American Pharoah returns to the track in Sunday’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and is 1/5 to win the race from stall 4. Seven other horses will go to post with the aim of beating this year’s Triple Crown winner. On ratings and form American Pharoah has plenty in hand and should have no problems in winning the race run over 9 furlongs. His trainer Bob Baffert said this week: “I think Pharoah will run a big race. Hopefully, he’ll break well, get racing luck and the real Pharoah will turn up.”
The horse most likely to beat American Pharoah according to the latest odds is Upstart. However, he finished 18th and last in the Kentucky Derby, his latest race. Before that Classic Upstart had not finished out of the places over a career involving eight previous races. Keen Ice is also near the head of the betting on the back of finishing third on the Belmont. Neither horse has the form to suggest they can beat this year’s Triple Crown winner.
The Triple Crown
The Triple Crown is made up of three races for three-year-old thoroughbred horses. Winning all three which can only be done in one season and is the greatest achievement in racing in the United States. Before this year eleven horses had won the Triple Crown in America from1919 to 1978 when Affirmed won each of the three big ones ridden by Steve Cauthen and trained by Laz Barrera. Jim Fitzsimmons is the only trainer to win two Triple Crowns, with Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935.
Since 1932 23 horses have won the first two legs but could not win the Belmont Stakes. This has happened six times in the new millennium including twice in the last three years. California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year but failed to complete the treble. The result prompted his owner to complain that the race should be scheduled later in the season as those horses going for the Triple Crown are not at a huge disadvantage.
The 2015 Kentucky Derby broke the record for betting turnover which indicates that punters will bet on the top prestigious races despite wagering less further down the scale. American Pharaoh won the race ridden by Victor Espinoza but the race was marred by excessive use of the whip by the jockey. The horse was the fourth winner of the Kentucky Derby for trainer Bob Baffert and the third win for Espinoza.
American Pharoah’s Trainer and Jockey
Baffert was inducted into the Lone Star Park’s Hall of Fame in 2007 and in 2009 he was granted a place in Racing’s Hall of Fame. He has won four Kentucky Derbies, five Preakness Stakes, a single Belmont and two Oaks. Horses from his barn have also been in the money in eleven Triple Crown races and he has had seven seconds in total. Baffert has trained the winner of all the other major stakes races.
Espinoza began riding in Mexico, the country of his birth. In addition to winning the Derby on American Pharoah he won the race in 2002 and 2014 and has also won the Preakness Stakes two times but never the Belmont. He won the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot in England in June 2014 on a horse called Hootenanny that was trained by Wesley A Ward. Espinoza transformed the racing career of California Chrome on whom he won the first two Classics of the season last year.
Espinoza’s Race Tactics
Espinoza did not need to use the whip on American Pharoah in the Preakness as the horse imposed his authority down the straight. The jockey summarised the race and his tactics in saying: “I wasn’t going to try to get the lead but I changed my plan after the hard rain and pushed him to get to the front. He broke a bit slow. I didn’t want to get behind horses and get dirty, but once he got to the lead he was very comfortable. He cruised around at high speed”.
The Third Leg
Since 1978 four horses going for the Triple Crown have come second in the third and final qualifying race. The same number have finished third, two fourth, one was pulled up and another was withdrawn leading up to the last race of the three. Eight of the dozen have started at odds-on so the bookmakers were be quite happy to take bets on American Pharoah to win the Belmont Stakes but on reflection that was a poor call.
The Triple Crown is hard to win and many have failed in the quest for the Holy Grail of US racing. A number of factors have worked against those that came close but this year could be memorable. Sectional times in the first two legs of the treble were quite slow and as a result the finishes were visually misleading. However, American Pharoah had the sheer superior ability to win this year’s Belmont Stakes and join the greats of the sport in the United States. The horse can confirm his superstar status by winning the Haskell Invitational on Sunday.
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