by Tom Carley
The PREAKNESS is now in the history books. What a performance put in by American Pharoah. This race was never in doubt once the winner took charge right from the first jump and took this field gate to wire. American Pharoah now has a chance to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
This week’s Featured Four:
I. WE SAW A DIFFERENT AMERICAN PHAROAH IN THE PREAKNESS THAN IN THE DERBY
Last week I questioned the effect of American Pharoah being whipped 32 times in the KENTUCKY DERBY. There was no need for his jockey to carry a whip in the PREAKNESS. He did not look like the same horse that struggled in the stretch to put away a tiring Firing Line in Louisville the first Saturday in May. Some will point toward the rain (American Pharoah did win for fun in the REBEL STAKES) as a reason for the dominance. Some will point toward the absence of a contender that would have forced him to run a fast early pace, affording American Pharoah to save plenty of energy for the end of the race. Maybe we (and I was his biggest detractor) just need to realize that this equine is really that good. It was tough to follow him during the post parade in order to compare his body language and the shininess of his coat compared to his Louisville victory because of the rain. So all I can go by is how dominant he was compared to the field. On PREAKNESS Saturday, he was unbeatable. I have heard all spring how this is a special group of 3-year-olds. Well, none of them have stepped up and even given American Pharoah a challenge thus far.
II. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE FRESHNESS
The Triple Crown trail provides a unique challenge with each race. The KENTUCKY DERBY is the first time any of these horses ran as far as 10 furlongs. The PREAKNESS is the first time any of them had run on only two week’s rest. American Pharoah faced a group that included three fresh horses. All three of these went off at very long odds. As the field turned for home, the #7 horse Divining Rod looked to be the only horse who was gaining momentum and closed to within a couple lengths of the winner in the early stretch. As the field came closer to the finish, the #5 Tale and Verse appeared out of nowhere and was gaining ground with each stride. He never threatened the winner, but did get up for second. What did these two have in common? They did not run 10 furlongs two weeks earlier. Looking up the track you saw the familiar Derby horses Dortmund, Mr. Z, Danzig Moon, and Firing Line. Never underestimate freshness and realize that if American Pharoah is going to win the Triple Crown, he will have to do what no other Triple Crown winner did: defeat over 22 horses in the three races. The last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, faced nearly the same group in each of his three races. Never underestimate the freshness factor as these races get longer.
III. DALLAS “BRIDESMAID” STEWART
Never is it good to be labeled a bridesmaid instead of a bride. However, I want to make a tip of the cap to trainer Dallas Stewart who has now finished runner up in a Triple Crown race each of the last three years. His horses have all been long shots, closing from the rear of the field to finish second in the 2013 and 2014 KENTUCKY DERBY with Golden Soul and Commanding Curve, and this year in the 2015 PREAKNESS with Tale and Verse. A closer look at these horses yields some similarities. All of these equines were deep closers. As the modern thoroughbred is bred for speed, Stewart takes these horses built for endurance and has them close from the rear of the field to get major prize money in the country’s biggest races. These horses all did their preparation at Stewart’s Fairgrounds winter base. You never hear the name Dallas Stewart mentioned in any cheating or excessive medication violations. He simply goes about his business as a horseman, not a chemist. It is good to see someone who does things the right way, be rewarded.
IV. NEXT STOP BELMONT
The schedule allows a three-week hiatus between the PREAKNESS and the BELMONT STAKES, so now is the time to reset your batteries and focus on what is at stake over those twenty-one days. The sport will soon be thrust into the Big Apple limelight. Trainer Bob Baffert will act as an ambassador for horse racing, and be led all over New York in the days before the race. He will go to Wall Street, major restaurants, etc. He has been in position to win the Triple Crown before… and has come up short. What he will have to face this year is a talented group that is coming into the 2015 BELMONT STAKES fresh with a five-week rest after passing on the PREAKNESS. Remember, the BELMONT STAKES is 12 furlongs long: 11/2 miles around a very deep and tiring racetrack knows as “Old Sandy”. They do not call the race the “Test of a Champion” for effect. We have plenty of time to analyze the race and look at the contenders, trainers, jockeys, etc. These past two weeks have been the time to reflect on and enjoy the world of thoroughbred racing, and hope that the June exposure to mainstream media will get the “sport of kings” some much needed new fans.
For that, I thank the team of American Pharoah.