Up until the last sixteenth of a mile, it looked as if they had. Then Leparoux heard Javier Castellano smooching to his colt, a 13-1 long shot named Cloud Computing. And with every kiss Castellano blew into his horse’s ear, Cloud Computing’s stride stretched longer and the ground between him and Classic Empire disappeared quicker. This was not the duel anyone had expected.
For the last 50 yards, Cloud Computing and Classic Empire shadowed each other, running nose to nose almost until they hit the wire. In the end, Cloud Computing won the only duel that mattered — the 142nd Preakness Stakes.
It was the first Triple Crown victory for Cloud Computing’s trainer, Chad Brown, and the second for Castellano, who also won in 2006 aboard Bernardini. Their partnership has helped them dominate grass in New York and beyond. Brown has won nearly every major turf race in America, including seven Breeders’ Cup races on grass and the Arlington Million, and has trained three Eclipse-Award-winning turf horses.
Castellano was aboard Cloud Computing for the first time on Saturday, a switch dictated by Brown, who wanted his go-to rider to get the colt into the race from the start and keep him there.
It worked. Cloud Computing broke sharply and loomed behind Always Dreaming and Classic Empire for most of the race.
“We figured the race would be won or lost in that first turn,” Brown said, “and he won it right there.”
Cloud Computing covered the mile and three-sixteenths at Pimlico Race Course in 1 minute 55.98 seconds and paid $28.80 for a $2 bet. He earned a $900,000 first-place check that was welcomed by his co-owners William Lawrence and Seth Klarman. The victory carried special weight for Klarman, who turns 60 on Sunday and fell in love with horses while growing up three blocks from this battered old racetrack.
There will be no Triple Crown this year, rendering next month’s Belmont Stakes a nice race but one that has now lost its potentially historic dimensions. For 37 years, from Affirmed’s 1978 Triple Crown sweep to American Pharoah’s in 2015, no horse could grab the sport’s greatest prize, although 13 went to the Belmont with a chance.
Always Dreaming, the prohibitive 6-5 favorite, finished a well-beaten eighth. In Kentucky, he had a perfect, front-running trip on a rain-soaked course that bedeviled many of his rivals — Classic Empire in particular. It was not so easy here.
“I was in trouble on the backstretch when the other horse got him,” Velazquez said. “He just didn’t have it.”
Casse had been eager for this race after the Derby, where everything that could have gone wrong did. In the Derby, Classic Empire was slammed by another rival, McCraken, at the start and pinballed among horses as they headed for the first turn. Still, his colt managed to finish fourth. Classic Empire had won four of his five races last year and was named the 2-year-old champion. And his pedigree is impeccable: His father, Pioneerof the Nile, also sired American Pharoah.
As Classic Empire burst to a three-length lead in the Preakness stretch, Casse believed that his faith in his colt would be rewarded. Then came Cloud Computing, and he found himself thinking what Leparoux, too, would wonder later.
“I got to the lead early — maybe too early,” Leparoux said.
Casse was more blunt. “No excuses,” he said. “We were second best.”
The trainer of Always Dreaming, Todd Pletcher, worried whether his colt could win on just two weeks’ rest. He is as good a sabermetrician as he is a horseman, and he had run only eight horses here previously because he prefers giving them a five-week break between races. He usually takes his Derby contenders back to his base in New York, skipping the Preakness and training until the Belmont.
It may be why he has won two Derbys and two Belmonts but is still looking for his first Preakness victory.
For Brown, Cloud Computing’s victory was a rebuttal to those who believed that as accomplished as he was as a trainer of turf horses, he still had not figured out how to win where America’s most prestigious races are run: on the dirt.
“Best dirt trainer in the country,” Lawrence, the co-owner, whispered to Brown in the winner’s circle.
On Saturday at least, he was.
An earlier version of this article misstated the time in which Cloud Computing finished the Preakness. It was 1 minute 55.98 seconds, not 1 minute 59.98 seconds.