“So Let It Be Written!”

“So Let It Be Done!”–Yul Brenner as Ramses, Pharaoh of Egypt

I’d like to say I did my part, writing about American Pharoah throughout the spring and the just completed Triple Crown series. Yesterday, American Pharoah saw that it was done. And how!!!

His race in the 147th Belmont Stakes not only met my hopes, it exceeded them. Even though his break from the gate was a hair fraction off, his race was sheer perfection. He easily took the lead, with those forward-pricked ears signaling all was right with him and in his world. He loped along through easy fractions, just as though he was floating through air, not the deep sandy consistency of the Belmont Park track. And finally, at the appropriate moment in the stretch drive opened that flawless stride and put the rest of the field, at least in appearance, in reverse. If there were any doubts, it rapidly became clear that in the 2015 three-year-old colt crop there is American Pharoah and everyone else. He pretty much saved his best for the last of the three races, which is so impressive as it is indeed the most difficult, especially when colts, and this year, a colt–American Pharoah–ran all three.

I could attempt to heap on superlatives about his performance; there aren’t enough adequate words for the job. Instead, I’d like to try and provide some perspective as to how monumental an accomplishment it was for American Pharoah to ace “The Test of the Champion” and become the twelfth Triple Crown winner.

By a rough estimate, between 1978 when Affirmed won the last Triple Crown and 2012 when American Pharoah was foaled, 1.1 million Thoroughbred horses were born. In 2012, just about 23,000 were foaled. Each year, only 20 can run in the Kentucky Derby, and once that race is run, only one horse is then capable of capturing the Triple Crown. In the last 37 years, only 14 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes to be in a position to go into the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line. And if, being that “one in a million” horse, literally, isn’t enough, the colt in question must remain healthy (Spectacular Bid-1979, Pleasant Colony-1981–didn’t), sound (Charismatic-1999, I’ll Have Another-2012–didn’t), break well (War Emblem-2002, California Chrome-2014–didn’t), have the energy to seal the deal (Sunday Silence-1989, Real Quiet-1998, Funny Cide-2003, Smarty Jones-2004–didn’t), see the competition (Silver Charm-1997–didn’t), finish the race (Big Brown-2008–didn’t), and get a good ride (Alysheba-1987–didn’t).

American Pharoah had his own obstacle to overcome, which with the benefit of hindsight, I believe turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Days before the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, American Pharoah was scratched from the race with a hoof injury. He was the prohibitive favorite for that race and not having him run was a huge disappointment for many. It also put his Derby preparations on a very short, tight schedule for which there was no, zero room for error. But perhaps the time off at the end of his two-year-old year gave him more time to grow and develop without the pressure of competing in another high stakes race. With the exception of Street Sense in 2006-2007, no Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner has won the Kentucky Derby in the following year. Texas Red, who won the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile didn’t even make it to the Triple Crown races due to injury.

In the Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah displayed what an exceptional horse he is, once again gliding over a track that generally bogs most horses down, especially at one and a half miles. He made it into the gate after racing and winning an aggressive schedule of four stakes races in three months preceding the Belmont Stakes. His race yesterday was the second fastest Belmont recorded by a Triple Crown winner, behind only Secretariat’s still intact world record time for a mile and a half of 2:24 flat. Amazingly, his final quarter mile time in the Belmont was faster than Secretariat’s for that same stretch of the race (American Pharoah-24.32 seconds; Secretariat-25 seconds flat)! He beat all comers–17 other colts in the Kentucky Derby, returning and new starters in both the Preakness and Belmont stakes, and, though he seems to delight in it, a full-on thunderstorm in the Preakness! The only race where it appeared he wasn’t on his “A-game” was the Derby and he still proved best that day.

Beautiful, lovely disposition, ultra-efficient stride, a good mind, American Pharoah is the complete package and a much deserved winner of the 2015 Triple Crown. Long may he reign!!

All In

At last, Belmont Stakes 147 will be run this Saturday, June 6. For the 14th time since 1978 we will be watching to see if a three-year-old colt, this time American Pharoah, can turn the trick and become the 12th Triple Crown winner.

I’ve been with him and oh so impressed with his performances since seeing his first race of the year, the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. I see no reason to change my mind and look elsewhere for a winner come Saturday in the Belmont; I remain squarely in the American Pharoah camp.

In my May 17 post Some Horse!!!, I outlined all the attributes I believe American Pharoah possesses that help make him such a success. I’ll add one more, somewhat intangible trait–the horse loves to run. Despite the fact that I’ve been professionally trained to avoid anthropomorphism with animals, I’m not going to deny what I see from 47 years of interacting with horses and 46 years of watching racehorses in action; not only is it easy for this colt to run, but he’s happy to do it. When you see those ears prick forward in the middle of a race, you’re seeing a horse enjoying his work. And win, lose or draw Saturday, I will maintain he is a physically superior/gifted horse. If American Pharoah can’t pull this off, I’ll go back to my default position: there’ll never be another Triple Crown winner.

Here is the field for the 147th Belmont Stakes:
1.Mubtaahij
2.Tale of Verve
3.Madefromlucky
4.Frammento
5.American Pharoah
6.Frosted
7.Keen Ice
8.Materiality

If any horse upsets American Pharoah, I believe Frosted stands the best chance. Now that his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, has ironed out the issues that were hampering his performance, this colt has nothing but upside, and I don’t believe he’s run his best race yet.

Materiality has an abundance of raw talent and has quickly moved into graded stakes competition in a short time (the Belmont Stakes will be only his fifth lifetime start; his first race ever was in January 2015). It’s the lack of racing experience, especially at such a high level that I believe will keep him out of the winner’s circle Saturday. Still, being by 2005 Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, the potential is there.

Mubtaahij still remains a mystery horse in my book. He ran a decent eighth in the Derby, but didn’t seem to have any excuse for not having a better finish. He has been training regularly at Belmont since the Derby.

It appeared to me that Tale of Verve was the only other horse besides American Pharoah that was capable of handling the sloppy track in the Preakness and as a result, I think that moved him up, performance-wise, considerably.

The other colts in the field, in my opinion must have their very best efforts Saturday to upset American Pharoah or the other colts I’ve mentioned already.

A closing note. American Pharoah will be the only colt to run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 2015. In my mind that alone makes him a winner.

My fingers, toes, and eyes will be crossed come Saturday for American Pharoah!