Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

St. Pete Beach couple places Kid Cruz in Preakness

If Kid Cruz gets his nose to the finish line first today in the 139th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, the snapshot will be etched forever in the minds of majority owners Steven Brandt and Rick Boylan of St. Pete Beach.

Then Brandt will reach into his pocket and pull out a keepsake that is so dear to his heart: a brochure with a photo of his mother, Shirley Brandt. She died Jan. 30 from pulmonary fibrosis at age 77.

"Rick made a pamphlet for her funeral service, and it has a nice picture of her," Brandt said. "In January when I told her about (Kid Cruz), she said, 'This is the big one. You're going to get in this Triple Crown, and you're going to win.'

"Maybe she's out there helping this horse, helping us. It's just that amazing prediction with this horse, and then she died."

Kid Cruz will be taking a major step up in class under jockey Julian Pimentel. Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome has been the focus at Old Hilltop, and the field includes Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend, who missed the Run for the Roses two weeks ago with an illness.

"I think California Chrome is a great horse," Brandt said. "I'm not a believer, though. He ran a great race (in the Kentucky Derby), and he got really lucky and had no trouble at all. The speed didn't materialize in the Derby. There's no way that's going to happen at the Preakness."

Brandt carried his mother's program when Kid Cruz gave him his first career stakes victory, a surreal last-to-first win in the $100,000 Private Terms on March 8 at Laurel Park (Md.), and again when the Kentucky-bred captured the $100,000 Federico Tesio on April 19 at Pimlico.

In the Private Terms, Laurel Park track announcer Dave Rodman estimated the late-running Kid Cruz was 25 lengths behind the leader on the backstretch.

"It still gives me chills to this day, because he dropped 20 to 25 lengths behind, and he just comes flying," Brandt said. "I thought, 'Mom, you were right with this horse.' "

Brandt, 56, and Boylan, 57, were married in 2010 in Washington, D.C., and run their horses under the banner of Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds, named after a St. Pete Beach island. They bought Kid Cruz for $50,000 in his second start as a maiden Nov. 22, a win at Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, N.Y., where he made his first three starts. The race was a claiming race, where all the horses are for sale at a stipulated price. Original owner Black Swan Stable purchased Kid Cruz for $80,000 at the 2012 Keene­land yearling sale in Lexington, Ky., and made two offers to buy the colt back privately after the claim. Finally, Brandt and Boylan agreed to give Black Swan Stable an undisclosed minority interest.

This will be the first Triple Crown race for Brandt and Boylan. Plans to run Kid Cruz in the Kentucky Derby were squashed when a sore shoulder led to the 3-year-old being withdrawn from the Wood Memorial on April 5 at Aqueduct. He has three wins from five starts and $161,375 in earnings. The colt is named after New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Lemon Drop Kid, the sire to Kid Cruz, is partly responsible for the Triple Crown drought being at 36 years. He upset Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic in the 1999 Belmont Stakes at 29-1 odds. Kid Cruz was the second foal dropped by the unraced Tale of the Cat mare Layreebelle

Kid Cruz has another connection to Tampa Bay. His trainer is Linda Rice, whose father, Clyde Rice, has raced horses at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar and operates Indian Prairie Ranch, a thoroughbred training center in Anthony, near Ocala. Her uncle is the late Don Rice, an eight-time training champion at the Downs.

Rice, 50, is bidding to become the first female conditioner to win the 1 3/16th-mile race. Kid Cruz is her first Preakness starter and second in the Triple Crown series (Supervisor ran fifth in the 2003 Belmont Stakes).

"(Kid Cruz) doesn't have the speed figures that some of the other horses have run at this point," Rice said, "but I think he is headed in the right direction.

"If they do set up a fast pace in front of him, it should improve his chances. He's already won over the course. That's helpful. (Coming from behind) is his style, (and) they're a lot of fun. Of course, sometimes they're victims to a slow pace, and we're hoping to have a fast pace to run into in Maryland."

Brandt, a native of Frederick, Md., has owned about 30 horses, but hasn't raced at the Downs recently. He retired from Verizon after 27 years and does independent contracting. His itch for thoroughbreds began in earnest three decades ago while volunteering at Bowie Race Track, now a training center in Maryland.

Boylan has worked in politics for more than 20 years. The native of Bozeman, Mont., does consulting with the Democratic National Committee. Two weeks ago, Boylan worked on rules for the 2016 delegate selection process in Washington, D.C.

"(Horse racing) is really Steven's passion and has been for as long as I have known him," Boylan said. "He has been with me all of these years while I have followed my passion of being involved in politics. So I have this new journey that is Steven's passion."

Brandt relishes a shot at history.

"I've watched horse racing since I was 12," he said. "I've never known what it feels like to be at this level or to have a horse run in a race like this. If we do beat California Chrome, I would feel sorry for the connections. But that's what happens in horse racing. On any given day, the best horse doesn't always win."

   
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