One of my favorite childhood books was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. In it, Charlotte spun the lifesaving message “Some Pig” over the corner of Wilbur’s pen. I always loved that message. It was one of several messages Charlotte developed that allowed Wilbur to be seen as something extraordinary. Yesterday, we were treated to seeing an extraordinary horse run an exceptional Preakness Stakes in the worst weather I’ve ever witnessed in 46 years of watching the American classics.
Simply put, the race was OVER in the first turn. When American Pharoah started around that first corner his ears flicked straight up and I knew he was a happy horse just playing in the mud! The only moment of pause I had is when NBC announcer Larry Collmus announced the first quarter mile fraction time of :22 4/5. That was a bit brisk and my heart skipped a beat, but it was quickly back in rhythm as American Pharoah moved into the backstretch.
Besides his innate talent carrying him along I have to commend Victor Espinoza for a flawless, well-thought-out ride. He “quarter-horsed” him out of the gate to get position and then let off the accelerator, giving Pharoah a breather through the next four furlongs. Meanwhile all the other colts and riders were working to maintain or attempt to gain position. In the final turn for home all Espinoza did was shake the reins (while everyone else was going to their whips and throwing desperate crosses) and all that was left was the question of by how many lengths would American Pharoah win as he simply glided to the line.
I’ve hinted at it before, I’m going to just say it outright now, and I really don’t care what he does going on from the Preakness, American Pharoah is a superior horse. His action is nearly flawless, as such he’s not expending the same level of energy as the other colts are to run his races. He can run on the lead. He can rate and run off the pace. He’s equally adept on a fast or sloppy track; I’d almost dare say he’s better on an off track. He appears to be a smart, relaxed horse in demeanor. He has heart, the willingness and ability to dig in to win as he displayed in his Kentucky Derby victory. There’s really not a category for a racehorse where he doesn’t check the box affirmatively.
For the moment, the best news of the day is that American Pharoah appears to have come out of the Preakness in good order and will be shipped back to Churchill Downs for a quiet week ahead and then resume training sometime in the week after next.
Dortmund finished fourth and was clearly compromised in part by his first encounter with a sloppy track. He is being shipped back to California for a bit of downtime. I think this is an excellent call. Dortmund is a very nice horse, but I think he has, as I’ve mentioned previously, some distance limitations beyond a mile and an eighth. He did run a game race in the Preakness.
Firing Line, in my opinion, should also ship back West and regroup. He clearly could not handle the off going. He was an unhappy horse in the post parade as the deluge was at its peak, he broke horribly with virtually all four legs breaking in four different directions out of the gate which all but ended his race there. The awkward start left him scrambling for position and he ended up hung wide, exactly where Gary Stevens did not want him. And he was not handing the track at all. In the end he was seventh in a field of eight, 45 lengths to the rear of American Pharoah at the wire. Not at all reflective of the horse’s abilities; for him the timing of the rainstorm could not have been worse.
Besides American Pharoah, the only other horse that benefitted from the sloppy course was Tale of Verve, the horse I knew nothing about. Honestly, the only thing I know about him today is that he’s a “mudder” and the off conditions moved him up dramatically. His connections say they intend to run him in The Belmont Stakes; they’d better pray for rain!
“Some Horse.” “Terrific.” Those words helped save Wilbur and forged a friendship. American Pharoah, fortunately, doesn’t need any lifesaving message. He IS the message. Horses are a gift from God (and I know owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat and his family would concur). A great racehorse is an extra-special gift. You’re seeing something really special when you get to see American Pharoah run folks. Enjoy every minute of it!!