Preakness and BES Analysis. Will A.P. Win The Crown? And The Future Of Maryland Horse Racing

Sports and Bets — May 18, 2015 at 10:48 pm by

(This is part one of a two part blog)

Two down, one to go.  American Pharoah dominated the Preakness Saturday over a sloppy mud bog to keep the Triple Crown within reach. His win here in Baltimore was more visually impressive than his Derby score and the fact that he handled the heavily deluged track so well after being pressed into a 46:49 half mile by his former stable-mate, Mr. Z, is a testament to his versatility and toughness. Once the field rounded the turn for home, the horses that had tried to keep early pace with American Pharoah had tired in the Pimlico mud bog, and it looked as though Divining Rod would take advantage of the hot early pace and make a move on the Kentucky Derby winner.  But while American Pharoah churned home, Divining Rod would skid over the rain soaked track and give way to eventual place finisher, Tale of Verve.  The stretch drive was a one horse affair and American Pharoah brought home the Woodlawn Vase in style…..

But now comes the hard part.  In a little less than three weeks American Pharoah will make the trek up to Belmont, New York for the third and longest leg of the Triple Crown.  The mile and a half pressure cooker that is the Belmont Stakes has foiled many a Crown bid, including that of California Chrome last year.  New shooters, and a third race in five weeks- against top competition, awaits our latest horse hero on the Sixth of June.  No equine athlete has won the Crown in 37 years.  Even horses as incredible and as dominating as Smarty Jones and Big Brown failed in their attempts at Belmont.  And while American Pharoah’s last performance was definitely a Preakness that will be remembered for a long time, it means absolutely nothing once that gate opens on the first Saturday of June.

I think American Pharoah has a legitimate shot to win the Triple Crown. Detractors will point to his pedestrian Kentucky Derby time and his downright slow Preakness time of 1:58.46.  (The Preakness time was the slowest winning time since 1956.)  But those times are misleading. The final time Derby time was influenced by its unusually slow pace at the start of the race.  Usually the Derby is run fast from the gate, but this year the pace-setters were slower on the front. American Pharoah, stalking from his outside post, grinded out the win because the early speed didn’t come back to him quickly.  In fact, the fact that he won versus such a quality group of horses who had been able to dictate such an easy early pace is more indicative of the quality of the win than the final time alone. In the Preakness, a storm just prior to post had turned a track that had played fast all day into a swamp. Some in the field, most notably Firing Line failed to handle the track at all.  Pharoah handled it, took the lead from the git, got pressed into much faster splits than the early leaders had faced in the Derby, and still held off all comers on what amounted to be a slow running riverbed.  The Preakness final time is meaningless on track that got sloppy real fast just before post time.

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So I’ll be rooting hard for American Pharoah up in New York.  The horse has a ton of talent and heart, and his trainer, Bob Baffert, seems like one of the coolest guys in sports.  Plus, Baffert always loves to come to B-Town and I always like how he gives Baltimore and the MJC a shout-out on national T.V when he wins big at Old Hilltop. A.P.’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, is one of the good guys of racing, too. Both have been is this, one more to go, position before. Baffert with Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and War Emblem; and Espinoza with War Emblem and California Chrome.

Let’s hope they make history

Other Racing Thoughts From The Weekend.

The paid attendance at Black eyed Susan Day was 42,700, an increase over 2014.  The Preakness attendance was over 131,000. which is a new record. The  grandstands didn’t seem as full and as juiced on BES Day as in the past and the Preakness attendance had a lot to do with the infield.  Overall, the riots and protests didn’t affect the bottom line much for Preakness weekend, but the out of town presence seemed less than previous years in the grandstands.  I have no real evidence for this, it’s just a feeling myself and a friend who always works Preakness had.

Liked Galiana’s win in the Skipat Stakes on Friday over Lady Sabelia. Lady Sabelia had no excuses, she was alone on the lead and Galiana still wore her down for the win. Galiana may be really coming into her own as a five year old, she’s won over half her lifetime wins, and she may prove a big threat to the sprint division here in the mid-atlantic.  Maybe some stakes racing at Saratoga this summer?  Meanwhile, Lady Sabelia may have had a lot taken out her in her last in Kentucky.  I’ll bet a short freshening is in order for this courageous miss.

Ben’s Cat’s victory in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint was awesome.  He’s one of my favorite horses of all time and with over $2 million in earnings, and at age nine, I also hope 2015 is his last campaign.  That being said, I want to see this horse pointed to the Breeder’s Cup at Keeneland.  Time to finally pony up the dough and get him nominated for racing biggest day.  (Easy for me to say.)  He’s a great Turf sprinter.  Put him in the country’s biggest turf sprint come the end of October and then retire him, win, place, or lose.   To me, he’s a Hall of Fame horse.


Keen Pauline stole the Black Eyed Susan when she took the lead without pressure and wired the field.  Funny how that happened since the race was supposed to be full of early speed. Jockey JJ Castellano took advantage and coasted to a big score. I’ll have my eye on Ahh Chocolate, who ran well in defeat.

The Dixie was a hell of a horse race and Ironicus, was incredible in the win.  JJ Castellano had that mnount as well and he showed why he is the best grass rider in the nation.  He patient waited in the stretch for a path to open and when it did, he guided his well prepared horse to the wire.  Gotta love how patient trainer Shug McGuaghey with his horses.  Big things may be in store for Ironicus in 2015 and 2016.

For me personally, BES Day turned a small profit, but Preakness Day was a mess. It was the worst handicapping day of the year. Luckily, I hit the triple in the Galorrette to avoid complete disaster.  Oh well, turn the page and get ’em next time.

Tommorow will be part two. We’ll discuss the future and what the MJC and Frank Stronach may have in store for Maryland Horse Racing.

cover: nytimes



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