Photo: Maryland Jockey Club
The owners of Creative Minister paid $150,000 to make the steel-gray colt eligible to run in Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes. That’s just $30,000 less than what they paid for Creative Minister at Keeneland’s 2020 September yearling sale.
The reason for the pricey supplemental entry fee is that Creative Minister was not nominated to the Triple Crown. In fact, the Creative Cause colt was still more than a month from running when the Jan. 29 deadline to make a 3-year-old an early nominee for $600 for the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness and Belmont Stakes (G1) came around. When the late nominations closed, for $6,000 per horse on March 29, he had raced only once, a close second.
With the supplemental entry fee tacked on to the purse, the Preakness will be worth $1.65 million. The owners can recoup their entry investment with a top-three finish in the 1 3/16-mile middle jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course.
To co-owner Greg Back, the risk-reward ratio justifies the expense. Back and Paul Fireman’s Fern Circle Stables own 45 percent apiece of Creative Minister, with trainer Kenny McPeek staying in for 10 percent, meaning he’s anteing up $15,000 himself toward the supplemental fee.
A Boston-based entrepreneur and humanitarian, Fireman built Reebok into a global player as chairman and CEO before selling the athletic shoe company to Adidas for a reported $3.8 billion in 2005. Back got back into horse racing after selling the trucking company he co-owned five years ago.
“We’ve just been seeing how he’s progressing,” Back, speaking by phone, said of Creative Minister, who makes his stakes debut in the Preakness. “We think he’s going to progress in this race as well. Normally, they can have big jumps in races one through six or seven, and this is only his fourth race. How many times do you get to go to the Preakness with a horse that is actually getting respect?
“I’m a gambler at heart… I think we have a very good chance to hit the board, and I actually think he could pull it off,” he added. “It just depends if some of these other horses get tired and he can make the run he likes to make.”
Back was itching to go big-game hunting after Creative Minister won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G1) undercard in his second start. The owner had the $500,000 Pat Day Mile (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day in mind, but McPeek didn’t want to drop back to a one-turn race and pushed to instead run in an entry-level allowance race the same day.
“After that, I said, ‘we’ll do whatever you want,’” McPeek said.
Which was run in the Preakness.
Back says it was maybe an hour after the Churchill Downs race when the Preakness discussion began. Back said he was further motivated by preliminary Equibase speed figures, with Creative Minister ultimately being assigned a 108 – compared with the 106 for Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike.
“He ran that incredible race in the allowance, and Kenny said, ‘This horse has as much talent as my other stakes horses. If you guys want to go, we can go,’” Back recalled. “I mean, the speed figure did everything for me. I knew he was a talented horse. But when you start running a 108, you can compete with anybody.”
He said someone else actually first brought up the Preakness.
“I don’t remember who the guy was, but he said, ‘Well, put him in the Preakness,’” Back said. “I turned to Kenny and said, ‘Preakness!’ He hemmed and hawed just a little bit and said, ‘You know what? If you’re willing to pay the fee, I think he could have a chance.’ Then we researched everything and found out how much the fee was, and we made the decision.
“I’m so excited, I can’t wait,” he added.
McPeek, who won the COVID-delayed 2020 Preakness with the filly Swiss Skydiver over Kentucky Derby winner and eventual Horse of the Year Authentic, is scheduled to be at Pimlico Thursday morning. In the meantime, exercise rider Danny Ramsey oversaw Creative Minister’s first day of training at Pimlico after vanning from Louisville on Tuesday.
Ramsey had planned to take Creative Minister to the track right after the mid-morning renovation break. But the horse had other ideas.
“He was jumping around,” Ramsey said. “I walked him this morning because he was feeling so good. I walked him 35, close to 40 minutes. I thought that would settle him down a bit. And bam. He started jumping and feeling good, so I said to the groom, ‘Let’s put the saddle on him and take him to the track.’
“It’s typical of him. I gallop him at Churchill, and he’s jumping around and feeling good. I thought the trip might have settled him down a little bit,” he added. “The trip didn’t take anything out of him.”