American Pharoah is striving to become just the twelfth horse to complete the Triple Crown and the first since Affirmed in 1978 and is odds-on to win the Belmont Stakes and achieve the feat. Twenty three horses have won the first two legs but not the third including six since 2000 and two in the last three years. American Pharoah has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and is the clear favourite to win the third element of the series on Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
The US Triple Crown
The Triple Crown is made up of three races for three-year-old thoroughbred horses. Winning all three can only be done in one season and is the greatest achievement in racing in the United States. The term is derived from a concept in England by which horses of one gender can only win three of the five Classics. Sixteen horses have won the Triple Crown in England dating back to 1853 but not since 1970. In 1978 Affirmed won each of the three US racing’s big ones ridden by Steve Cauthen.
The First Two Legs
American Pharoah took the lead in the homestretch in the Kentucky Derby and went away to win the race by one length. He was the marginal favourite over Dortmund who finished third. The victory was the third in the race for jockey Victor Espinoza and fourth for Bob Baffert who is the trainer. American Pharoah followed up in the Preakness Stakes with an emphatic seven length win in a race in which Dortmund was only fourth. The win set up an attempt on the Triple Crown for the second time in three years after California Chrome came up short in 2013.
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13 Have Tried Since 1978
Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown 13 horses have won the first two legs but failed to win the Belmont. Eight of those contenders started as odds-on favourite and four finished second. Another four were beaten by two horses in the third leg of the treble while three were unplaced. I’ll Have Another was withdrawn just before the race in 2012 and Big Brown was pulled up a year earlier. California Chrome was only fourth in 2013 and his run prompted the owner to complain about the timing of the Belmont Stakes. He suggested horses that ran in the Derby and Preakness were at a disadvantage but nobody said winning the Triple Crown was easy.
Triple Crown Demands
European race fans may be surprised about the difficulty as all three races are on dirt at oval courses with a distance range of only two and a half furlongs. The British version of the Triple Crown involves far greater variations in terms of distance, tracks and dates in the racing calendar. However, no two dirt tracks are the same and each race has different demands. Churchill Downs has a long straight, Pimlico favours front runners and Belmont is more galloping. The prep races are usually at Grade 1 level so the whole programme could involve five top class races in four months which is a big ask for young horses.
Dreams Do Turn To Reality
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 has the sheer superior ability to win this year’s Belmont Stakes and join the greats of the sport in the United States on Saturday.
European odds can be found at British bookmakers William Hill
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