American Pharoah established himself as a horse racing star with wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the latter an impressive win by seven lengths on a rain-soaked track at Pimlico.
“I always told everybody American Pharoah would show up today,” owner Ahmed Zayat said after the race. “Indeed he did. He is the real deal.”
The 3-year-old colt now becomes the 14th horse since Affirmed won the Belmont by a nose in 1978 to be in a position to win the Triple Crown.
“I know what I’m dealing with and what to expect so it makes it much easier to go through this,” trainer Bob Baffert told USAToday last week. “All my staff, we’ve been through it, so we just treat it like it would be a Breeders’ Cup or anything else, we just stick to the game plan and hope there’s no hiccups.”
But there are always at least two hiccups, which is why the last 13 have failed.
More and more horses are bred for speed, not distance. The Belmont Stakes (6:50 p.m. Saturday, NBC) is a one and a half-mile race, a distance never run by the entrants before, and it has proven difficult for strong front runners to maintain the stamina necessary to make it to the finish line without being passed or completely running out of gas. That’s because they typically aren’t bred to go the distance.
The Dosage Index is a figure that factors in the first four generations of a horse’s pedigree and how those horses fared at different distances. The lower the number, the more likely a horse is better suited for longer distances. And while there has been a trend of increasingly higher Dosage Indexes winning the Belmont Stakes, since 2003, none of them has had a dosage greater than three. Only four of those winners had a higher Dosage Index than American Pharaoh’s 4.33.
Nine of last Belmont winners have skipped either the Derby or Preakness, but that hasn’t stopped the betting public from making American Pharoah the favorite.
“I think any time you’re trying to win three consecutive races it’s hard to do under any circumstances,” said Todd Pletcher, who has trained two winners from 18 Belmont starters in his career, told the New York Daily News. “Maybe those three consecutive races, in five weeks, at three different racetracks, in three different states just to start with that’s pretty hard. Plus, it’s very difficult competition at different distances. I don’t think it’s any big secret why it’s hard to win.”
One of those winners, Tonalist, stopped California Chrome’s pursuit of his Triple Crown bid last year without running in either the Derby or Preakness. And this year Pletcher is going all out to stop American Pharoah with two entries at Belmont: Madefromlucky and Materiality.
Materiality, at 7-to-1, gives him his best chance.
The horse is well rested having skipped the Preakness and showed plenty of class when he rallied to a sixth-place finish in the Derby. Plus, he has the speed to keep the pressure on the favorite but the breeding to go the distance (Dosage Index of 2.33). And finally, Pletcher spent the last few weeks in New York getting his horses comfortable over the Belmont track.
“Anytime you are at home, it is an edge,” Pletcher said in a New York Times report this week. “The horses are settled in here; they train over the mile-and-a-half oval every day. Anytime you can walk out of your stall into the paddock to be saddled for the race, it’s not a disadvantage in any sense.”
Here are two more horses who have the pedigree to go the distance and are fresh for a run in New York:
Frosted, 5-to-1: Frosted was the only horse making up ground on the top three horses over the final three-quarters of a mile in the Kentucky Derby, and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin won’t let the Belmont get too far away from him and his horse again.
“I think we'll be a lot closer 1 / 8to the pace 3 / 8 than in the Derby,” McLaughlin told International Business Times. “And hopefully not so wide, and we work out a better trip.”
A son of Tapit, who also sired 2014 Belmont Stakes Champion Tonalist, Frosted “is very capable of breaking up American Pharoah’s Triple Crown bid.”
Although some may consider him a closer, he is not a deep closer, and has the tactical speed to stay in touch with the field. He showed his speed in the Fountain of Youth, and while his trainer may not want to see him on the lead in the Belmont Stakes, he can be forwardly placed in the race and try to make a move on the leaders heading into his stretch run. This racing style can lead to running a winning Belmont Stakes.
Keen Ice, 28-to-1: Keen Ice sat as far back as 17th in the Kentucky Derby but closed strong for a seventh place finish. His sire, Hall of Famer Curlin, was the champion 3-year-old colt in 2007 plus Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008. His dam is Canadian Hall of Famer Awesome Again, whose female family includes Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew, making him well-bred for the classic distance of 12 furlongs at the expense of speed.
“Speed at this point is now irrelevant,” jockey Kent Desormeaux said in a Louisville Courier-Journal interview. “You’d need a horse that can stay, and the guy that I ride will be naturally closer because of the human element. They’re not going to go 46 (for the half-mile) in the Belmont, otherwise you’d have no chance. So they'll slow it down and that will put me naturally closer and if Keen Ice finishes like he finished in the Derby, he has a chance. He'll be competitive.”
Belmont Stakes post positions, odds
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