Preakness 2021 Highlights: Rombauer Pulls Off Surprise Win

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Credit…Will Newton/Associated Press

BALTIMORE — Rombauer, ridden by Flavien Prat, held off Midnight Bourbon and the embattled Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit to capture the 146th Preakness Stakes in front of a limited crowd at sun-splashed Pimlico Race Course on Saturday.

Sent off at 11-1 odds, Rombauer covered the mile and three-sixteenths in 1 minute 53.62 seconds and paid $25.60 on a $2 bet to win. Midnight Bourbon finished second, three and a half lengths back, while Medina Spirit held on for third.

Prat lucked into his first victory in a Triple Crown race, winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby aboard Country House when Maximum Security was disqualified for interference. The jockey acknowledged this time around was a lot different.

“There’s so much history behind these races, and to win one is great, and to win the Preakness is even better,” Prat, who is French, said on NBC after the race.

Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit dueled for the lead throughout most of the race, with Rombauer, trained by Michael McCarthy, coming from behind to take control coming out of the final turn.

It was the first Preakness appearance, let alone victory, for McCarthy, who became emotional during the postrace news conference, saying he wished his biggest supporters, his wife and children, had been able to attend. He vowed to bring them to New York for the Belmont on June 5, “or maybe not,” he added, acknowledging that he didn’t want to push his luck.

“I’m so proud of this horse, everybody involved,” McCarthy said of the colt’s connections, including the owners John and Diane Fradkin, who had to persuade McCarthy not to run in the Kentucky Derby. “It just goes to show you that small players in the game can be successful as well.”

Medina Spirit, who won the Kentucky Derby on May 1 to give the trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh victory in the race, went off as the 2-1 favorite after nearly being excluded from the race when it was disclosed that he had failed a drug test after the Derby.

Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid, but officials in Kentucky are awaiting results from a second sample — a process that could take weeks — to determine if his Derby victory will be overturned.

The race, which regularly brings a crowd of well over 100,000 to Pimilico Race Course, was run without spectators in 2020 and with only 10,000 in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the limited attendance, the overall money bet on Friday and Saturday’s races broke the previous records, set in 2019. And there are other reasons for optimism: A deal was reached in 2019 between the track’s owners and the city to keep the Preakness in Baltimore, and an architect was selected in February to begin $375 million worth of renovations to Pimlico Race Course and nearby Laurel Park.

Spectators making their way to their seats as the undercard of the Preakness Stakes get underway.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

The pandemic wreaked havoc on the Triple Crown schedule in 2020. The Belmont Stakes, normally the final leg of the Triple Crown, was held in New York in June, the Derby in September, and the Preakness, usually the second of the three races, came in October. None of them admitted spectators. This year, all have returned to their regular spots on the calendar.

Attendance for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico on Friday and at the Preakness on Saturday was capped at 10,000 fans each, a figure that includes those in the normally raucous infield. That is a little less than 10 percent of the track’s usual capacity. (The announced crowd for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs last week was 41,472, and for the Derby the next day it was 51,838, close to a third of the venue’s usual capacity.)

The Pimlico grounds are divided into distinct spectator sections, and no crossover is allowed. Temperature checks and questionnaires to assess coronavirus exposure are being administered at the gates, and social distancing signage, plexiglass barriers and hand sanitizing stations will be placed around the track. Despite the latest C.D.C. guidance, masks are required when not eating and drinking, and “Covid compliance officers” are reminding guests to adhere to the policies. Signs along the track promoted Maryland’s vaccine program.

The weather, as it was on Friday, was in the mid-70s and sunny. Vendors passed through the stands selling $15 Black-Eyed Susans that were “guaranteed to improve your luck at the betting window, according to one.

Ellen Charles, a granddaughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, and daughter of Adelaide Close Riggs, a breeder and owner described as “one of the grand dames of Maryland racing,” has been coming to the Preakness since she was a young child. On Saturday, she sat in an owner’s box at the finish line with friends and co-owners.

She said she usually leaves before the Preakness is even run, to avoid the traffic on the way back to Washington, where she lives. But with the limited amount of fans this year, she was considering staying put for the marquee race.

“This is heaven,” she said.

Jack

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