It comes down to this. American Pharoah, the thundering bay colt thoroughbred has taken the Kentucky Derby in dramatic fashion, blew away the competition in the Preakness Stakes, and is now looking at the longest leg of the American Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, hoping to etch his name in horseracing infamy on June 6.
American Pharoah | Photo: Kentucky Derby
At one-and-a-half miles, the Belmont Stakes is the bear of the three races that make up the Triple Crown. Known as “the test of champions,” the Belmont Stakes is the oldest of three races, celebrating its 147th running on June 6. For the horses and training staff, a shot at the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown glory is the culmination of years of work, millions of dollars, and, quite frankly, good genes. Yet claiming the Triple Crown has become somewhat of a enigma for racers in recent years with the last, Affirmed, claiming all three jewels in 1978. Since then, an astounding thirteen have thrown their hat in the ring, claiming the first two, to fall short in the third. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Triple Crown is just plain hard: only eleven horses have done so in the history of the 140-year practice. The tight windows the horses are set to run—just a two-week window between the Derby and Preakness, followed by a three-week reprieve until the Belmont; and then there is travel—puts a lot of stress on the horses and training staff leading up the June race. While the practice of stacking the deck in the Belmont has significantly altered the odds for the incoming winning thoroughbred, something California Chrome’s co-owner, Steve Coburn, so eloquently put with Yahoo Sports after his upstart colt failed in the Belmont in 2014:
“If your horse doesn’t even have the points to run in the Kentucky Derby, he shouldn’t be able to run in the Triple Crown.”
A pattern has emerged in thoroughbred horse racing: the Kentucky Derby is absolutely packed with contenders—this year 20 took to the starting block; then, the numbers drop dramatically for the Preakness—this year a meager eight. Owners opt to rest their horses that failed in the Derby, skipping the Preakness, and then racing in the Belmont, playing upset. Aside from the obvious advantages in terms of rest and less travel, this practice is steadily eating away at the popularity of the sport. Aside from equestrian enthusiasts and die-hard gamblers, thoroughbred horse racing has but three blips on the radar each year for the average American. And those pings are becoming quieter each year, when, after a build-up of excitement over the next great horse ends with a disappointing performance at the Belmont. Viewers are becoming more and more disinterested—horse racing is losing the “appointment viewing” status it held since it was first broadcasted on television in 1949.
Compared to the fervor California Chrome got last year going through the Triple Crown motions, American Pharoah is kind of coming in under the radar. For one, ownership, and the story behind the horse, are very different: Pharoah is coming from a well-established racing owner, Ahmed Zayat, and is under the tutelage of one of the preeminent trainers in the world, Bob Baffert. Also, sporting media—monolith ESPN and others—just are not covering it as much; thrice bitten thrice shy I guess (remember Smarty Jones, Big Brown, and I’ll Have Another? They all failed before California Chrome fell in the Belmont last year.) This is why I believe Pharoah has a chance. Call it a hunch, but thoroughbred racing needs this win, not just to regain viewers, but also to make those aforementioned sport opinion makers play catch-up, hoping to look like they did not gloss over the lead-up to the Triple Crown.
If you’re planning on throwing one heck of a raceway party, let us do the menu planning. Since the Belmont Stakes falls in June, grilling is the only option for cooking, and these recipes will help make you the undisputed grill master of the Triple Crown.
As for the race itself, Pharoah has vanquished all contenders of the field (as of Tuesday, June 2). A total of eight horses are expected to run in the Belmont Stakes this year—a rather small showing, with five returning from the Derby (skipping the Preakness), and one moving on from the Preakness (missing the Derby). Frosted, and Materiality are the two Derby runners with the best chance, while Tale of Verve, second in the Preakness, will nip at Pharoah’s heels, and Madefromlucky lost to Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby in April. All these thoroughbreds have tested Pharoah, and each time he came away smelling of roses, and black-eyed susans—white carnations are his destiny.
Of all the horses, Frosted poses the greatest threat. Finishing fourth in the Derby, Frosted is a distance runner, slow out ofthe gate, but dominate at the close—as in the Derby, Frosted has an amazing ability of maintain pace, and turning it on in the final half. Pharoah will have to jump ahead early to maintain a lead on this hard-charging colt.
Why Pharoah has a chance:
In a word: stamina. This colt has it, in spades. In the Derby, we saw Pharoah turn it on off the start to separate from traffic, and then after a mile, when he took the lead down the stretch. In the Preakness, he needed to break from the gate to make up for the No. 1 gate position so he wouldn’t get stuck against the rail—he maintained that pace for a seven-length victory. All of this means the horse is probably the most fatigued of the bunch, but the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont are a godsend for the worn-out horse. Now, it all boils down to the horse and whether or not he’s got enough gas in the tank for the “Test of Champions,” the one and half mile track in Belmont Park.
- Update, Wednesday, June 3: Post positions have been announced, and as expected, odds have shifted. Here are the updated odds, with horse listed by post position:
- Mubtaahij (10-1)
- Tale of Verve (15-1)
- Madefromlucky (12-1)
- Frammento (30-1)
- American Pharoah (3-5)
- Frosted (5-1)
- Keen Ice (20-1)
- Materiality (6-1)
- Post positions will be announced on Wednesday, solidifying the field. As of posting, Tuesday, June 2, eight horses are in contention: American Pharoah (5-6), Frosted (11-2), Materiality (13-2), Mubtaaij (16-1), Madefromlucky (16-1), Tale of Verve (22-1), Keen Ice (28-1), and Frammento (40-1). Expect the odds to shift once the post positions are announced, and the betting public begins posting wagers as raceday inches closer. Odds via OddsShark
For those not making the trek to Kentucky, Maryland or New York this year to catch the action, you can still play along at home with the official cocktail recipes of the Triple Crown.