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    American Pharoah
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    Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner American Pharoah will try to become only the 12th horse in 140 years to garner the Triple Crown when he meets seven competitors in Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes going 1 ½ miles over the main track at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY. The Zayat Stables homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile, trained by Bob Baffert, may have the best chance of any of the last 13 horses to attempt to pull off the elusive feat since the last victor, Affirmed, in 1978.

    American Pharoah has overcome injury (a foot injury that sidelined the colt before the Breeders’ Cup last fall), poor post position (post 16 in the Kentucky Derby) and bad weather (torrential rainstorm just  minutes before the Preakness start) to earn five grade one victories, plus a grade two win, in seven lifetime starts. He’s earned more than $3.7 million and shown a brilliance and dominance that has earned admiration from veteran horsemen to casual race fans. Even Louisville mayor Greg Fischer is a fan. He’s made Saturday “American Pharoah Day” in the city and announced that the Big 4 Bridge will be lit in the turquoise and yellow colors of owner Ahmed Zayat’s Zayat Stables’ racing silks.

    So American Pharoah’s got talent and an ever-growing fan base, but will he win the Belmont and bring an end to the 37-year Triple Crown drought? If you look back at the history of the Triple Crown, there’s plenty of support to say he will. First, he’s trained by someone and ridden by someone with Triple Crown experience. Bob Baffert’s previous Triple Crown hopefuls finished second in the Belmont (Silver Charm 1997 and Real Quiet, losing by a nose in 1998). Jockey Victor Espinoza attempted to win the Triple Crown with War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome in 2014.

    Second, the betting favorite has finished first in the Belmont 41 percent of the time and 10 of the 12 Triple Crown winners were post-time favorites (Gallant Fox 1930 and Assault 1946 were second-choices). American Pharoah was installed as the 3-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s Belmont.

    Third, a Triple Crown winner has not beaten a field larger than seven competitors in the Belmont nor has he faced more than a combined total of 32 rivals in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. The Belmont field size has dwindled to eight (seven competitors for American Pharoah) and assuming all eight go on Saturday, American Pharoah will have faced a total of 31 competitors in the three classic races.

    Fourth, American Pharoah has drawn post position five in Saturday’s Belmont. The same post position as Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew (1977).

    American Pharoah’s got the talent and history behind him to be the next Triple Crown winner, but this is horse racing and anything can happen! So if not American Pharoah, who could win the Belmont? Aside from Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve and Peter Pan (G2) winner Madefromlucky, the remaining five horses American Pharoah will face exit the Kentucky Derby.

    The foreign invader Mubtaahij finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby. He’s drawn attention for trainer Michael de Kock’s unusual training style. Mubtaahij has been training at Belmont Park and has lodged six works in the past three weeks. de Kock also uses a device on the horse during his works that monitors, among other things, heart rate and stride length. Mubtaahij, at morning-line odds of 10-1, will break from post one under new rider Irad Ortiz, Jr.

    Nick Zito’s Frammento finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 12 lengths. He returned to Zito’s New York home base and has worked two bullets at Saratoga over the last three weeks. Frammento will break from post four with jockey Mike Smith aboard. He’s been rated a 30-1 shot.

    Installed as the second choice in the field at odds of 5-1 is Kiaran McLaughlin’s fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher Frosted. This son of Tapit boasts the highest Brisnet speed rating in the field of 107, which he earned when he took the Wood Memorial (G1) by two lengths. He was beaten only 3 ¼ lengths in the Kentucky Derby and just barely missed hitting the board. He overcame a tough trip and was flying at the end, but it wasn’t enough. In a short field like the Belmont, he’ll likely be closer to the leaders. Frosted will be ridden by Joel Rosario and break from post six.

    Dale Romans’ Keen Ice was never given the chance to run in the Kentucky Derby and may have had the worst trip of all. Trapped in the back through much of the race, Keen Ice was 14th in the 18-horse field at the top of the stretch, but still managed to finish seventh, beaten 8 ¾ lengths. Jockey Kent Desormeaux told Romans on the track that day that he had plenty of horse and that Keen Ice never got to run. Keen Ice remained at Churchill Downs after the Derby and has shown steady progress in his works. Desormeaux and Keen Ice will break from post seven.

    Materiality rounds out the field and will break from post eight under jockey John Velazquez. The Todd Pletcher trainee finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby and, like Keen Ice, was caught up in the 18-horse field and unable to run his race. Going into the Derby, the son of 2005 Belmont winner Afleet Alex, was undefeated, but lightly raced. He now has four races under his belt and should be able to give his best performance on Saturday.

    Todd Pletcher’s Peter Pan winner Madefromlucky already has a win over the Belmont track, but has not faced as tough of competition or gone as far as his rivals. He’s also been squarely beaten by American Pharoah twice (Rebel (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1)). He may prove to be a nice horse later in the summer, but would be a shocker to upset here. He’ll break from post three under jockey Javier Castellano.

    Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve is an enigma. He was an also eligible that didn’t draw into the Kentucky Derby field with only a maiden win to his name. It took him six tries to break his maiden and then he pulled down a place finish in a grade one stake race. You can’t really say he’s talented enough to beat American Pharoah, but you can’t count him out either. In the last three years, trainer Dallas Stewart has not disappointed bettors with the longshot bomber making noise in one of the three classic races. With runner-up finishes in the 2013 and 2014 runnings of the Kentucky Derby with Golden Soul and Commanding Curve, respectively, and now Tale of Verve in this year’s Preakness, if Stewart is entered in a classic race, you’d be wise to include him on your ticket. Tale of Verve will break from post two under jockey Gary Stevens.

    The Belmont Stakes is the 11th race on Belmont’s stakes-filled Saturday card with a scheduled post time of 6:50 p.m. Eastern Time. It can be seen live on NBC (programming begins at 4:30 p.m.). Undercard race coverage can be seen on NBC Sports Network from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. and resumes at 7 p.m. for post-race coverage. Free PPs provided by Brisnet. 

    Photo: Courtesy NYRA: Adam Coglianese/Susie Raisher

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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