American Pharoah emerged as the comfortable winner of the 2015 Kentucky Derby on Saturday, and Bob Baffert's prized colt will now have his eyes set on the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the 2015 Triple Crown, in two weeks.
It's been 37 years since Affirmed last managed the elusive feat in 1978. Horse racing fans across the globe watched in agony as California Chrome fell just short of the ultimate prize last year.
Jockey Victor Espinoza rode California Chrome last year and returned to Churchill Downs with American Pharoah in 2015, picking up right where he left off. Here are the full results of the 141st Kentucky Derby:
|Kentucky Derby Results|
|1||18||American Pharoah||Victor Espinoza||Bob Baffert||-----|
|2||10||Firing Line||Gary Stevens||Simon Callaghan||1|
|3||8||Dortmund||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||3|
|4||15||Frosted||Joel Rosario||Kiaran McLaughlin||3 1/4|
|5||5||Danzig Moon||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||6 1/2|
|6||3||Materiality||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||7 3/4|
|7||14||Keen Ice||Kent Desormeaux||Dale Romans||8 3/4|
|8||6||Mubtaahij||Christophe Soumillon||Mike de Kock||9 1/2|
|9||13||Itsaknockout||Luis Saez||Todd Pletcher||10 1/4|
|10||2||Carpe Diem||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||11|
|11||21||Frammento||Corey Nakatani||Nick Zito||12|
|12||9||Bolo||Rafael Bejarano||Carla Gaines||12 3/4|
|13||17||Mr. Z||Ramon Vazquez||D. Wayne Lukas||15 1/2|
|14||1||Ocho Ocho Ocho||Elvis Trujillo||Jim Cassidy||15 1/2|
|15||20||Far Right||Mike Smith||Ron Moquett||15 3/4|
|16||16||War Story||Joe Talamo||Tom Amoss||19 1/4|
|17||4||Tencendur||Manny Franco||George Weaver||35|
|18||19||Upstart||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.||60 1/2|
|7||El Kabeir||Calvin Borel||John Terranova||SCR|
|11||Stanford||Florent Geroux||Todd Pletcher||SCR|
|12||International Star||Miguel Mena||Michael Maker||SCR|
The full video highlights of the race are below:
Many were expecting another blowout similar to California Chrome's fantastic run last year, and while the ultimate margin of victory may not look as impressive on paper, American Pharoah didn't disappoint.
Espinoza steered the colt wide to avoid traffic before sprinting home, as shared by USA Today's Dan Wolken:
He also made history Saturday by becoming the first horse in history to start the Run of the Roses from Post 17 and win, via ESPN Stats & Info:
That fact alone should have punters giddy with excitement. The colt figuratively overcame the odds by winning on Saturday, setting up the kind of scenario Hollywood dreams of. If anyone could finally win another Triple Crown after so long, why not the horse who started his campaign by breaking a longstanding curse?
Espinoza came close to winning the Triple Crown last year, as California Chrome comfortably won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before suffering an injury during the start of the Belmont Stakes.
California Chrome still managed to finish fourth, but he may as well have finished dead last. Hearts were broken, and one can only imagine how Espinoza must have felt.
He's back this year, riding another potential superstar, and via America's Best Racing, he was completely blown away by American Pharoah's performance on Saturday:
Espinoza knows a thing or two about special horses, and if he was that impressed by American Pharoah after riding California Chrome last year, it's yet another reason to start believing the Triple Crown triumph could finally happen this year.
Baffert confirmed after the race he plans on entering the horse in the Preakness Stakes, so long as everything goes well between now and May 16:
Plenty of pundits believe in the horse's chances as well, including Richard Deitsh of Sports Illustrated and Bruce Beck of WNBC-TV:
Beck's observation should be cause for concern. American Pharoah covered more distance than his competitors in running so wide, but Firing Line still gave him all he could handle. Dortmund also ran a strong race, setting the pace early and ultimately paying the price.
Behind that duo, Frosted showed it was just a step too slow with the top guns on Saturday, but he still has plenty of raw pace. And Mubtaahij was lost in the shuffle after a dreadful start, but the Irish-bred colt's stamina remains impressive.
Some of these horses won't be running in the Preakness Stakes and will arrive at the start of the Belmont Stakes with fresher legs than American Pharoah.
If the Kentucky Derby winner also manages to win the Preakness Stakes, he'll face a far longer track at Belmont Park. And as explained by FiveThirtyEight's Benjamin Morris, that has been a recipe for disaster in the past:
California Chrome is now the 13th horse to have won the first two races but failed to win the Belmont since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978. Of the 13, one was scratched the day of the race, and eight lost to horses that didn’t even run in the Preakness.
Having a number of “fresh” horses in the Belmont field was common in the era leading up to Affirmed’s Triple Crown, though perhaps a little less so. But the extent that these horses have been dominating in the Belmont is just one aspect of a bigger issue.
[...] The main thing that separates the Belmont from the other two races is its length: At 1.5 miles (or 2.4 kilometers, or 12 furlongs), it’s over a quarter-mile longer than either the Derby or the Preakness. This distance has become increasingly rare in American horse-racing over time, to the point where almost all horses entering the Belmont these days have never raced it. Even highly experienced trainers may not have much experience with it.
Horses like American Pharoah are trained with the shorter distances in mind, and at the Belmont Stakes, the fresher legs of some of the competitors often dash all hopes of a Triple Crown win. A horse like Mubtaahij has more experience in longer races, for instance, and could skip the Preakness with an eye on Belmont.
That doesn't mean American Pharoah can't win the Triple Crown this year. He has the beautiful, effortless stride and raw pace that separate him from the field, and Espinoza will be keen on redemption after last year's disappointment with California Chrome.
But until we see which horses run the Preakness Stakes and how comfortably he survives there, fans should lower their expectations. Winning the Kentucky Derby is challenging enough as it is; there's no need to start adding pressure on the shoulders of the three-year-old colt right now.