For one illustrious Saturday in May, sports fans have the ultimate excuse to drink mint juleps and don seersucker suits, whilst gambling on cheekily named horses. But after the pomp and circumstance of the Kentucky Derby, thoroughbred horse racing loses mainstream luster for another 364 days. That is unless a horse has a shot at the Triple Crown.
Seemingly, only an exclusive group of privileged people care about horse racing year round. However, when a horse has a chance at the Crown, the world takes notice, if only because the feat is so rare. The Triple Crown has been won by eleven horses, but the last to accomplish the task was Affirmed in 1978.
American Pharoah will have his chance to end the Triple Crown drought in 2015. The three-year-old colt ran a beautifully strategic race at Churchill Downs and led wire to wire in the mud at the Preakness Stakes last weekend. Even an amateur spectator can deduce that he is the best horse in this year’s field. Heck, his rival and stable mate Dortmund probably knows where he stands; as is the ‘Pippen’ to American Pharoah’s ‘Jordan.’
Remember California Chrome? I’ll Have Another? How about Big Brown? They were all household names in the last decade for the same reason American Pharoah is a household name right now. Then, all three of the aforementioned horses fell short of eternal glory for the same reason, the Belmont Stakes. In fact, since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown, fourteen horses, including American Pharoah this year, have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. The last thirteen of those horses failed to win at Belmont. American Pharoah can become the twelfth Triple Crown winner in history and the first in nearly four decades, or he can become the fourteenth consecutive horse to tease the world, only to fall into obscurity on the dirt of the track in Belmont, New York.
Recent results at the Belmont Stakes defy convention. Belmont makes losers the favorites and champions underdogs. In a race between horses on a dirt track, the fastest horse should win every time, but that is not the case. Why is it so hard to complete the Triple Crown with a win at Belmont? Well, it’s the third of the three races. Horses, trainers and jockeys entering Belmont with a shot at the Crown are under immense pressure and scrutiny. Belmont also has the longest track of the three, at 1 and half miles, a quarter mile longer than the Kentucky Derby. These facts test the physical and mental resolve of all parties involved. In addition, fresh horses enter the Belmont Stakes every year having skipped the Preakness to focus on the longer third leg race.
Vegas favors American Pharoah to win at Belmont on June 6, but I disagree. Recent history is too compelling to ignore. Maybe it’s the extra length, maybe it’s the tense atmosphere, or maybe it’s the effects of fatigue over a long season. In any case, I’ll take the field against Pharoah.
My Prediction: Dortmund wins by a length over American Pharoah. But even if Dortmund wins, there would be a Triple Crown this year. Bob Baffert trains both American Pharoah and Dortmund, and would get his first Triple Crown in an ironic fashion, as the trainer of two different horses. Unfortunately, recent history indicates that American Pharoah will join the ranks of the Forgotten Fourteen, and the next time I watch a horse race will be May 7, 2016, with a mint julep in hand.