05/17/2015 12:32PM

Jay Privman's Preakness analysis


Grade 1, $1.5 million Preakness Stakes, 1 3/16 miles, Pimlico, May 16, 2015

 Winner: American Pharoah

 Trainer: Bob Baffert

 Jockey: Victor Espinoza

 Owner: Zayat Stables, LLC

 Beyer Speed Figure: 102

 AMERICAN PHAROAH can run. And, after this race, we also know he can swim. Braving conditions even more treacherous than what he encountered in his 3-year-old debut in the Rebel Stakes, American Pharoah rolled to a seven-length victory, and now moves on to the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

 The Preakness marked his sixth straight victory, earned at five different racetracks. He clearly does not need to take his track with him, and that served him well on this day, for the conditions deteriorated rapidly in the minutes preceding the Preakness, resulting in a sloppy track that had quite a bit of standing water atop it.

 Speed figure makers had to have a tough time quantifying this performance, because the track changed significantly from what it had been earlier in the day. It started off as a warm, muggy day, and the track was fast. With the storm approaching, the track was sealed about 90 minutes before the Preakness, after the preceding dirt race and prior to the Dixie on turf. Then, shortly before the horses came on the track for the Preakness post parade, the harrows went over the track, removing the seal. Then the rains came.

 There was one race after the Preakness, and the track was floated before that race, squeezing out the excess water. So, the Preakness was run on a surface unlike anything else this day. It’s a figure-maker’s nightmare.

 After facing 17 rivals in the Kentucky Derby, just seven others lined up against American Pharoah in the Preakness. American Pharoah drew the rail. The inside stall was left open, so he came out of stall number 2. He broke a touch to his right, but Martin Garcia, on Baffert-trained stablemate DORTMUND, held his mount in a straight line, and didn’t gun for the lead, which allowed Victor Espinoza to aggressively send American Pharoah up the inside and to the lead, with MR. Z tracking him.

 American Pharoah cleared Mr. Z heading around the first turn, and his ears immediately went straight up, a sign he was running well within himself. As the field went down the backstretch, Espinoza shrewdly let American Pharoah have a breather, and several rivals closed in, with both Mr. Z and Dortmund getting within a length of him.

 American Pharoah staved off those rivals while still looking as though he was on cruise control on the far turn. At the top of the stretch, Espinoza slapped his left rein on American Pharoah’s neck, and American Pharoah started to widen anew. Espinoza hand rode him to the eighth pole, gave him a couple of light backhand flicks at that point, and then simply waved his whip near American Pharoah’s right eye before returning to a hand ride in the closing yards. He could not have won any easier.

 The raw final time of 1:58.46 was very slow, but the conditions severely impacted the race. In fact, when factoring in the track condition, the early fractions of 22.90 seconds for the opening quarter and 46.49 seconds for a half seem quite fast. American Pharoah simply ran his rivals off their feet.

 TALE OF VERVE bobbled slightly leaving the gate and was initially on his wrong lead, then settled at the rear of the pack and remained there for the first half of the race. He picked off the back markers on the far turn, and steadily kept charging to catch DIVINING ROD for second after having to duck inside Divining Rod with 100 yards to go.

 Divining Rod, who finished third, was between horses while three paths wide entering the first turn, then was guided to the rail down the backstretch and steadily advanced on the leaders. He moved inside Mr. Z and Dortmund on the far turn while following American Pharoah and was second entering the lane, but could not keep pace when American Pharoah kicked clear, drifted to his right in deep stretch, and surrendered second to Tale of Verve.

 Dortmund, who finished fourth, has now lost two straight after winning the first six starts of his career. He stirred a bit in the gate before the start, but broke cleanly, though he was not sent hard from the gate, allowing American Pharoah to zoom up inside him. He was then guided off the inside to settle into a stalking position behind American Pharoah and Mr. Z. He moved up outside those two entering the far turn and drew within a length of American Pharoah, came under a heavy ride with a quarter-mile remaining and went evenly through the lane while outrun. He has not had a break since his debut last November, but now will get some time off.

 Mr. Z, who finished fifth, broke well and tried to go with American Pharoah through those quick early fractions, but could not keep up and settled into second, about two lengths behind, turning up the backside. He was able to edge closer when American Pharoah took his mid-race breather, but was outrun by both Divining Rod and Dortmund coming to the quarter pole and steadily faded. I have opined in this space for several races that he looks like he needs a vacation.

 DANZIG MOON, who finished sixth, settled near the back of the pack along the rail heading into the first turn, where he had to check slightly to avoid the heels of BODHISATTVA. He was near the back of the pack throughout and never made any impact in a dull effort I’m going to chalk up to the sloppy track.

 FIRING LINE, who was seventh, stumbled badly a stride out of the gate, so instead of being in a stalking position as projected, he wound up outside a four-horse spread well behind the leaders heading into the first turn. He remained well back, tried to make a brief run while wide on the far turn, but struggled with the track and was practically eased by jockey Gary Stevens before the top of the stretch. This race is a throw-out for him.

 Bodhisattva, who finished last of eight, was in the two path as part of a four-horse spread well back of the leaders heading into the first turn, was unable to keep pace down the backstretch, dropped back to last, and, like Firing Line, was virtually eased through the lane.