The most interesting thing about American Pharoah to me is I don't think I've seen another major horse before who passes the eye test so resoundingly but has yet to actually run fast (at least as a 3yo). I mean, his Arkansas Derby was breathtaking but it wasn't particularly quick. And his Kentucky Derby, which appeared workmanlike to some, I didn't think was visually that disappointing. He was wider the whole race than the other top two, yet dug down and ground out the win like a good horse is supposed to. But, again, it was slow. Whether that was due to the way the track was treated, or just tired horses, is anyone's guess. And the Preakness was extremely impressive to me visually - yes, Firing Line threw in the towel. But AP absolutely ran the field off their feet; Dortmund made his move on the turn and AP broke his heart in the stretch. And he effortlessly ran away from a good horse in Divining Rod who made what looked like a winning move on the turn. To me, this race is the hardest to gauge because the way the track was treated - sealed then harrowed just before the torrential downpour in which the race was run - is about as close as you can get to guaranteeing an extremely slow and tiring surface. Which makes the initial fractions perhaps even more impressive and helps explain why the field was strung out by 50 lengths - every horse in that race was TIRED. But Pharoah was a lot less tired than the rest of them. Any way you try to evaluate the time of this race in respect to others on the card (the track was floated and thus MUCH faster and harder for the next race), including assigning a Beyer, is pretty much meaningless guesswork so I have to trust my eye and say that was probably his best performance this year. So what will we see in the Belmont? Is he just better than the rest and will he take them wire to wire again? Or will he be understandably tired after the last two and unable to overcome his pedigree limitations? I honestly have no idea. But I will say that with the exception of War Emblem (who never looked like a Belmont horse at any point, plus lost his race at the start), the horses Baffert has brought over there with a shot after running in the first two legs have either maintained or improved (Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Point Given). If I had to bet on any trainer being the next to win the Triple Crown, Baffert would have my money.
I agree that American Pharoah has a suspect pedigree at the distance but I don't agree that Frosted's is any better. Tapits generally top out around 9F. Tonalist was out of a Pleasant Colony mare, which is probably the best source of stamina in America in the last couple decades. Frosted's dam Fast Cookie was a sprinter/miler, as were her dam and half brothers. So American Pharoah might have a little more stamina on the sire side and a little less on the damside than Frosted - to me that evens out. Keen Ice is just too slow, regardless of his pedigree.
And another thing: Mr. Z has a history of running erratically, which Zayat knows, and his running style is totally up in the air right now. I'm sure Bob would probably like it if he went out as a rabbit for Dortmund and Pharoah, but when what if he blows the turn coming into the stretch and sideswipes Pharoah? That's a risk I wouldn't be willing to take if I were Zayat.
Ugh. Nothing about this makes sense or feels good. Zayat and son spend all week talking about how they want to do what's right for the horse and give him a break and then let Lukas convince them to sell him to one of his clients so he can run? Zayat sells the horse his kids name after him, who has the potential to make him some big money in minor derbies down the road if properly managed? Lukas' billionaire client Brad Kelly can afford to buy any horse in the race if he cares that badly about running in the Preakness (which he has already won with Oxbow) and decides to buy a horse who is obviously exhausted and on a downward (or at least stationary far below his rivals) form cycle because, why? Because Lukas was bombastic enough to convince him he had a chance? I have to believe someone who has invested most of his money in long distance, stamina-laden turf horses has more horse sense than that (although he does send all these horses to Lukas when they'd be better placed with Clement, Mott, Motion, Brown or almost anyone else). What do the Zayats even get out of this? I mean, seriously, how much would you even pay for Mr. Z right now?
I think this is an overreactive article. Yeah, Pletcher often skips the Preakness because he doesn't like running back in two weeks. So? I don't agree that he is the most influential trainer in the game. What about Baffert? And he is definitely not the most influential trainer with regards to the Triple Crown. His record of two Belmont victories and a Derby win is not a small accomplishment, but pales in comparison to Baffert's 4 Derbies, 5 Preaknesses, and a Belmont, Lukas' haul over the years, or even Nick Zito's wins in all three races (two in the Derby and Belmont).
I think the real reason we haven't had a Triple Crown winner is a combination of recent Derby/Preakness winners not having the stamina for the Belmont, regardless of the race spacing, and simple bad luck. Point Given, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Risen Star, Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, and of course Real Quiet - all could have been TC winners if things had shaken out a little differently in their respective losses, or they had chosen another race to throw in a clunker.
Lisa Danielle won Broodmare of the Year last year, and it's a lifetime achievement award. As my favorite runner of all time, I'm so elated to see TCL enjoying this type of success as a broodmare! Way to go, girl!
The shift from a graded stakes earnings system to a points system for the Derby is a good start. Though it hasn't yet resulted in a decline in the vastly inflated purse structure of the Derby trail/late 2yo preps, there's every possibility that it will eventually have that effect, considering the graded stakes earnings system precipitated that structure.
There's a pretty good fix for this that makes more sense than setting an age limit on breeding: significantly decreased the number and grade of graded stakes for two year olds and early three year olds. Looking at results from the last several years, do any juvenile races besides the Breeders' Cup races, Champagne, and maybe Hollywood Futurity really deserve G1 designation? This would mean people need to race their horses longer in order to get the credentials necessary to be attractive stallions, and favor bloodlines resulting in horses who were stronger as late three and four year olds and able to win those G1 races. That, and shifting purse money away from two and three year old stakes and back towards races for older horses, where it used to be concentrated.
Great article, Mary! I was in agreement on London Bridge until I heard Mike Smith talking about him not handling the dirt on HRTV this morning. Aotearoa is a horse everyone seems to have forgotten about despite what I thought was an impressive win last time. And I have thought Colonel Joan could be a bomber at a big price since the Surfer Girl - she was motoring at the end of that one.
I very much respect Shug as a horseman and his patience with his horses is one of his biggest assets. But I have to say that, unless the horse has shown signs of being knocked out from the Champagne (which is possible), I really don't understand this decision. If I know anything about racing it's that these animals can be injured at any time, without warning, and making long range plans can be dangerous business. Bypassing a chance to be two year old champion with a horse that is doing well and should appreciate the extra turn and added distance in favor of a race six months away seems ridiculous, especially considering that there is no reason to think the BC Juvenile should be any harder on the horse than the 1 1/8 mile Remsen. There's not even anything to gain by running in the Remsen - he wins a low-purse G2 and gets exactly as many Derby points as winning the BC Juvenile. IF he wins. Letting your horse tell you when to run and when to rest is great, but if the horse is doing well, I don't see why you wouldn't strike while the iron is hot.
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