Rombauer, the horse named after a vineyard, now goes by the new name: Preakness Stakes champion. And Rombauer, the horse named after the Napa Valley vineyard, wasn’t supposed to run the Preakness because he wasn’t supposed to run the race that got him into the Preakness.

Rombauer and Flavien Prat captured the 146th Preakness Stakes with a closing flourish that belied their 11/1 odds. It was Prat’s second Triple Crown race victory, following his promoted Kentucky Derby win aboard Country House in 2019. (Image: AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

He wasn’t supposed to run that race, the Listed El Camino Real Derby, because Rombauer was supposed to run in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park. And if it wasn’t for a faulty timing system at Del Mar last summer, Rombauer wouldn’t have run that race either.

According to John Fradkin, Rombauer’s owner, he would have sold his horse after that victory. But that bad timing system short-circuited that. Rombauer’s debut victory earned him an apparent, snail-like 48 Beyer Speed Figure. So there was no interest in a 2-year-old with no speed.

“I thought actually that right after that race, there would be some big offers on him and we might sell him, but there weren’t any,” Fradkin said during the post-race press conference. “Part of that reason was because the time of the race was rather poor. It was 1:38 and 3, and it resulted in an initial Beyer number of 48. Nobody pays big money for a horse that won and received a 48 Beyer.”

Rombauer’s for-sale sign is now down

How about a horse that won the Preakness? Fradkin owns a decisive American Classic winner who defied all the odds coming into the 146th Preakness merely by being there. Never mind his 11/1 odds or the mild attention paid to an unassuming closer from a small barn in the era of speed prevailing in the Triple Crown races.

Instead, pay attention to the textbook ride Flavien Prat executed, tracking down Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit in midstretch. Pay particular attention to Rombauer’s heretofore unseen gear that took him past the two race favorites en route to a 3 ½ length victory over Midnight Bourbon.

Favorite Medina Spirit (2/1) finished 5 ½ lengths behind in third, his vaunted tenacity in deep stretch nothing but a rumor. From there, it was another four lengths back to Keepmeinmind in fourth.

“I knew he was going to be pressed today and I was hoping he wasn’t going to overdo it, but he did,” Medina Spirit’s jockey, John Velazquez, said. “By the quarter pole, the other horse put his head in front, but he kept fighting. He didn’t stop. He just got beat. He kept running. He still finished third. Most horses at the quarter-pole, like when they get passed, they just give up and he kept running.”

Pimlico reaches out for record handle

Pimlico, meanwhile, took in a record all-sources handle of $112,504,509. That shattered the previous mark of $99,852,653 set two years ago. Whether that was curiosity about Medina Spirit’s Preakness fate after his now-questioned Derby victory in the wake of his positive test for excessive amounts of the anti-inflammatory betamethasone is anyone’s guess.

But it took only 1:53.62 – Rombauer’s winning time for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness – for him to render any Triple Crown talk moot. And less than two minutes for Fradkin’s decision trail to bear Triple Crown fruit.

This fortuitous trail began when COVID spoiled the 2020 Ocala Breeders Sale of 2-Year-Olds in training. Fradkin and his wife, Diane, normally sell their foals, playing the equine version of “Flip This House.” But because of the pandemic, they kept Rombauer and sent him to trainer Mike McCarthy. They figured they would race Rombauer, show him off to potential buyers, then sell him.

Del Mar’s wonky timing system nixed that initial plan, so Fradkin and McCarthy kept going. Rombauer finished sixth in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes, then nearly beat Get Her Number in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 26. Rombauer then finished a game fifth behind Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Calling owner’s privilege and sending Rombauer north

Three months later, Fradkin made a fortuitous decision. He pulled rank on McCarthy, scratching Rombauer out of the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. Instead, he told McCarthy to take Rombauer 400 miles north, to Golden Gate Fields and the El Camino Real Derby.

McCarthy protested, but Fradkin reasoned it was far better dealing with filly Javanica and Petruchio on Golden Gate Fields’ Tapeta surface than Medina Spirit, Roman Centurian, and Hot Rod Charlie at Santa Anita. And when 8/5 favorite Rombauer reeled in Javanica at the wire for the win, not only was Fradkin vindicated, but Rombauer had an all-expenses-paid date for the Preakness.

Fradkin wasn’t done pulling rank with his trainer. After Rombauer finished third to Essential Quality and Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass Stakes, McCarthy’s wheels started turning. Then, with defections opening up Kentucky Derby spots, Rombauer got into the field. McCarthy wanted the colt in the Derby and when he mentioned it to the Fradkins, he didn’t get the expected response.

“We had a pretty heated discussion about that. Let’s just leave it at that,” Fradkin said.

Fradkin inoculated against Derby fever

“I was bullish on running the horse in the Kentucky Derby. I had mentioned it to John and Diane,” McCarthy said in his post-race press conference. “They seemed to think that this was the better route. I just thought in the Derby he’d get a wonderful setup, tons of pace in there. I thought it would be over a race track that he would really like.”

It wasn’t a track Fradkin liked. One of the few American owners immune to Derby fever, Fradkin didn’t want Rombauer in the 20-horse free-for-all, especially facing the kind of speed that wins Derbies. Fradkin reasoned, with the logic that made him a successful bond salesman, that the Preakness offered an easier path. And Fradkin was all about finding easy paths for Rombauer, even taking him out of California to run Derby preps.

“You know, I can understand why Michael wanted him to run, but I think he can understand why I didn’t want him to run,” Fradkin said. “So I think Michael and I are actually a really good team. I think there’s going to be some clash at times because I come at it from a total handicapping angle, and I’m not a horseman … and Michael is the consummate horseman. He’s focused on the horses and getting them to be at their best. Where we disagree is usually just a handicapping thing.”

We should see Rombauer in three weeks at Belmont Park

Speaking of the handicapping thing, Rombauer paid $25.60, $10, and $5.20. Midnight Bourbon, who went off at 3/1, paid $4.60 and $3. Medina Spirit paid $2.80 to show.

The $2 exacta returned $98.60. The $1 trifecta paid $162.70 and the $1 superfecta, with 14/1 Keepmeinmind bringing up the rear, paid $1,025.50.

As for Rombauer, your newly minted Preakness champion is on track for the Belmont Stakes in three weeks, and there doesn’t seem to be much argument between Fradkin and McCarthy about that.

“You’d have to think so,” McCarthy said. “See how he comes out of it, and we’ll take a good look tomorrow.”