Report: USA, Saturday
Pimlico: Preakness Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1½f, dirt, 3yo
BRING IT ON. American Pharoah (Bob Baffert/Victor Espinoza) kept alive his Triple Crown dreams in no uncertain fashion on Saturday with a totally authoritative triumph in the 140th Preakness Stakes at a muddy Pimlico hit by a torrential storm minutes before the race.
After crushing his rivals from the front with a seven-length victory, American Pharoah will go to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks’ time with high hopes of becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner and ending a drought dating back to Affirmed in 1978.
“He’s just an incredible horse,” said trainer Bob Baffert, winning the middle leg of the Triple Crown for the sixth time. “From day one people were expecting and what he does is amazing. The weather really scared me but great horses do great things and I think he showed that today.”
Sent off 9-10 favourite following a hard-fought Kentucky success, the hugely talented son of Pioneerof The Nile was in a different league to his Preakness competition as he took his career record to six out of seven. He hasn’t been beaten since his career debut at Del Mar last August.
“He’s the real deal,” said owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat. “The sport needs him. We could be talking about history. How could I be happier than that?”
With the racing surface turned into a horrible sea of mud after the heavens opened 15 minutes before the off, Victor Espinoza rode American Pharoah hard to get him to the front from his inside draw after the horse jinked slightly to the right.
Setting hard early fractions (22.90s, 46.49s, 1m11.42s for the first three quarters), he fought off pace rival Mr. Z and then had little difficulty repelling half-hearted challenges from Divining Rod and his Baffert-trained stablemate Dortmund on the far turn.
Despite slowing in the stretch, American Pharoah still drew away for a comfortable success, stopping the clock in 1m58.45s – the slowest time since 1956 – as the field trailed him home at margins more akin to jump racing.
Longshot Tale Of Verve ran through beaten horses to claim second from Divining Rod with the dismal Dortmund fading into fourth in a race where Kentucky runner-up Firing Line was also a massive disappointment, never a factor after stumbling at the gate and finishing seventh.
Surprisingly, Espinoza reported that it hadn’t been his original intention to make the lead on American Pharoah. “I wasn’t going to try to get the lead but I changed my plan after that hard rain and pushed him to get to the front,” he said. “He broke a little tiny bit slow,” said Espinoza. “I didn’t want to get behind horses and get dirty but once he got to the lead he was very comfortable. He cruised around at high speed.”
Ladbrokes make American Pharoah an even-money chance to succeed where so many have failed in three weeks’ time by completing the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes. Baffert has been there before: all three of his previous Derby winners – Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) – followed up in the Preakness only to suffer defeat in New York, by a nose in the agonising case of Real Quiet.
“It’s tough up there,” admitted Baffert. “I don’t want to think about it for another couple of weeks. I want to enjoy this – it’s been a great ride so far. You don’t know how much I appreciate this.”
Espinoza, too, has been in a similar position twice before, on War Emblem and California Chrome. “It seems like hopefully the third time is the lucky charm,” he said.
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