10/29/2015 11:32AM

Crist: Taking a last stand against American Pharoah

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Breeders’ Cup Saturday at Keeneland will, as usual, decide half a dozen year-end divisional championships and tantalize bettors with multimillion-dollar wagering pools. But this year is different. There is no Horse of the Year title on the line because American Pharoah cinched that award back in June, when he became the sport’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

He is running for history, not hardware: Since American Pharoah was the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic was not run until 1984, the 3-year-old colt is the first who could record a Grand Slam of this country’s four best-known races.

The Classic lost a bit of its added historical appeal Thursday morning when Beholder was withdrawn from the race. Whether or not they would have hit the wire together, she and American Pharoah almost certainly will be going into racing’s Hall of Fame together the moment they are eligible to appear on the ballot for the first time in 2020. American Pharoah is a shoo-in to join his 11 Triple Crown-winning predecessors in the Hall, but Beholder has made some impressive history of her own.

If, as expected, she wins this year’s Eclipse Award for top older female, regardless of how Friday’s Distaff turns out, she will become the first filly since Cicada in 1961-63 to be honored as the sport’s champion 2-year-old filly (2012), champion 3-year-old filly (2013), and now older female. She already has won Grade 1 races at 2, 3, 4, and 5. Those are achievements of sustained excellence and durability as rare as a Triple Crown, if not as widely appreciated.

As if he needed any more help, American Pharoah figures to hold a huge tactical edge in a Classic surprisingly devoid of early speed in the absence of Liam’s Map and now Beholder. American Pharoah is 4 for 4, by a combined 23 lengths, in races where he’s been a length or more clear after half a mile.

Nonetheless, I am going to try to beat him.

I stipulate to having been an Honor Code fanboy ever since he stormed from 22 lengths off the pace to win his debut at Saratoga 26 months ago. One thing after another kept him out of the classics, and he made just two starts at 3, but this year as a 4-year-old, he has scored smashing victories with whirlwind finishes to win the Met Mile and Whitney Stakes against better fields than the 3-year-olds whom American Pharoah has been manhandling this year.

Honor Code is an underrated, world-class racehorse, but he has his drawbacks Saturday. He comes in off a dull final prep, though he was probably undertrained for that race, a mere tune-up for the Cup. He hasn’t run at 10 furlongs yet, though this should hardly be a problem for a son of A.P. Indy and a Storm Cat mare. He is going to need someone to put pressure on a loose-on-the-lead American Pharoah to be at his most effective. However, at something in the friendly neighborhood of 9-2 against an odds-on American Pharoah, those are risks worth taking.

With Beholder scratched, the second-most-accomplished horse on the card is Golden Horn, the Epsom Derby and Arc de Triomphe winner who would complete a spectacular international campaign with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf one race before the Classic. His best races make him look five lengths better than his competition on paper. I cannot in good conscience recommend betting against him or against the standout 2-year-old filly Songbird in the Juvenile Fillies.

In the six other Cup races Saturday, I picked Green Mask (Turf Sprint), Cavorting (Filly and Mare Sprint), Legatissimo (Mile), Salutos Amigos (Sprint), Karakontie (Mile), and Greenpointcrusader (Juvenile). These are mild preferences rather than strong convictions, and I almost as easily could have selected Undrafted, Super Majesty, Queen’s Jewel, Private Zone, Make Believe, and Brody’s Cause, my second choices in those races. These are deep fields with plenty of plausible candidates, and a parade of winning favorites is less likely than a head-scratching $50 winner somewhere in the sequence.

Speaking of sequences, note that the minimum bet for this year’s pick six has been reduced from $2 to $1, which should open the bet up to many players who had previously been priced out of it. In a lineup that begins with the Filly and Mare Turf and ends with the Classic, my plan is to spread out early, consider Golden Horn a free bingo square, get alive to both American Pharoah and Honor Code, and – with all due respect to the Triple Crown winner – root for the latter.

Joe More than 1 year ago
There is no way a solid, proven horse can be beaten when allowed to run a 47.50 with absolutely no pressure. He might be a great horse but we will never know because he faced grinders and plodders in most of his races. Why anyone would bet on him or against him makes little sense to me. This race was for the public and media talking heads.
NassauNuts More than 1 year ago
Please stop writing. You managed to offend both readers and horses. Your BC picks bombed - well, congrats, you got odds-on Songbird right. And you didn't provide any insight your readers could use - "I'm a fan of Honor Code, but can't identify any way he'll get the pace needed to win a bet." You spend half the article talking about a horse that isn't even running to dis a champion who has met all comers, all the time. AP may not be Secretariat and he may not have beaten Alydar while winning the Triple Crown, but his 3-yr-old season is better than Affirmed, Slew and The Bid, the champs of which you ‘glory days’ guys can’t let go. 6 Grade I wins on 6 different tracks, beating older horses in the process. His lone loss even flatters him, running gallantly at 1 ¼ mi. in yet another GI at yet another track instead of staying in the barn like most modern US thoroughbreds. And now the clincher: a 120 Beyer smashing the East Coast-bias-best touted as one of the strongest fields prior to the Classic. You know, I got it wrong. You should write at least one more time. Admit you got American Pharoah all wrong, denying your readers the opportunity to appreciate one of the great horses of our time.
APB70 More than 1 year ago
NN: There may be people who know more about horse racing than Crist, but guess what? You're not one of them. Quiet, you jealous, envious fool.
Christine Race More than 1 year ago
Ahhh...I smell the Essence of Smarty Jones and perhaps the aroma of Big Brown as well?
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
The flip side of the question that is "Who is going to be pressuring American Hero". Why can't the closers and stone cold closers learn a new trick and be closer to the pace (in the absence of someone to do their dirty work? FaIr question, no?
WMaier More than 1 year ago
Have to echo Walt's opening sentiments! You should chime in more often. In regards to the BC Classic, who is going to pressure AP? Smooth Roller? Ha!..Frosted can't and win. Funny thing is, every 10 F race of Tonalist's (BSF-wise) are faster than AP, yet, Tonalist has had his doors blown of by Honor Code in both meetings. Perplexing. I am against Cavorting in F&M Sprint--her best figs are at 6F. Expecting very quick 4F, and hoping Wavell Avenue gets C. Brown's dirt Graded stakes #'s aboost!
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
Glad to see you writing, you have been missed much of this year: As great as a BC this will be with American Pharoah making his final start in the BC Classic (though I like Frosted to beat him) and Golden Horn in the Turf, this BC to me is a blown opportunity for the sport SOLELY because of Keeneland's refusal to install lights so NBC could air the BC at night (even if it meant having the BC a week later to avoid the World Series on FOX). The BC's problem is that while for those who care about the sport it will be a great BC, too many under 30 have been conditioned to believe ALL championship events like the BC MUST be contested AT NIGHT to matter, and most of those will consider this BC irrelevant SOLELY because of it being in the daytime. Most think that way mainly because EVERY SINGLE FINALS game in the "big four" pro sports has been contested at night since 1992 (last daytime finals game in ANY of the "big four" being Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals), meaning for instance if you are 29 years old (born in late 1985 or '86), you were no older than FIVE the last time there was a finals game in any of the "big four" sports. If you are under 25, you likely have NEVER seen a championship game in any "big four" sport in the daytime. This is a MUCH bigger problem than many in Horse Racing seemingly don't realize or don't want to realize. Most in the sport (especially those older) seem not to realize how big this potentially is in trying to bring in new people to the sport. As one who actually deals with many under 30, they are much more inclined now to being up later in the day and well into the night and want things when THEY want them. That is why the BC has to be at night and preferably running to 11:00 PM ET (even if it means forcing BC hosts, including Santa Anita and Del Mar the next two years with it made clear if SA and Del Mar fail to install lights they will LOSE their BCs to tracks capable of racing at night) for the sport to have credibility with most under 30 no matter how many older people get upset by that. That is what this sport must do to gain credibility with those under 30.
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
I meant seemingly realize or don't wan't to realize in the last post (editing error).
Anthony Pasceri More than 1 year ago
steve, thank you for the free analysis. missed the toga blog. hoping to get some leads on friday. Stellar Wind? Everybody likes her. I think it bombs away in distaff
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Once again, star horses are dropping out of the breeders cup. Nothing like over working horses who constantly dehydrated.
Ken Herlich More than 1 year ago
Honor Code and Greenpointcrusader are my two best bet's I was at Keeneland on the 23rd and watched how easy Greenpointcrusader worked a half mile and was amazed what he went out in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr Crist, Greetings from across the Pond. So glad to be reading you on here again. I hope you are well. I won't attempt to argue precise definitions, because you are obviously a better wordsmith than myself, but can I ask how you came to the conclusion that GOLDEN HORN is only the "second most accomplished horse on the card"? Seemingly, by your own admission you are not too impressed with the 3 year old crop AMERICAN PHAROAH has been beating. Just how do you begin to equate the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont against the Epsom Derby, the Irish Champion and the Arc? Surely apples and oranges? Best Regards - Bernard Downes
Bob Smith More than 1 year ago
Bernard, I agree, and considering to this point there is not one horse of note that AP has beaten, and you look at Golden Horn who easily beat Flintshire, who in turn made the best turf horses out here look like cheap claimers is a statement in itself about Golden Horn. Golden Horn: It seems strange to say this but in a year we finally have a Triple Crown winner here in the US, there’s a valid argument that American Pharoah isn’t even the best 3YO in the world. Golden Horn, with Frankie Dettori aboard, comes here on the back of four grade one wins in Europe including the Epsom Derby and the Arc. http://tiny.cc/9jtd5x BTW Golden Horn held the number one ranking in the world and was slightly nosed out after AP won the TC.
billybudd16 More than 1 year ago
How did that work out for you?