Rombauer Trainer Michael W. McCarthy Reflects On Winning 146th Preakness Stakes

Rombauer won the 146th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore May 15, and trainer Michael W. McCarthy joined Glenn Clark Radio two days later to discuss the victory.

Ten horses made up the Preakness Stakes field, and Rombauer (11-1) drew post 6 with jockey Flavien Prat. Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon set the pace in the race, but Rombauer passed both horses down the stretch to win. What were the final moments like for McCarthy?

Michael W. McCarthy: I’d say the last 24 seconds, which would have been from the top of the stretch to the finish line, was probably about as close to an out-of-body experience as I’ve ever had, just watching that horse zoom up to Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit. We had had a perfect fit all the way up the back side around the turn. I could see the horse directly inside of us — [trainer] Chad Brown’s — kind of jumping up and down, not really gaining any forward momentum. At that point, I decided to go ahead and look behind and see who was kind of gaining on everybody. It didn’t really look like anybody was running from way back of the pack.

When I looked up to see where we were, I couldn’t see my horse and I started getting nervous, so I looked behind the two leaders again. And when I looked at the jumbotron, I had seen that he was coming up to Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit. He was coming right behind their flank on the outside, so he was out of my view for about four or five jumps. When they straightened up at the head of the lane, obviously you’re excited and you’re happy that you’re going to run well in a Triple Crown race, which is a heck of an accomplishment in and of itself. But when he put his nose in front, the feeling is awfully hard to describe. It’s nice to win any kind of race, but when you win a history-maker like the Preakness — the second leg of the Triple Crown — it’s pretty special.

The Preakness was Rombauer’s seventh race and third victory. The horse won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in February and finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April. Both of those races were a mile and an eighth, a touch shorter than the Preakness. McCarthy thought the Preakness was a good fit for Rombauer.

MM: I thought we had a couple things going for us. I did not think the distance would be an issue at all. Obviously the Kentucky Derby at a mile and a quarter, you’re backing up a 16th of a mile in the Preakness. But my horse had had some races at a mile and an eighth in which it looked like he was finishing well and almost just getting started. Inside the eighth pole when he hit his best stride and he was leveling off, he was not a tired horse at the finish line. He actually looked to me like he was getting stronger and galloped out with a lot of energy. I say I’m surprised but I’m not shocked at how well he ran because I thought that the pace scenario would suit him and the distance would not be an issue. But all things considered, any time you win one of those, it’s a huge surprise.

Though Rombauer was McCarthy’s first entrant in a Triple Crown race, McCarthy was no stranger to big races, having previously worked with trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won five American Classic races. McCarthy was on Pletcher’s team for a Kentucky Derby win (Super Saver in 2010) and two Belmont Stakes victories (Rags to Riches in 2007 and Palace Malice in 2013). McCarthy began training on his own in 2014.

MM: I was very lucky to spend 11 years and change with Todd Pletcher. During that time, I was based in Kentucky and New York and even here on the West Coast. So I was very familiar with the nuances of the Kentucky Derby, the Triple Crown races, all that kind of thing. So even though it appeared to be my first Triple Crown starter, I had been involved with multiple Triple Crown races and was lucky enough to be part of a Kentucky Derby winner, two Belmont Stakes winners and you can sprinkle in a few Kentucky Oats winners.

It felt normal to me. It had been a long time since I had been in a scenario like that, but I knew what to expect. The stars aligned. We were able to take advantage of a perfect pace setup. My horse got a great trip. [Jockey] Flavien Prat was masterful. It just goes to show you that if you persevere in this game — big breeder, small breeder — sooner or later, if you get lucky enough, the chips will fall the right way.

[Pletcher] was the first person to congratulate me when I walked onto the race track. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any family there to celebrate with me, so that’s the closest thing I had to family there. It was very nice. It meant quite a bit to me. Everything we do kind of channels through that outfit and the things that we learned there and the lessons that we’ve learned.

McCarthy has been training for Rombauer’s owners, John and Diane Fradkin, for the past four years. McCarthy explained that the Fradkins are small breeders — they own two broodmares — who breed for the commercial market. They were planning to sell Rombauer last year, but then opted not to do so.

MM: The pandemic hit and this horse was due to be sold as a 2-year-old in training — a lot of horses early in their 2-year-old season, they go to these training sales. They have a timed workout. A lot of that is based off of their timed workout, their appearance back at the barns and stuff like that, and obviously the auction prices and what have you. But when the pandemic hit, the sales were postponed — some of them three and four months.

The gentleman that was in the process of … preparing him for the sale for the Fradkins, Eddie Woods, had mentioned that he thought it was a good idea just to put the horse into training. ‘You don’t know how long you’re going to have to wait to sell him and he seems like a horse that could go right into training and go from there.’ The horse was sent to us in April or May, I believe, and fit right into the program. He wasn’t flashy. He just did everything right. As time went on, he seemed to me like a horse that wasn’t real fast but would run real far, and he proved that on [May 15].

For more from McCarthy, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club

Luke Jackson

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