American Pharoah Seeks Triple Crown at Belmont
By Burt Carey
American Pharoah faces the biggest test of his racing career Saturday at the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes.
The powerful 3-year-old bay colt with a knack for winning horses races is undefeated in his last six starts but will have to artfully handle a 1.5-mile track against a shortened field of seven rivals if he is to become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
Eleven horses have won horse racing’s Triple Crown, winning a series of three races — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes — that showcase the world’s best 3-year-old thoroughbreds in May and June of each year.
It is one of the sporting world’s most rewarding and yet most difficult tests. Thirteen horses that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since 1978 failed in their Triple Crown bids at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, including California Chrome just a year ago.
While the horses change from year to year, some of the people behind or atop the horses remain the same. American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza is familiar with running for the Triple Crown. He was aboard California Chrome when he finished in fourth place at Belmont. He also rode Triple Crown hopeful War Emblem in 2002 who stumbled out of the game and crossed the finish line in 8th place at Belmont.
Trainer Bob Baffert is also a familiar face to race fans. Baffert-trained horses have won 11 Triple Crown races. American Pharoah is his fourth horse to try for the Triple Crown.
Oddsmakers and sports books have American Pharoah as a heavy 5-6 favorite to win at Belmont, but he will have to beat some stiff competition running on fresh legs. Pharoah is the only horse in the field to run both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Frosted, at 4-1 odds, and Materiality, at 7-1, are expected to challenge Pharoah at Belmont. Both ran in the Derby — Frosted finished 4th, Materiality 6th — but skipped the Preakness. Frosted is a proven strong finisher, having moved from the back of the field at Churchill Downs and earlier at the Wood Memorial, which he won.
Madefromlucky finished in second behind American Pharoah in March at the Rebel Stakes, and again lost to Pharoah in April at the Arkansas Derby, finishing fourth. Materiality and Madefromlucky are trained by veteran big-stakes horse trainer Todd Pletcher, who pulled a third horse, Carpe Diem, from the Belmont field early this week.
That leaves four horses that hope to spoil Pharoah’s Triple Crown bid: Mubtaahij (15-1 odds, finished 8th at Kentucky Derby); Keen Ice (20-1, 7th at Kentucky Derby); Tale of Verve (35-1); and Frammento (35-1, 11th at Kentucky Derby). Tale of Verve is the only other horse in the field that raced in the Preakness at Pimlico Downs. He finished second, seven lengths behind American Pharoah.
Noteworthy is that six of the 11 Triple Crown winners were the only horses to run in all three Triple Crown races. Also interesting is that six of the 13 horses since 1978 to win the first two Triple Crown legs were beaten at Belmont by horses with fresh legs.
If American Pharoah races into the history books on Saturday, he’ll join Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978).
Television coverage of the 147th Belmont Stakes will be on NBC from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, with live streaming at www.NBCSports.com.