Preakness 2021: Rombauer outduels Medina Spirit for late victory

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All eyes were on Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit at the 146th Preakness Stakes, but it was 11-1 Rombauer who outran the field to win the second race of the Triple Crown. Medina Spirit had led wire-to-wire in a controversial Derby victory two weeks ago, and looked poised to do the same thing at Pimlico Race Course, but Rombauer put on a charge for the ages in the final yards of the race to claim victory. 

Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon broke well early, with Medina Spirit taking the early lead into the first turn. Midnight Bourbon kept the pressure on Medina Spirit through the backstretch, and as they came into the frontstretch, Midnight Bourbon took over the lead. But Rombauer was a late charger, waiting until the field had turned for home to charge ahead, and captured the victory by four lengths. 

The race marked trainer Michael McCarthy's first career Preakness Stakes win. Midnight Bourbon, at 3-1 odds, finished second, and Medina Spirit, which had been the favorite at 2-1, finished third. 

Kentucky Derby winners always claim an outsized share of the attention coming into the Preakness, given its status as the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Since 1995, as noted by NBC’s Steve Kornacki on Saturday, 24 Derby winners have entered the Preakness prior to this year. Of those, 19 finished in the top 3, and 11 won the race.

But there’s never been a Derby winner that came into Pimlico quite like this: under the shadow of a possible, still-unresolved disqualification from the Derby.

A week after Medina Spirit’s dominating, wire-to-wire victory at Churchill Downs, tests of the horse’s blood turned up traces of betamethasone, a regulated anti-inflammatory. Betamethasone is not illegal, but it may not be used within 14 days of a race because of its pain-killing properties.

Churchill Downs barred trainer Bob Baffert from racing horses at its facility until the resolution of a second test, which, if positive, could cost Medina Spirit the win. (All bets made on Medina Spirit were closed when the race was deemed official; even if second-place finisher Mandaloun was named the winner, no tickets could be cashed on that victory.)

At the time of the positive test, Medina Spirit was preparing to head to Baltimore. The Maryland Jockey Club, which oversees Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness, said at the time of the positive test that it would wait for more facts before making a decision on whether to prevent Medina Spirit, or any other Baffert-trained horses, from running this weekend.

Baffert, just off his record-breaking seventh Derby win, vehemently denied any wrongdoing with Medina Spirit, even going so far as to blame the horse’s failed test on “cancel culture.” But a day later, he reversed course, conceding that an ointment the horse had been treated with right up until race day contained betamethasone.

Regardless, the MJC allowed Medina Spirit and Concert Tour, another Baffert-trained horse, to run this weekend, where they went off among the favorites. Baffert himself was not in attendance, opting to avoid being what he deemed a distraction on the weekend. Prior to the race, Medina Spirit was subjected to more stringent tests than the other horses — three in all — and tested negative on all tests. 

Just minutes before the race, Medina Spirit was listed as the favorite at 2-1, with Midnight Bourbon at 3-1 and Concert Tour slightly back at 7-2. Crowded Trade was well back at 8-1.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - MAY 15: Jockey Flavien Prat #6 riding Rombauer celebrates as he wins the 146th Running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 15, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - MAY 15: Jockey Flavien Prat #6 riding Rombauer celebrates as he wins the 146th Running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 15, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @jaybusbee, or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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