Preakness 2017 Review: Cloud Computing Cracks Classic Empire

Javier CastellanoThe Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 was billed as a two horse race but the largely overlooked 13/1 shot Cloud Computing had not read the script and got his head in front of Classic Empire, the 11/5 second favorite, in the final strides.

Trained by Chad Brown, Cloud Computing had tracked the two market leaders, Always Dreaming the 6/5 Preakness favorite and Classic Empire, who headed the pack from the moment the gates opened.

When the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming ran out of gas at the final turn after yet another energy consuming duel Classic Empire was left in the lead under Julien Leparoux. Cloud Computing managed to steal it from the juvenile champion close to the wire, benefitting from a perfectly timed challenge orchestrated by Javier Castellano.

The 32/1 shot Senior Investment took third nearly five lengths behind them after being ridden patiently towards the back of the pack by Channing Hill for Kenny McPeek. The fourth placed Lookin At Lee (19/2) was also held up by Corey Lanerie, finishing half a length behind him. The ultra-consistent Gunnevera (11/1) took fifth.

John Velasquez, rider of Always Dreaming, realized his colt did not have his usual firing power when he asked him to quicken and found nothing. They were beaten 14 lengths and were out of the money in eighth place with only two horses behind them. The Triple Crown hopes of Always Dreaming’s owners, the Brooklyn Boyz, lasted only two weeks.

Chad Brown has been training for 10 years but had never saddled a Preakness runner before. It was his first Triple Crown classic victory as his four previous runners in the Derby had failed to put him on the winner’s podium. It was a similar scenario for Cloud Computing’s owners, William Lawrence and Klavarich Stables, who were delighted to have a runner with a live chance and ecstatic with their colt’s win.

The lightly raced Cloud Computing had only scored once before, in a maiden at Aqueduct in February and came into the Preakness on the back of a third placing in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct on April 8. He was beaten seven lengths by Graham Motion’s Irish War Cry. It was also a first Grade 1 win for a son of Maclean’s Music.

Cloud Computing was a relatively inexpensive purchase as a yearling at Keenelands’ September sale.  His dam Quick Temper by A.P. Indy had finished second in the Grade 2 Silverbulletday Stakes for fillies as a three-year-old and filled the same position in Grade 3 company as a four-year-old at Woodbine in the Maple Leaf Stakes. Cloud Computing was bought by Mike Ryan, a bloodstock agent, for $200,000. His Preakness prize of over $900,000 and the consequent boost to his value makes him look a very cheap horse in hindsight.

Brown’s Winning Strategy

Brown had immense respect for Always Dreaming and Classic Empire and believed that if his colt was going to beat them then he needed an advantage. He decided that bringing his colt into the Preakness fresh after a six week break from the racetrack could give him the edge as both the market leaders had lined up in the Kentucky Derby.

Pletcher, handler of Always Dreaming, had him scoped and checked over by the vets after his disappointing run. They found no physical reason for his flop and Pletcher concluded that the race had come a bit too soon after he had given everything to win the Kentucky Derby from the front.

Before the Kentucky Derby Always Dreaming was so exuberant he had been difficult to train. Pletcher took the unusual, precautionary step of breezing his colt on the day before the Derby because he was concerned that he would bolt and blow his chances.

That race came more than a month after his Louisiana Derby victory so the colt had plenty of time to recover his energy. A two week turnaround is a big ask for any three-year-old but especially for a colt who always races prominently and can never have an easy time. The ‘intense’ fractions set while contesting the lead with State Of Honor at Churchill Downs had temporarily left a mark on his physical powers.

Finishing as the runner-up by such a small margin is always frustrating but Pletcher admitted that he could not be that disappointed as his colt had run so well and really tried. Classic Empire has a history of wandering when in the lead and, denied company when Always Dreaming faded, was always going to vulnerable to a late closer.

Belmont Plans

Brown confirmed soon after the Preakness that Cloud Computing would not be lining up in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. Always Dreaming is also going to miss the race as Pletcher believes he will benefit from a break from the racetrack.

In contrast McPeek thinks that he is just getting going with Senior Investment and hopes for an improved result at Belmont Park. Pletcher is pointing Classic Empire at the Belmont too, keen to prove that his star juvenile can score at the highest level as a three-year-old. A win would certainly add to his value when he hits the breeding shed.

The American betting sites believe that Classic Empire can get his head in front on June 10 and have made him the 2/1 Belmont favorite, ahead of Epicharis and Lookin At Lee who are both 6/1 shots.