BALTIMORE -- With mud from the Pimlico racetrack splattered all over his face, Always Dreaming jockey Johnny Velazquez quickly made his way into the paddock on Saturday evening, leaving two weeks of anticipation and Triple Crown possibilities behind him in one fleeting moment.
"He just got beat," Velazquez said of the Kentucky Derby winner. "I didn't have it. That's it, not much to say."
For the past two weeks, there was plenty of talk, as the Preakness favorite and his duel with Classic Empire provided the main storyline of the 142nd Preakness Stakes. The two horses were even side by side to start, with feisty Always Dreaming at post position No. 4 and Classic Empire at No. 5. In a 10-horse field, those were the two who became the household names for even the most casual observers of the sport.
Instead, the disappointment was doubled, as Cloud Computing -- a 13-1 long shot -- beat Classic Empire by a head. Always Dreaming finished eighth.
Wait, who won?
Meet owner Seth Klarman, who grew up three blocks from Pimlico Race Course and came to the Preakness "many, many times" as a kid. He started out as a teenager, handicapping. This time, he came as the owner of Cloud Computing, along with trainer Chad Brown and jockey Javier Castellano.
"Never imagined I'd own a horse, let alone be the winner of the Preakness," said Klarman, whose day job is CEO of the Boston-based hedge fund The Baupost Group.
Most watching couldn't have imagined it, either.
Always Dreaming captured the country's attention two weeks ago, and his aggressive running style seemed perfectly suited for the shorter Preakness, especially against a green horse like Cloud Computing that entered the race with only three starts. Castellano had never even ridden the horse before Saturday.
"We had a plan and we were sticking to the plan and it worked out great," Castellano said of himself and Brown. "We analyzed the race and handicapped the race together. We had a lot of thoughts and put them together, and I think that is the most important thing in a relationship. We have a great communication together, and I think that is the key to winning the race."
Brown won a Triple Crown race in his first try, and he did it with a fresh horse that didn't run in the Kentucky Derby -- the light-workload strategy Always Dreaming trainer Todd Pletcher likes to employ, but obviously couldn't this time because of his chance at the Triple Crown.
"I think possibly some of the reason that we won today was because we were patient and didn't throw an inexperienced horse against a 20-horse field in the Derby on a very difficult track," Brown said.
That congested start, along with a sloppy track, was what helped derail Classic Empire in the Derby. Although there was a thunderstorm in Baltimore on Friday evening, the conditions at Pimlico weren't nearly as bad, and with a smaller field, Classic Empire was expected to be Always Dreaming's biggest challenger.
"We got the trip we wanted, outside Always Dreaming," Classic Empire jockey Julien Leparoux said. "The only thing is, Always Dreaming backed out of the race early, so I got to the lead early, maybe too early."
It was the first time trainer Mark Casse had a horse finish better than fourth place in a Triple Crown race, but that was little consolation. Before the Preakness, Casse had told Leparoux, "Second doesn't mean anything, let's go and try to win this thing."
They almost did.
In fact, Classic Empire owner John Oxley almost celebrated too early.
"When you look at Javier Castellano, one of the best in the game, he had a well-timed ride, and he caught us napping a little, maybe," Oxley said. "Not anything to do with horse or jockey. When you open up like that, you think you've won."
A win was all Pletcher wanted on Saturday.
He paced in front of his Kentucky Derby winner's No. 40 stall on Saturday evening, about an hour before the race, chatting on his cell phone as though it was just another day at the office.
He was anxious, he said, but not driven by his highly publicized winless record at the Preakness Stakes. Always Dreaming was only the ninth horse Pletcher had ever raced in the Preakness, and only the second in the past five years.
"I want to win it today," he said.
Ultimately, what could have been was bigger than what was.
In a sport that unabashedly cheers for a Triple Crown winner, where upsets in the first two races take the shine off the Belmont Stakes, the hope that accompanied Almost Dreaming instantly disappeared. Velazquez is now 0-for-8 in the Preakness -- and yet he and Pletcher, friends for about 20 years, have won 1,620 races together.
"We didn't have an excuse," Pletcher said. "We were in a position we expected to be, and I think the turnaround was a little too quick. He ran so hard in the Derby, and today just wasn't his day."
Cloud Computing is the one who beat the odds.