My thanks to Gene Kershner of the Buffalo News for this excellent May 15, 2015 analysis of the Triple Crown race this afternoon.
BALTIMORE – American Pharoah’s Kentucky Derby performance has inspired hope that this powerful 3-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile could break a Triple Crown drought that has survived for 37 years.
Saturday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course (4:30 p.m., Ch. 2), he’ll attempt to claim the second jewel of that crown in the 140th edition of the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes. But concerns over drawing the rail and running his fourth race in nine weeks has added to the drama surrounding the heavy favorite. Post time is 6:18 p.m.
With Firing Line, who placed second in the Derby, drawing a more favorable outside post position, and Pharoah’s stablemate Dortmund returning, it’s sure to offer viewers an action-packed race.
American Pharoah (4-5), owned by Zayat Stables, will take on a field of seven others, including three of the four horses that finished behind him in Louisville. In the last 14 years, only two horses that did not run in the Derby won the Preakness. Since 2003, five Derby winners have repeated in Baltimore.
After getting a dream trip from an outside post in the Derby, which was boosted by a moderate pace, American Pharoah will break from the rail, a post that has produced only two Preakness winners since 1960. He’ll be in the gate right next to Dortmund (7-2), which will add intrigue to race dynamics and projected pace scenario.
Bob Baffert, who trains both horses and is seeking his sixth Preakness win, was none too pleased with the results of the blind draw of the two inside post positions.
“We didn’t like the draw,” he said. “I just hate to see them next to each other like that. It’s something that you can’t change, so you just deal with it. I didn’t lose any sleep over it.”
Dortmund, the pace setter in the Derby and third-place finisher, will look to avenge his first loss in seven races. He comes to Baltimore hoping the shorter distance will aid his cause. The Preakness is run at 1 3/16 miles, one-half furlong less than the Derby distance. It was also revealed post-Derby that he suffered a bout of colic a week before, which may have hampered his performance.
The horse that received the most favorable draw was the Derby second-place finisher, Firing Line (4-1), who drew the far outside post, one that Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is relishing.
“I’m very relaxed and confident,” Stevens said. “We got a great draw. I saw him on the track this morning and getting off the van yesterday, and he’s very relaxed and confident too. It’s a good spot to be in.”
Firing Line, who was ahead in the Derby at the sixteenth-pole (the Preakness distance), did not change leads in the stretch, a tactic that probably cost him the race. The shorter distance benefits the son of Line of David, who is probably the freshest of the horses coming out of the race in Louisville. His last prep was five weeks before the Run for the Roses.
With a possibility of rain, the two horses that would stand out on an off-track are American Pharoah, who won the Rebel at Oaklawn Park on a sloppy track, and Danzig Moon, a Malibu Moon colt trained by Mark Casse.
Casse said via telephone on Wednesday that he is unwavering on his decision to continue on the Triple Crown trail, even though Danzig Moon is an Ontario-bred and eligible in July for the Queen’s Plate, a $1 million restricted race.
“It was one of the questions” owner “Mr. Oxley and I discussed before deciding to run Danzig Moon in the Preakness,” Casse said. “There’s plenty of time, almost two months to the Plate. If you look at everything and his numbers, except for his race in Tampa, which we feel he had a legitimate excuse in Tampa, he’s done nothing but improve.”
Danzig Moon finished fifth in the Derby after being knocked around early, finishing over 6 lengths behind American Pharoah.
Casse wouldn’t be disappointed if there is some rain at Pimlico this afternoon.
“Most of the time, the sloppy track is an unknown, so that may give us an edge,” he said.
With a likely quicker pace scenario then was encountered in the Derby, Casse’s colt could be more of a factor coming late in the Preakness. When trainer Todd Pletcher decided not to run any of his possible contenders, especially Materiality, it was a double-edged sword according to Casse.
“Ideally I’d love to see a little quicker pace,” Casse said. “I was happy and disappointed that Materiality didn’t go in. I was happy that we don’t have to run against him, because to me I thought he ran a big race with all the issues he had in the Derby. But the disappointing part is that I thought he would add some pace to the pace scenario.”
The thought in this camp is that the race is best set up for Firing Line. He has the most favorable post position and ability to set a reasonable pace. He has a Hall of Famer in the irons in Stevens, who won this race two years ago aboard Oxbow at 15-1.
There’s no denying American Pharoah’s talent, but at the Derby he had to exert energy he hasn’t had to in previous races. He’ll be running his fourth race in nine weeks. He’ll likely not enjoy the dream trips he’s had for his last three races starting from the rail. That’s enough for me to try and beat him on top.
Marilyn Fisher: Have just finished watching American Pharaoh win the Triple Crown. So glad I saw the race. A never-to-be forgotten thrill!