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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Decision to run Rombauer racking up dough

by Wally Hall | May 18, 2021 at 2:14 a.m.

Except for Bob Baffert, Saturday's Preakness was like a fairy tale for Rombauer, and his owners, trainer and jockey.

John and Diane Fradkin are small-time breeders from California with a couple of Kentucky mares.

If 2020 had been normal, they would have sold Rombauer and never looked back.

As we all know, there was nothing normal bout 2020. When the 2-year-old spring sale at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company was moved back two months -- no buyers on the horizon -- the decision was made to run him a few times to increase his value.

That's exactly what's happened, after a few bumps.

His first win was on the turf, but it officially was so slow that Rombauer earned a Beyer speed figure of only 48. If there had been a buyer present, you would have seen their taillights leaving.

It turned out later that the clock was malfunctioning, so no one knows exactly how fast Rombauer ran that day.

He finished sixth in his second race, the Del Mar Juvenile, but was only 2 lengths back.

His trainer, Michael McCarthy, had spent several years as an assistant to Todd Pletcher. Although he knew horses and how to train them, he hadn't won a lot of big races. Saturday was his first Triple Crown event.

In Rombauer's third race, the American Pharoah Stakes, he ran second. The Fradkins had made up their mind they were going to run this horse, although by then they had several good offers.

He finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile during his last race as a 2-year-old. Before his next race, the Fradkins would make the biggest decision of their racing lives.

In January, they informed McCarthy they had changed their mind about running in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. They felt the field, which included winner Medina Spirit, was too tough.

They entered him in the El Camino Real Derby and won, earning not only a nice purse but also automatic entry into the Preakness.

They denied McCarthy's persistent lobbying of entering Rombauer into the Kentucky Derby.

McCarthy had been around plenty of Triple Crown races as an assistant, and jockey Flavien Prat had become a solid rider since coming to the United States from France in 2015.

His name hit the headlines after he and his horse Country House were named winners of the the 2019 Kentucky Derby when Maximum Security was disqualified for interference in the stretch run.

That was only the second time a horse had been disqualified from the Derby. The first was Dancer's Image in 1968.

Medina Spirit could become the third after failing a drug test after this year's Kentucky Derby. A second test has been sent to a different lab and the results are pending.

One of the big party lines going into the Preakness was Medina Spirit never had been passed by another horse. On Saturday, he got passed by Midnight Bourbon before Rombauer blew by both of them.

Prat could not have ridden a better race. He stalked for most of it, running behind all the speed. He set Rombauer loose in the stretch, and he won by 3 1/2 lengths, and was another 2 lengths in front of Medina Spirit.

One of the small mysteries was why Rombauer was 11-1. With his record of two wins in six starts going against several better-bred horses, he should have been more like 20-1.

John Fradkin was a professional horse player before getting into the breeding industry. Just saying.

The Preakness paid the Fradkins $600,000 to boost Rombauer's earnings to more than $1.5 million.

On Saturday, he appeared to be the best 3-year-old in the country.


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