|American Pharoah wining the Arkansas Derby.|
Now, some people knock his pedigree--he's not really bred to run long--but I don't know. Honestly, it seems to me that pedigree is only one small piece of the puzzle. Many times the most "well bred" or the horse bred for the distance is still not the best horse. And Pharoah's grandsire is Empire Maker, who did win the Belmont Stakes. For me, the bigger factors are how tired is he coming into this race because he'll be facing fresh horses, how fit he is, and how well he handles that big, sandy track at Belmont. Unlike Big Brown, who missed a workout approaching the Belmont because of a hoof issue, Pharoah seems to be very healthy. He had a nice work over the Churchill Downs track and wanted to do more, but Martin didn't push him. He obviously feels good, because he's eating and has put on weight since the Preakness (not tons of weight, just nine pounds and in horse body weight, that's rather like a human gaining a half pound, if that). It's losing weight that's an indicator of a fatigued horse. Also, trainer Bob Baffert said something interesting the other day. I'm paraphrasing, but essentially he said that the Kentucky Derby for Pharoah was the race that got him super-fit. Usually it's the other way around. Horses give all to get into the Derby, and then the Derby tuckers them out. Pharoah coasted into the Derby and finally faced some serious competition, while having to break from far on the outside in the 18 hole. He's that good.
American Pharoah was more than ready for the Preakness, going to an easy lead in the slop, and he never looked back. The jockey, Victor Espinoza, didn't even have to ask anything of him. There's been criticism about the slow finish, but Pharoah was clearly going to win. Why on earth would Victor have asked more of him? Save some gas in the tank for the Belmont. Don't wear the horse out.
From where I sit, it looks like Pharoah is poised to make a great effort, barring his grabbing a quarter like California Chrome did coming out of the gate or encountering some other bad racing luck.
That leaves us whether or not American Pharoah will take to the Big Sandy. He did gallop over the track and by all accounts, seemed keen to go on. Baffert said he looked like he was "floating" over it the way he usually looks, so that seems to say Pharoah liked the track just fine. Of course, a lone gallop is different from a race, when dirt and sand can get kicked into the horse's face, but since Pharoah's running style is to sit off the pace and then make his move, that shouldn't be an issue unless he gets a bad break. With a small field of 8 horses, I'm not too concerned about this. The real question is whether another horse in the field can run Pharoah down in that long stretch towards the finish line. That, of course, is impossible to gauge, but I do think Pharoah is intelligent enough and competitive enough to not give up a lead that easily, unless he's absolutely pooped.
The bottom line is that I really like his chances. I like them so much that I may do the unthinkable and single him on a few tickets. But I'm wise enough to know that winning the Belmont is just plain hard in a schedule as rigorous as the Triple Crown. I won't single him on other tickets.
The other choices are Frosted and Materiality. Madefromlucky is a possible upsetter, for he was pointed at this race and followed the same path to it as Tonalist, last year's Belmont winner. He also already has a win over the track, although it was not an impressive win. Others are hyping Keen Ice, because you can't disrespect a Dale Romans horse at Belmont, and he'll offer juicy odds at M/L 25-1. The other horses I'd toss out. They may get up for a piece, but I can't see them winning.
Of course, as the favorite with M/L odds of 4-5, American Pharoah will offer no value, so on the tickets I single him on, I'll go deep in the other legs and hope a longshot hits one or two of them.
I'm 'capping tonight. So check back tomorrow for a couple Pick 4 tickets post-scratches.
Hail the Tail!