BALTIMORE — Seth Klarman grew up three blocks from Pimlico Race Course, going to the betting windows as a teenager to learn the game.
The hedge-fund manager started buying horses 25 years ago, eventually leading him back to his old track — where not much about the building has changed — as co-owner of a fresh horse named Cloud Computing in the 142nd Preakness Stakes.
This trip had a different ending. He walked the stairs to the track's signature cupola before hoisting the Woodlawn Vase, his colt having bolted down the stretch to beat Classic Empire by a head in a photo finish of the second leg of the Triple Crown. Cloud Computing covered the 1 3/16 miles in 1 minute, 55.98 seconds, paying $28.80. He won at 13-1 odds and becomes just the third non-Kentucky Derby runner to win the Preakness since 2000.
There will be no Triple Crown winner for the second year in a row. Derby winner and 5-4 favorite Always Dreaming charged out to an early lead and dueled with 3-1 second choice Classic Empire through the final turn. He abruptly slowed — finishing eighth — and Cloud Computing made his move down the stretch.
"We were in the position we expected to be and I think the turnaround was a little too quick," said Always Dreaming trainer Todd Pletcher. "He ran so hard in the Derby and today just wasn't his day.
"He didn't seem to relish the track, but I don't really think that was it. It was just he put so much into the Derby that it wasn't meant to be."
More from USA Today:
Though beaten, Classic Empire's trainers were partially vindicated after spending the week saying they liked their choices in a clean race. The colt, named the best 2-year-old last year, had a difficult trip in the Derby, starting with a collision out of the gate. He still finished fourth. In Baltimore the path was clearer and Classic Empire delivered.
"I thought he ran outstanding," trainer Mark Casse said. " … I said to (jockey) Julien (Leparoux), 'Second doesn't mean anything.' I said, 'Let's go and try to win this thing.' It ended up getting us in the end."
Though eligible to run the Kentucky Derby, Cloud Computing trainer Chad Brown opted to skip that race and give the horse a six-week rest. It showed.
"Certainly I'm not going to dispute the fact that I brought a fresh horse as part of our strategy," he said. "Our horse is very talented, too. Classic Empire and Always Dreaming are two outstanding horses and our strategy was, 'If we are going to ever beat them, let's take them on two week's rest when we have six, and it worked."
Klarman, president of Boston-based Baupost Group, called the decision "brilliant" and said he did not regret skipping the Derby.
It helped that Javier Castellano handled Cloud Computing so well. The veteran jockey actually rode Gunnevera in the Derby and was asked to do the same in the Preakness but opted to ride for Brown, who he works with regularly in New York. Castellano made his move at the right time, then steadied Cloud Computing down the lane as the horses stretched for the finish line.
It was Castellano's first time on Cloud Computing, an inexperienced colt who didn't run last year due to injury. This was his fourth race, and twice he'd broken poorly. Castellano got him into the race cleanly. He and Brown devised a plan to go to the rail (Cloud Computing was in the No. 2 gate) and save ground while the favorites broke at a frenzied pace.
"Once he got a spot early, we figured the race can be won or lost in that first turn," Brown said. "And I feel he won the race right in that first turn."