By Andy Serling
FOX Sports Horse Racing Analyst
Just like that, the first two legs of the Triple Crown are in the record books.
A sense of normalcy returned on Saturday, with Chad Brown and Klaravich Stables following the same path that worked successfully in 2017 with Cloud Computing, to annex the 147th Preakness Stakes with Early Voting.
RELATED: Early Voting wins Preakness
Early Voting (5-1 odds) paid $13.40, $4.60 and $3.60 after not running in the Kentucky Derby. Epicenter paid $2.80 and $2.40 for place and show, and Creative Minister paid $4.20 to show.
The only mild surprise was that his victory was not achieved by leading from start to finish. Unlike his previous three efforts, he rated comfortably in second behind Armagnac, took control as the field turned for home and was able to hold off a late rally from favored Epicenter.
“Honestly, I was never worried,” Brown said. “Once we had a good target, I actually preferred that. We were fine to go to the lead, but I thought down the backside it was going to take a good horse to beat us.”
A good horse did come, but at least on this day, he wasn’t good enough.
While it was surprising to see Epicenter toward the back of the pack through much of the race, contrary to popular opinion, I do not believe this was the fault of his rider Joel Rosario. He simply lacked the early speed he has shown in the past and ultimately Rosario made the best of the situation. He ran his usual good race in defeat, it just wasn’t good enough on this day.
As for the filly Secret Oath, she did endure a lousy trip and performed better than her fourth-place finish might suggest. Steadying early in the race, she lost position which forced her to make a wide, and perhaps somewhat premature, move around the turn.
She will be back to fight another day, though likely against her own sex, in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 23.
Now it’s on to the final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes on June 11. How will this field resemble the first two legs of the series?
Early Voting is expected to wait for Saratoga, but Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike is scheduled to return.
While Rich Strike will be nowhere near the 80-1 odds he was at the Derby, he won’t be favored to win the Test of the Champion.
The question, however, of who will be favored could be open to much debate.
Will Mo Donegal, fifth in the Derby, provide trainer Todd Pletcher with his fourth Belmont Stakes triumph?
Perhaps the most intriguing horse is We the People, who won the Belmont prep for this race, the Peter Pan, by over 10 lengths last week.
Regardless, Rich Strike will likely get much of the attention over the next three weeks. Was his Derby a fluke? Did he get lucky due to the extremely fast pace, or is he a horse that is just starting to come into his own?
Besides all of this, will he be able to handle Belmont’s grueling 1 ½ miles, the longest race of the series?
Stick around as we will try to answer all these questions over the next few weeks.
Andy Serling is the Senior Racing Analyst for the New York Racing Association (NYRA) and appears regularly on America’s Day at the Races/Saratoga Live on FOX Sports. He also analyzes the races daily on Talking Horses on the NYRA simulcast network among other duties covering Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct. In his slightly more respectable days, he traded options on the now-defunct American Stock Exchange. Follow him on Twitter @andyserling.