05/16/2015 8:27PM

American Pharoah impresses in Preakness


BALTIMORE – I don’t know how fast American Pharoah’s Preakness score will come up on Beyer Speed Figures. As a believer and maker of my own figures for almost four decades, it surprises even me to say that I don’t care. That Preakness, for me, was the best race American Pharoah has ever run. By far. I’ve had my reservations about him, about his perfect trips and all that. But not anymore.

In one of the most surreal major-event scenes I’ve ever seen thanks to a wicked prerace thunderstorm that was so severe it caused Baltimore’s Office of Emergency Management to evacuate the infield, American Pharoah recovered from something of a flatfooted start to rush up under hustling tactics and set the pace under pressure from Mr. Z.

Mr. Z, I immediately thought, was being snotty with the way he was making the Kentucky Derby winner’s job difficult early on in, not coincidentally, his first start away from the Zayat Stables banner that American Pharoah still flies. Mr. Z made American Pharoah set what felt like a very fast pace for the footing, which appeared sticky and deep after the deluge.

But that early pressure didn’t matter. At all. American Pharoah shook Mr. Z off like a gnat on the backstretch, only to be faced with a new, legitimate challenge from Divining Rod on the far turn.

Divining Rod has improved significantly since switching to rating tactics, was clearly relishing the sloppy going, and tipped off the inside late on the far turn to move at American Pharoah like a horse who was going to give the favorite all he could handle.

And as soon as I started calculating in my mind how much American Pharoah might have left after his early exertions, and how much run Divining Rod would sustain, American Pharoah ended whatever suspense there was in a flash. He broke open the Preakness so quickly in upper stretch that it left Divining Rod reeling to the point that he was nailed for second by, of all horses, Tale of Verve.

This, to me, was the definition of impressive.

But does this mean I think American Pharoah will win the Belmont Stakes and sweep the Triple Crown in three weeks?

Let me put it this way: Before I saw how American Pharoah won Saturday, I thought he was a stone-cold bet-against in the Belmont. I figured he’d be ripe to be taken out in the Belmont because he will be making his fourth start in only eight weeks, and against really, really good, fresh horses in Materiality and Frosted, who ran tremendous races in defeat in the Derby.

As gobsmacked by how good he was in the Preakness, American Pharoah didn’t make me do a complete 180. But he has moved me from being certain he has no shot in the Belmont to thinking he has a chance, and that says a lot for a stubborn guy like me.

Short notes:

• For the record, Mr. Z finished 17 1/4 lengths behind American Pharoah.

• The wild weather just before the Preakness makes me want to give a total pass to Dortmund (fourth), Danzig Moon (sixth), and Firing Line (seventh). I know they are better horses than that.

• Before the rains came, the main track at Pimlico on Friday and Saturday was playing toward inside runners. For that reason, I’m downgrading Fame and Power’s win in the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard and upgrading Donworth’s third in that race after a wide, off-the-pace trip.

• Put Bocaiuva on your stable mail. Her fourth in the Gallorette, also on the Preakness undercard, was her second straight nightmare trip from two U. S. starts. But she showed enough Saturday for me to say she can run.

• The Black-Eyed Susan and Pimlico Special might have been the ostensible features at Pimlico on Friday, but for me, the Jim McKay Turf Sprint and the Allaire duPont Distaff were the more interesting races.

Ben’s Cat, the remarkable 9-year-old gelding who inched closer to career earnings of $2.5 million with his shadow-of-the-wire score in the McKay, is the rare horse admired by both hardened horseplayers and the “Rainbows and Unicorns” crowd. He’s now won 29 of 47 career starts (with 11 seconds and thirds), and some folks were only half kidding when they said after the race that Ben’s Cat should be considered for the Hall of Fame.

Before that happens, I would like to see Ben’s Cat tackle the best turf sprinters around this fall in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland. I understand why Ben’s Cat hasn’t run in that race in recent years; going about 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill course at Santa Anita doesn’t seem like his thing, not to mention he would have to be supplemented to the Breeders’ Cup.

But while it’s poor form to spend other people’s money, Ben’s Cat has earned more than enough to meet the supplemental costs, and going 5 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland, which wouldn’t be a long ship, would be right in his wheelhouse. There really is no good reason for him not to target the Turf Sprint this year.

• Stopchargingmaria, who crushed her field in the duPont Distaff, is a filly some folks like to not like. I get it. Stopchargingmaria took advantage of extremely weak fields last year when she won the Alabama, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Black-Eyed Susan. She has had a blessed career.

However, there is no reason to think Stopchargingmaria’s fortuitous run won’t continue again this year. Beholder, when she gets back in action after a minor illness, likely will stay in California. And the other big mare out there, Warren’s Veneda, showed vulnerability by losing her last start.

Don’t Tell Sophia is focusing on a fall campaign, and Untapable, despite her win in the Apple Blossom, just doesn’t yet seem like the Untapable who was so imposing when she was at her best last year. That means there will be a lot of significant stakes out there with soft fields that Stopchargingmaria can victimize, just like last year.

• As modest as her previous form was, Keen Pauline’s upset of the Black-Eyed Susan was pretty much sealed early when Martin Garcia wrangled Luminance back off the lead. That handed Keen Pauline a walking early lead that she would not relinquish.

Include Betty, Ahh Chocolate, and Danessa Deluxe all came from well off the pace to finish second, third, and fourth. Their efforts can be upgraded considering the slow fractions they tried to rally into. But I wouldn’t rely too heavily going forward on any in this group. I had the sense after the Kentucky Oaks that the 3-year-old dirt fillies might wind up taking turns beating each other this year, and I still feel that way.

• Commissioner was clearly best in winning the Pimlico Special. I suspect he’s a Grade 2 horse at best, but like Stopchargingmaria, there will be lots of opportunities this year to bank some serious cash.

Jack Meehan More than 1 year ago
Great article Mike! Wow, what a dazzling perfomance the ‘ Pharoah ‘ gave us on Preakness Day! Did you know, that when he crossed the wire, he was actually carrying 135lbs. He did all the work, gave everyone a chance to beat him, and then just drew off like they weren’t there, on track conditions, that looked like they were running on quicksand! Of course the others carried more weight too, but look how far back they finished? After that performance, this colt wasn’t even breathing hard. What a special horse indeed! With his natural speed, and incredible stride, he will certainly be a tough colt to beat in the ‘ Belmont ‘. My last tweet, two days before the Preakness, was just take him to the front, they’ll never catch you! I’d be willing to bet, that Victor will have him 1st or 2nd going into the first urn in NY, and from their they can control the race. Once this colt gets the lead, your not going to get by him, he’s just too good! I would like to say, that I had the trifecta, but I didn’t, played a 1-2-7 cold, and just like in the Derby, I bought lots of $2 win tickets, playing for the Triple Crown set, as I felt this was the best way, to try and make some real money on this years Triple Crown! I’ve had the Derby winner, and the Tri, the last six(6) years, so if you need some help, be sure to follow me on Twitter @saratogajack .. Can hardly wait for the Belmont, and remember the Belmont is a rider’s race, and the horse that can carry his speed the furthest, usually wins! Best of luck to all, especially American Pharoah, as I believe he has what it takes, to be the first Triple Crown Winner in 37 years!
Rick Lamond More than 1 year ago
The last four 2-year-old champions to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness went on to win the Triple Crown. Their names: Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.
James Pugliese More than 1 year ago
Its the way he travels, as D.W Wayne Lukas said "HE,S GOT GOOD SPEED , AND THEN HE KICKS, THAT BREAKS HORSES HEARTS" Iloved it when a true horseman explained what it is exactly we are seeing! I read that right here in DRF!
Katherine Wheat More than 1 year ago
AP has had the most incredible luck imaginable: a trainer who sent him to CD early to have plenty of time to acclimate while keeping his undefeated stablemate away, a deluge with minutes to post when he is the only horse with experience on a sloppy track, a stablemate setting a glacial pace one race killing the chances of the closers and in the next race being held back so as not to challenge AP for the lead even though he had always had faster splits in the early stages of his races. It is time that we see if he's a classic horse or just a middle distance runner at best. His times and breeding would indicate the latter.
Capo Capo More than 1 year ago
True horseman, that is why his horse finished in front of only two?, the two who one was eased and the other had the track shoved down his throat. Horrible placement by a great horseman
MKKelly513 More than 1 year ago
Mike, you make no comments about the runner-up, Tail of Verve. While I certainly agreed with your pre-race assessment regarding the horse's chances here, I totally disagreed with your going public (on Twitter) because you just never know ... it's a horse race. If Tail of Verve is really that bad, then what does that say about the horses who trailed the runner-up. Then, who did AP beat in an exceeding slow final 3.5F (yeah, the track condition, but it had no effect on the first 6F)? OR, if Tail of Verve improved that much to be the runner-up, what does that say about your bad-mouthing the horse. You should have just let it go.
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
I'm really not at all sure what you're talking about specifically, but it is plainly obvious that several horses who finished behind the runner up did not handle the going whatsoever. And in my view, the only reason the runner up got as close as seven lengths behind the winner is the winner was hard pressed through very fast (for the conditions) early fractions. That, as I noted in the above story, is perhaps the big reason why the winner was so impressive. Give the runner up the trip American Pharoah had, and he would have been distanced.
Raymond Felder More than 1 year ago
if the track was fast tail of verve would never hit the board. American Pharoah will be a triple crown winner, and i think we all no that. i just wish the day will come when, if a horse didnt run in the derby he cant run in any of the next classic races.
MKKelly513 More than 1 year ago
Just re-read your pre-race Twitter comments about Tail of the Verve.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
your theory might be correct but consider this. The first 4 for most of the race were AP , MR Z, DORTMUND, DIVINING ROD only MR Z dropped out .the others finished 1st,3rd,4th..the only horse to make up any ground was TALE OF VERVE. i cant buy that the track favored closers. Especially considering that the last preakness run on a sloppy track was won by DESPUTED TESTAMONY who was on the rail and close to the pace and the 2nd place finisher was DESERT WINE who had led early.
Raymond Felder More than 1 year ago
iam sure if the track was fast, and i believe u know, tail of verve would of been last, but being honest i figured him for 4th. I wish the day would come were as if you didnt run in the derby you cant run in any other classic race. American Pharoah is the next triple crown winner.
Pat Lyons More than 1 year ago
Ive never declared a #tripleCrown winnr in writing period till now B4 kentucky derby ive got 2 legs down 1 2 go ... #Boom #patsRightDontFightIt
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
American Pharoah was awesome in the Derby. I wagered on Dortmund that day and when I saw him walking on the front end I truly thought he had the Derby won in the backstretch....only to have both Firing Line and American Pharoah destroy him down the lane. Seeing American Pharoah was the best of this group, I had decided to bet on him in the Peakness despite his low odds. Once they sealed the track, even before the deluge, I was excited about the one post, thinking Victor would send, so I stepped up and wagered more than normal. When the rains came before the race, I was full of confidence and the great American Pharoah didn't disappoint. After reading this well written article and all the below comments, I find myself having to comment myself. American Pharoah is the real deal. But, I feel strongly he will not win the Belmont. I'm one of those that take it race by race. It doesn't make me much different than most folks....except I've noticed that some people become too attached to specific animals and they take it personal if someone disagrees with them. Anyway, I'm an AP fan, but I will say that the Belmont is an entirely different type of race for several reasons. When Madefromlucky goes by AP in the stretch on Belmont day...you can say, you read it here first. Good luck all.
Quite a More than 1 year ago
I think the only thing that might stop AP is his pedigree. Plenty of stamina on his top side but his dam line is loaded with speed. Yankee Gentleman, AP's grandad on his mother's side was a stone cold speed horse. The best horses he sired were speed horses with the exception of Golden Yank who was pretty good middle distance horse. Not saying it is impossible but it might compromise him against fresh horses like Materiality and Frosted who are stoutly bred horses..
noocheroni More than 1 year ago
Keen Ice will be Bafferts VICTORY GALLOP .OUCH !!
Capo Capo More than 1 year ago
except, Victory Gallop was a 1000x the better horse:)
Alex T More than 1 year ago
I remember as a youngster watching Secretariat glide over the racing surface with a tremendous stride it was so obvious how special he was again in '77 Slew bounced over the track with little or no effort you just knew he was super special a year later Affirmed displayed all these same traits as I was standing next to one of clockers.at Churchill Downs as A.P. floated by he turned to me and said" in my 35 years as clocker I've never seen a horse stride so fast and effortlessly in my lifetime " go to the windows history will be made come the first Saturday in June. .....
Katherine Wheat More than 1 year ago
Being old enough to remember Secretariat myself, I know how the vision can dim with age.
Old timer More than 1 year ago
To all the doubters on here, sure the horse will be facing some fresh horses like all the other Derby-Preakness winners of the last 30+ years. However his grand sire is Empire Maker and I don't think that the mile and half distance will be a problem for this horse. The time and Beyer speed figure of the Preakness is not an issue. I mean he won by 7 lengths! Plus they had that deluge right before the race, and who knows how much that affected the track condition.
Katherine Wheat More than 1 year ago
That allowance horse behind him does not inspire that much awe. Neither does the time and the speed figure.