlin’s Preakness win here over Street Sense was as exciting as it can get for us. Being a Classic, it being Curlin, being the first time to have success on that level, you can’t duplicate that again. And then to have the amazing opportunity to run Rachel Alexandra here, with the queen that she was, you can’t top those memories.”

‘Reward Outweighs Risk’ for Brown Trainees in Middle Jewel

Klaravich Stables’ Risk Taking and Crowded Trade repeated their routine on Friday.  The Preakness runners of trainer Chad Brown took turns galloping 1 ¼ miles at Pimlico – the same thing they did on Thursday while preparing for starts in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1) – and Jose Hernandez, Brown’s assistant who is caring for the horses here, said they are both ready to roll.

“They are doing good, and they are training good,” Hernandez said. “We will see what happens on Saturday. Everything they have done here, they have done well.”

Crowded Trade was the first to hit the track, going out at 6 a.m. with exercise rider Kelvin Perez on board. A half hour later, Perez was on Risk Taking’s back for his gallop. Brown was expected to be in town Friday afternoon.

Hernandez said he would like to see Crowded Trade, who was third in the April 3 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct, race closer to the pace. Risk Taking, he said, should be doing his best running late. He also ran in the Wood and was a disappointing seventh as the 2-1 favorite.

Both horses have trained well since the Wood and Brown was encouraged with their last works, five-furlong breezes last Sunday at Belmont Park. Working in company, both horses were timed in 1:01.76.

“A couple of their best workouts of the season,” said Brown, who won the 2017 Preakness with Cloud Computing. “This is a good opportunity to take a shot in a Classic race. Going into a race like this, you want to have a horse really thriving and doing well and I think we have two of them. The reward outweighs the risk to take a shot.”

Crowded Trade, who will be ridden by Javier Castellano, is 10-1 in the Preakness morning line. Risk Taking, who will team with jockey Jose Ortiz, is 15-1.

Connections Hoping Keepmeinmind Will Show His Worth Saturday 

Keepmeinmind marks the first Preakness appearance for both trainer Robertino Diodoro and jockey David Cohen.

Diodoro knows Keepmeinmind, a late-running seventh in the Kentucky Derby, probably will need a good setup to hit the board for the first time this year and to win for the first time since the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs Nov. 2. But he expects Keepmeinmind is sitting on a big performance.

“What needs to happen is what it looks like is going to happen on paper,” Diodoro said. “We just need it to happen on dirt now, where we need Midnight Bourbon, we need both of [trainer Bob] Baffert’s horses (to go out to the lead) to get a little pace to run out. But definitely with his running style, we need a pace to run at.”

Before Keepmeinmind ran in the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1), Ned Toffey said it was just a matter of time before the colt reaffirmed why Spendthrift Farm bought part-ownership following his victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Spendthrift is partners with Cypress Creek Equine and Arnold Bennewith.

“If you look at him, he doesn’t look like a horse that would be a good 2-year-old and that would be it,” said Toffey, Spendthrift Farm’s general manager. “We saw so much potential as a 2-year-old, he ran some nice races. He ran a very nice race at Churchill Downs and showed he could run with these horses [finishing third] in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile [G1; at Keeneland]. If you look at him, he’s a big stretchy horse and really looks like he could do some more maturing. He’s a long drink of water now. He’s a beautiful animal, but I can see this horse the second half of the year being formidable.”

Diodoro took the blinkers off Keepmeinmind for the Derby. Toffey is among those extremely encouraged by that effort, when Keepmeinmind closed from last to come in seventh.

“I think he confirmed in the Derby that he’s a horse that wants to come from well off the pace,” he said. “That was the approach Robertino wanted to take: let him come out of the gate, find his stride and make a run. He really did that well in the Derby. Of course, that’s one of the problems when you’re a come-from-behind horse in the Derby in a 20-horse field. You’re probably going to be forced wide. Obviously, being wide didn’t help his chances. It seems unlikely to think he was going to come away with a win there. But it looks like he could have been a touch in behind those first four horses, with a little luck on the turn.

“But I thought he ran a really good race,” he added. “He showed he belonged and that he can run with anybody. We’re looking forward to a good race from him in the Preakness.”

With merely a length separating the Kentucky Derby’s first and fourth-place finishers, Toffey said that victorious Medina Spirit, the Preakness’ 9-5 morning-line favorite, “hasn’t proven to be a dominant horse, but he’s certainly proven to be a very consistently good horse.”

Saez Shooting for 1st Triple Crown Success in Preakness

Luis Saez, third in North America in both wins and purse earnings in 2020, has been a rising star the past couple of years. That includes earning his first Breeders’ Cup victory last fall aboard champion Essential Quality in the Juvenile (G1), along with seconds in four other Cup races that weekend at Keeneland.

With Essential Quality skipping Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1) after his Kentucky Derby (G1) fourth-place finish, Saez landed on Whisper Hill Farm’s Unbridled Honor for trainer Todd Pletcher. Unbridled Honor comes into the 1 3/16-mile Classic off a second in the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland that followed a fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). His lone victory was a maiden race at Tampa.

While Unbridled Honor is 15-1 in the morning line, consider that Saez’s only prior Preakness mount was Bravazo, who in 2018 finished second by only a half-length behind eventual Triple Crown hero Justify. Bravazo also was 15-1. 

Saez is still seeking his first official Triple Crown victory. He finished first aboard Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, only to be disqualified for interference.

Pletcher is seeking his first Preakness victory to go with his two Kentucky Derbys and three Belmonts. The newly-elected Hall of Famer knows Unbridled Honor likely needs some help from a fast pace to effectively set up his closing kick.

“Hopefully he can get away a little better, get in a little better stalking position and then have a good pace to run at,” Pletcher said. “In the Tampa Bay Derby, he left himself way too much to do. In the Lexington, he got a good pace setup. He dropped a little bit farther back than we’d like, but he got a really clean run at it. He was kind of making a move at the same time as (victorious) King Fury, and King Fury went inside and he went outside. King Fury was able to cut the corner and save ground, but I thought it was a good effort.”

Unbridled Honor galloped Friday morning at Pimlico.

Game Time for France Go de Ina and Trainer

Before he returns home to Japan following Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1) and a planned run in the June 5 Belmont Stakes (G1), trainer Hideyuki Mori wouldn’t mind seeing some American baseball. He lives in the city of Osaka and is a fan of the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball back home.

When asked if he wanted to see the New York Yankees or Mets when he goes to New York, he smiled. He would be happy to stay right here and watch the hometown Orioles, who are playing the Yankees this weekend at Camden Yards.

“If anyone has tickets …” he said through an interpreter.

First things first. Mori will saddle Yuji Inaida’s France Go de Ina for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1). He went through his final preparations Friday morning, walking on the track with exercise rider Masaki Takano aboard. The son of Will Take Charge then did some schooling in the starting gate, which was an important priority.

In his last start, France Go de Ina broke poorly from the gate in the March 27 UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai and finishing a non-threatening sixth. Friday, the horse stood in the gate and it was hand opened for him to walk out.

“We wanted him to get used to people standing around him.” Mori said.

Mori said he will rely on jockey Joel Rosario to make the decision on where to put France Go de Ina in the race. He said he would like to have the colt close to the pace.

“I don’t want the horse to get boxed in,” Mori said. “It depends on how he breaks. If he is traveling fast, he will go, if not, he will settle and wait for his opportunity.”

Mori said that France Go de Ina will not go to the track on Saturday morning, but will have his daily hour-long walking session around the barn.

Ram Conserves Energy for Stakes Debut in Preakness

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas sent Ram to the track for light training Friday morning at Pimlico Race Course in preparation for a start in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1), later turning his attention to interviews with television and print reporters.

Lukas, 85, is aiming for his record-tying seventh Preakness victory with Ram, a son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Ram, 30-1 in the morning line, drew the rail. Lukas made a splash in the 1980 Preakness, winning the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown with his first starter, Codex. His most recent victory was in 2013 with Oxbow.

Ram, co-owned by Christina Baker and William Mack, is trying stakes company for the first time.  He is running back in two weeks following a victory in an allowance race on the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) program. 

“We tapered off a little today. We just went a mile,” Lukas said. “Tapered off and let him get his energy. He had a lot of energy, too. He was sharp today. He’s gotten better every single day on his energy level since we’re been here.”

Throughout the week leading up to the race Lukas has said his colt must improve in order to have a chance to finish in the top three. Handicapping the race, Lukas said he likes the chances of Midnight Bourbon, trained by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds.

“That horse, I think, is really dangerous,” Lukas said. “He looks good to me. And Concert Tour looks good to me.”

Ricardo Santana Jr. will ride Ram for the first time in the Preakness. Santana has ridden twice in the race. His best finish was a third on Tenfold in 2018.