Chad Brown wanted Early Voting to have “a target” in the 147th Preakness Stakes. He wanted the lightly raced, but fast colt to go out fast – but he wanted someone else to go out faster.

2022 Preakness Finish
Your Preakness Stakes trifecta. Early Voting (5) held off Epicenter (8) and Creative Minister (2) to win the 147th Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. (Image: Maryland Jockey Club)

And Armagnac obliged. The California colt wasted no time taking the lead, providing Early Voting with the target he needed to run with – and run at. And once that happened, Early Voting’s speed eventually did the rest, giving him what he needed to win the Preakness Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Early Voting’s 1 ¼-length victory over 6/5 favorite Epicenter gave Brown and owner Seth Klarman their second Preakness in five years. It gave Epicenter his second runner-up finish in a Triple Crown race. And it came via the exact playbook the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer followed with Cloud Computing in 2017. Run the Wood Memorial. Fail to win the Wood Memorial. Skip the Kentucky Derby. Go all-in on the Preakness.

The differences? Cloud Computing finished third in the Wood Memorial, then went off at 13/1. Early Voting finished a neck behind Mo Donegal. He was the 5.70/1 third choice, paying $13.40, $4.60 and $3.60. The $2 exacta with Epicenter paid $25.80. The $1 trifecta with 10/1 Creative Minister finishing third by 3 ½ lengths, paid $66.50.

Derby hangover produced oddities in Preakness odds

Seasoned horseplayers were dumbfounded by pre-race odds that made zero sense. Fenwick, the 50/1 morning-line long shot who finished last by 40 ½ lengths, left the gate at 13/1. Not long before the race, he was as low as 7/1. This makes him the clubhouse leader for biggest underlay in any stakes race this season. Happy Jack, he of the 30/1 morning-line odds, went off at 11/1. He finished eighth, 19 ¼ lengths back. By comparison, Creative Minister left the gate at 10/1.

Yes, call it the Rich Strike Syndrome. Casual horseplayers who don’t bet on races outside of the Triple Crown or perhaps the Breeder’s Cup saw Rich Strike win the Derby at 80/1. So they decided to pile in on the two longest shots in the field, hoping the universe would burp twice.

As for Early Voting, he was the 7/2 morning-line second choice. His odds drifted to 5.70/1.

Brown: ‘Plans don’t work’

“You know how hard it is,” Brown said after the race. “When you’re training horses, often times, plans don’t work. Things happen.”

In this case, what happened was just the way Brown drew it up for jockey Jose Ortiz. Go out with the leaders, but play follow-the-leader. Let someone else set the pace, then pounce when the opportunity presents.

And the opportunity presented itself when Armagnac not only seized the early lead, but did so via slow fractions. He covered the first quarter-mile in 24.32 seconds and the first half in 47.44. That gave Early Voting the target Brown and Ortiz needed.

Let someone else do the heavy running

“This horse, he’s better with a target,” Brown said. “I think when we ran him in the Wood, he was waiting on horses when he got to the lane. It’s not because he can’t go that far. So I was hoping for a target, somebody would send. Given the way the track was playing all day, very speed favoring, I certainly wasn’t going to take him out of his game. So we were prepared to go to the lead. But when the other horse went to the front, Jose got a good position with a target in front of him. I felt very good on the backside.”

He felt better coming out of the far turn heading into the stretch. That’s when Ortiz turned Early Voting loose. By mid-stretch, he took a 3 ½-length lead and even as he weaved a bit sideways in deep stretch, Early Voting had enough to hold off Epicenter in deep stretch.

“I’ve been on him since he was a baby,” an emotional Ortiz said after winning his first Preakness. “We always knew he was very talented, but we knew he was going to be a late developer. He’s always been very nice. We’ve always been very high on him.”

Early Voting did win a Derby prep

Early Voting covered the 1 3/16 miles in 1:54.54, giving the Gun Runner colt his third victory in four races. Earlier this winter, he won the Grade 3 Withers by 4 ½ lengths at Aqueduct. Between that and his Wood Memorial runner-up, Early Voting had plenty of points to run the Derby. But Brown didn’t like the scenario of Early Voting and his early speed getting drawn into the 20-horse Derby chaos. So he bypassed the first Saturday in May in favor of the third Saturday in May.

Whether Early Voting run the second Saturday in June – at the Belmont Stakes – remains to be seen. But Brown relished in giving Klarman – his biggest client and close friend – a Triple Crown race as a 65th birthday present.

“I don’t know about a mile and a half in three weeks, but we’ll take a look at it,” Brown said. “I can tell you he’s going to Belmont (Park), so we’ll start there. But, to win this race on Seth’s birthday, three blocks from where he grew up (Pimlico), he’s one of my very best friends. To be able to deliver a gift like to someone, it’s hard to explain to people. On a personal level, very gratifying for me.”

Secret Oath, the 5/1 second choice, finished fourth by 6 ¼ lengths. She never got untracked, getting sucked back early to last in the nine-horse field trying to give D. Wayne Lukas his seventh Preakness. Skippylongstocking, Simplification, Armagnac, Happy Jack and Fenwick rounded out the order of finish.