Preakness: Couple of local guys join the party

'I feel like it’s been a lifetime for me, really'
Chad Brown kisses the Preakness trophy as Bill Lawrence looks on.
Chad Brown kisses the Preakness trophy as Bill Lawrence looks on.

BALTIMORE — For all he could tell, Bill Lawrence was back at Sneaky Pete’s or some other sweaty Capital Region disco dance club of the 1970s and ’80s.

This was the Preakness, so besides a fabulous afternoon of horse racing, Pimlico Race Course hosted a non-stop infield party featuring pul­sating music that assaulted your eardrums.

About the same time I saw some stumbling girls drop a glass bottle of Bacardi that shattered on the ground floor on the way out of the grandstand, Lawrence most certainly was enjoying some sips of champagne or other beverage somewhere up in the clubhouse.

The 1979 Shaker High graduate grew up at Saratoga imagining he or one of his friends would own a horse someday. Not too many years after Lawrence graduated from high school, Chad Brown of Mechanicville formed a similar image for himself, wondering what he would have to do to become one of the important-looking people on the other side of the fence walking into the Saratoga paddock for a big race.

Their respective visions dovetailed perfectly at Pimlico on Saturday, just as the path of their horse Cloud Computing merged with that of Classic Empire just before the finish line. Trained by the 38-year-old Brown and co-owned by the 55-year-old Lawrence, Cloud Computing got a head in front of the 2016 2-year-old champion with a mere 50 yards of racetrack left and won the 142nd Preakness.

As much as it was an enormous breakthrough accomplishment for both Brown and Lawrence, the co-owner couldn’t shake how the whole scene took him back to his early days at Saratoga, between the loud, pounding bass of the festival music and the thrill of a big race day. In this case, his wife and daughter were with him, and it was his horse who was wowing the crowd on both sides of the fence.

“I was having flashbacks to the ’70s,” Lawrence said, with a grin of wonder and satisfaction that refused to leave his face. “I’m like a high school kid.”

This was the first victory in a Triple Crown race for both Brown and Lawrence, who has partnered with Seth Klarman of Klaravich Stables for the last 12 years.

Brown’s career is in full skyrocket at this point, after he was voted the Eclipse Award winner as the top trainer in North America last year and now has a Preakness under his belt.

“I feel like it’s been a lifetime for me, really,” he said. “Because you’ve got to put a lot of time in. We’ve run four horses in the Kentucky Derby. This is our first Preakness try. But when you add the time as an assistant trainer, for two great trainers, it feels like I’ve been doing it forever.”

One of Brown’s Derby horses ran just two weeks ago, like Cloud Computing carrying the white silks with the red Klaravich “KS” on the chest. Practical Joke finished fifth to Always Dreaming and skipped the Preakness, but the team had another promising horse who looked like he could be something special while training in Saratoga last summer.

Unfortunately, an injury kept Cloud Computing from running as a 2-year-old, but Brown’s patient handling put the colt in position to win one of the big ones this year. As much as Lawrence would love to win the Travers at Saratoga, Cloud Computing was doing too well in his races and training to wait. The time for patience was over, and, recognizing the opportunity, Brown sent him to the Preakness.

Lawrence and Klarman increasingly have employed Brown to the point now where 75 percent of their stock is in his barn.

“When he was in his early 30s, he was up in Saratoga and he’s rooting and cheering a horse next to me, and he slammed his hand down at the box and came back, and one of our other owners said, ‘You can’t do that here.’ ” Lawrence said. “And he said, ‘You show me a guy who likes losing, and I’ll show you a loser. Because my big owners like that I’m competitive.’ I said ‘That’s the guy I want.’ A guy who wants to win all the time.”

Lawrence, CEO of Meridian Capital Partners, and Klarman are hedge fund managers who were introduced by a mutual friend. Lawrence and his family have a house in the Albany area and a summer home in Saratoga Springs.

To say that Klarman is media-shy would be an understatement, while Lawrence relished the spotlight on Saturday.

But Lawrence can appreciate how much the Preakness meant to his co-owner, since Klarman grew up in Baltimore.

“He was just telling me in the post parade, ‘Look over there, I used to have a seat on the infield for the Preakness, and now I’m here, first time,’ ” Lawrence said. “He, especially, is very deserving of this.”

That reminded Lawrence of his own early exposure to the sport.

One of his vivid Saratoga memories is having watched Affirmed and Alydar in the 1978 Travers, won by Alydar by disqualification.

“Probably watched from the cheap seats, probably sitting on a cooler,” he said. “Probably a cheap cooler, too.

“When you’re a kid, my friends and I used to sit around, and there’s two dreams. One, we should start a band. Because you’re 15, 16 and you think you’re going to get some girls. And then you say if anybody ever makes some money, you’ve got to buy some horses.

“Last check, I’ve got 80 messages on my phone and let’s see if I get more. You’re just a kid. You’re just a kid. My parents were schoolteachers, I don’t come from the kind of money that would own horses. You just dream. We’ve won some big races, but these are different. I didn’t realize how big the Derby was until two weeks ago.”

Among those big races was the Hopeful with Practical Joke at Saratoga last summer, when Brown won the first meet title of his career. Lawrence and Klaravich Stables also led North America in graded stakes wins last year, but none nearly as big as this Preakness.

The Belmont Stakes is coming up in three weeks, but the Travers looms, too.

“I used to say to Chad, ‘Hey, maybe I want to win that one more,’ ” Lawrence said. “I would change that a little. But it would be a huge thrill because it’s the hometown.

“Chad wants to win the Travers, and I do, too. But he worked this horse the other day and said this horse could win whatever we put him in.”

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 395-3148 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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