Logic tells us that American Pharoah’s lightly raced career and pair of easy Derby preps at Oaklawn will be beneficial coming back in two weeks for the Xpressbet.com Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
That very well may be the case. It definitely makes sense, at least on the surface. There is no reason to think there isn’t enough gas left in the proverbial tank.
But the Triple Crown is a tricky little animal that rarely appears the way you see it and always leaves you guessing. And that is why the above premise is not 100% certain, but in fact leaves it open for question.
History has shown us that Kentucky Derby winners get on a roll, both physical and mental, and are so pumped from the Derby, the adrenalin keeps kicking in right through the Preakness. And that is why many Derby winners not only come right back and win the Preakness, they actually are more impressive at Pimlico than they were at Churchill Downs.
Going back over the past 20 years, we look at the number of Derby--Preakness winners and we see that Silver Charm, Funny Cide, and I’ll Have Another all had gut-wrenchers before the Kentucky Derby. Real Quiet, Charismatic, and California Chrome all had extensive careers before the Derby. And Big Brown and Smarty Jones both registered fairly easy victories at Churchill Downs.
So, all these Derby—Preakness winners either were battle-tested in one form or another going into the Kentucky Derby and had that to fall back on or the Derby took very little out of them.
In American Pharoah’s case, he was never battle-tested before the Derby, he had very limited campaigns at 2 and 3, and, unlike the others, the Derby was his first gut check. So the question now is, can he be thrown into a street fight for the first time in the Derby and come back in two weeks without much of a foundation to fall back on?
Well, that brings us back to the questions we had before the Derby, and the answers were always the same: he can if he’s the superstar many believe him to be.
But many will claim he hardly looked like a superstar winning the Derby by a hard-fought one length in slow time. And that comparisons to Seattle Slew were way off base.
And that is where those looking to beat him at Pimlico will be thrown off course.
Where in the history books does it show that you have to win the Derby in dazzling fashion to be a superstar? Seattle Slew beat a weak field by 1 3/4 lengths in 2:02 1/5. That’s a difference of three-quarters of a length and four-fifths of a second from American Pharoah’s margin and time. Yes, the pace was much faster in Slew’s Derby, but his final quarter of :26 1/5 is basically the same as American Pharoah.
Spectacular Bid also won the Derby against only nine opponents by 2 3/4 lengths in 2:02 2/5. Not exactly the stuff of legends.
Count Fleet, arguably one of the most brilliant 3-year-olds of all time, won the Derby in 2:04 over a fast track, coming home in :26 2/5. War Admiral won by 1 3/4 lengths in 2:03 1/5 on a fast track. Alysheba won the Derby in 2:03 2/5 on a fast track.
We really never knew what we had time-wise from Citation (2:05 2/5), Assault (2:06 3/5), Carry Back (2:04), Sunday Silence (2:05), and Tim Tam (2:05), as they won the Derby on “off” tracks.
In other words, it is premature to judge American Pharoah based on his time in a race that rarely produces fast times, especially nowadays when there is so much time between dirt races and the track usually undergoes a major change in all those of hours.
If you want to question American Pharoah, you can do so by wondering how he will bounce back in two weeks coming off his first tough race and a limited career, during which he was never challenged other than his fluky career debut when he cost himself all chance before the race.
Dortmund and Firing Line, however, have several battles behind them and the Derby was nothing new to them.
It would appear as if the lightly raced career will help him bounce back in two weeks, but is it asking a lot of him to do so this soon after his first true battle?
If you want to look ahead to the Triple Crown if he should get through the Preakness, it is important to remember that he would be the first 2-year-old champion since Affirmed to attempt the sweep, and that is what he has in common with past Triple Crown winners -– Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Citation, Count Fleet, and Whirlaway. All were 2-year-old champions. The concept of naming champions didn’t begin until the late 1930s, so six of the seven Triple Crown winners since 1941 were 2-year-old champions.
But let’s get by this one first. Then there are going to be a number of fresh talented horses waiting for him in the Belmont.