Rich Strike winning the Kentucky Derby at 80-1 may not be the only big upset this Triple Crown season.
Not if Fenwick has anything to do about it.
Two weeks after Rich Strike became the second-biggest long shot to win the Derby, Fenwick could join him in the record books at the Preakness Stakes. The 50-1 shot also has as heartwarming a story and is as unlikely to be on the Triple Crown trail: named after owner Jeremia Rudan’s mother who died in a house fire when he was 19 and running for Kevin McKathan two years after the trainer lost his brother because of a heart attack.
“This is one of those deals where you can stop and take a breath and say: ‘You know what, we can do this,’” McKathan said Wednesday. “It can happen.”
Fenwick has the longest odds of any horse in the field of nine for Saturday's Preakness, which is being run without Rich Strike, largely because he finished last in his most recent race in April and has just one win in six lifetime starts. Rich Strike also had only won once before shocking the sports world in the Derby.
“Everyone’s like, ‘This is a real sport for the rich and famous,’” McKathan said. “But let me tell you what: You just end up with a good horse and you can beat ’em all. That horse has no idea. He has no idea what he cost. He has no idea who owns that guy. He has no idea what kind of plane they flew in here on. They don’t know.”
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Few know much about Fenwick, who was bought by Rudan and McKathan for the modest sum of $52,000 as a yearling and went unsold as a 2-year-old after a freak accident caused him to run slower than expected.
“He goes faster, he brings $900,000 and we’re not here,” McKathan said. “Someone else is.”
Perhaps it's par for the course for the big chestnut colt who McKathan acknowledged runs into troubles on the racetrack. That would explain the 11th-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 9 when Rudan said Fenwick “broke a step slow (and) got cut off in the corner.”
“He’s the kind of horse who needs to be free to run,” Rudan said. “He didn’t get that chance. I’m not saying he would have won, but if he had made that hole on the first turn, it might have been a different race."
The race, as it played out, was a big reason Pimlico's Keith Feustle didn't think highly of his odds of winning the Preakness against Derby runner-up Epicenter and Kentucky Oaks-winning filly Secret Oath, among others.
Much like Rich Strike in the Derby, when the horse claimed for $30,000 who got into the field less than 36 hours before the race and took advantage of a blazing hot pace, a lot would have to go right — or wrong for others — to pave the track for another improbable result.
“You’re going to need that racing luck to have something like an 80-1 win again,” said trainer Tim Yakteen, who has Armagnac in the Preakness after running Taiba and Messier in the Derby. “It doesn’t happen very often.”
Fenwick was also a late addition to the Preakness. Technically Fenwick is McCarthy's first starter in a Triple Crown race, but the veteran horseman got training started for Bob Baffert's Real Quiet, Silver Charm and American Pharoah.
He has all three of their names tattooed on his left arm and called American Pharoah's 2015 run to end the sport's lengthy Triple Crown drought “life-changing.” Fenwick could presumably join them if he pulls off a Preakness upset.
“Given the opportunity and everything kind of goes his way, he deserves to be here and he’ll show them,” McKathan said. "I think he is special."
It would also be special given the grief his owner and trainer have experienced. Rudan's mother got him into racing and after calling him “Sunshine,” he thought it only fitting to honor her, especially because the horse's mother was Make the Sun Shine.
The sun was shining during an early morning this week at Pimlico when McKathan got emotional talking about brother and longtime partner J.B. who died Feb. 3, 2019, at age 53. He wasn't sure what to say but perked up when asked what his brother would think of him entering Fenwick in the Preakness.
“Oh, he’d think I’m crazy," McKathan said with a chuckle. “My brother would be like: ‘What are you doing? Don’t do that.’”
It might be crazy to think Fenwick can replicate Rich Strike's effort, and he would be the longest shot to win the Preakness if he goes off at odds of 25-1 or higher. But 13 years after he thought a celebration was coming for Baffert-trained Pioneerof the Nile in the Derby before Mine That Bird passed him to win it, McKathan couldn't help but take a chance in the Preakness with a horse in his own name for once.
“I’m just happy to be between the fences,” McKathan said. “Give me a shot and hope with a little luck and God’s help, I think he’ll run big.”
And if he doesn't? Don't expected sullen times at the barn for a little outfit just happy to be at a Triple Crown race.
“That is a big deal for me,” McKathan said. “Am I going to have 40 horses at Belmont? No. Am I going to have a barn at Saratoga? No. I’m going to continue to do what I do. But I think to have an opportunity to take one of these babies all the way and see it through, good, bad or ugly, it’s kind of neat to be a part of it.”