As the anticipation builds for the 2015 Preakness Stakes, so too does the hype for American Pharoah as he seeks to become the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown.
Horse racing's most elusive prize has been flirted with many times since Affirmed made history 37 years ago. It's not as though there haven't been many contenders, as 13 horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown before falling short in the Belmont.
American Pharoah will enter the Preakness as the heavy favorite to run away with a victory. Along with jockey Victor Espinoza, the three-year-old star was terrific at the Kentucky Derby hanging around the front before making a surge down the stretch to run into the history books.
Here's what the oddsmakers are saying about American Pharoah one week away from the Preakness Stakes and how early predictions see him faring at Pimlico.
|American Pharoah at Preakness Stakes Odds|
|Odds to Win Preakness||Odds to Win Triple Crown||Will American Pharoah Win Preakness?|
|5-6||Yes (-120), No (-120)||Yes (9-4), No (29-100)|
What Experts Are Saying
Based on the length of the three races that comprise the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes can be seen as the easiest by virtue of being the shortest. Horses are only asked to run 9.5 furlongs at Pimlico, compared to 10 at Churchill Downs and 12 at Belmont Park.
American Pharoah's trainer Bob Baffert has said he views the Preakness as the easiest leg of the month-long journey, via Richard Rosenblatt of the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo Sports):
"To me, the Preakness is the easiest of the three legs," Baffert said. "The Derby is the hardest. Once you get through there, you know your horses are in top form. It's a two-week turnaround. It's just a matter of getting there."
Baffert certainly knows more than me about racing, though a counterargument could be made that says a shorter track makes for a more inclusive race because jockeys don't have to worry as much about pacing before making a move.
Rosenblatt also pointed out that American Pharoah's Kentucky Derby win may have shown signs he's wearing down:
The 3-year-old owned by Ahmed Zayat had won his previous four races by a combined 22 1/4 lengths, including an eight-length romp in the Arkansas Derby. At Churchill Downs, he struggled somewhat but remained third before jockey Victor Espinoza urged him on coming out of the far turn. He used his whip on the horse a reported 32 times in overtaking Dortmund and Firing Line.
Yet looking at things from a more optimistic viewpoint, Jennie Rees of The Courier-Journal noted that Churchill Downs "was the first time he was challenged and had to work to win. He will only improve off that effort – which is scary."
Rees also noted that American Pharoah hasn't been run ragged over the last year, "with three starts at 2 and only two Derby preps. What might have seemed a detriment going into the Derby is now a positive because he's a fresh horse."
Having fresh legs is a huge advantage for American Pharoah, if that is the case. There's such a quick turnaround from the Kentucky Derby to the Preakness Stakes that it's surprising there have been so many horses have been able to go back-to-back over the years.
The competition figures to be intense for American Pharoah, just as it was at the Kentucky Derby. Firing Line and Dortmund, who finished second and third at Churchill Downs, are slated to run the Preakness.
Going back to Rees' article, she pointed out that American Pharoah didn't do anything special down the stretch so much as everyone else seemed to run out of gas:
His final quarter-mile time in the Derby was a crawling 26.57 seconds. While he's an outstanding horse, he's not Seattle Slew. The relatively soft early pace of the Derby – a scenario aided by the speedy Florida Derby winner Materiality breaking slowly – made it tough on closers. The Preakness will be another story.
With all of that information, American Pharoah has certainly earned the right to be the Preakness favorite. He won the biggest race of the year, overcame a talented field to do it and is riding a five-race winning streak.
Yet looking at early projections for the field, with Firing Line and Dortmund being the two other big names, American Pharoah is going to have a tougher time in this race because it has a shorter distance to close. Dortmund is a long strider who can cover a great distance in a short amount of time, so he looks better equipped to handle Pimlico than Churchill Downs.
Expect Dortmund to take the victory he couldn't get on May 2.