So, here we are down to eight horses and only four from the Kentucky Derby. While American Pharoah is knocking heads with Firing Line, Dortmund, and Danzig Moon once again, an army of Belmont Stakes horses is forming up in New York, just waiting to ambush Pharoah if he should take the Preakness or any of the others who actually were brazen enough to come back in two weeks.
If American Pharoah should get by the Preakness, be aware that since they started voting for divisional champions, six of the seven horses who swept the Triple Crown were 2-year-old champions, and American Pharoah would be the first juvenile champ to attempt the sweep since Affirmed. Another thing the Triple Crown winners had in common is that they won the Belmont wire-to-wire. So American Pharoah definitely would fit the mold of a Triple Crown winner.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There is still the Preakness to be won, and you can bet Firing Line, Dortmund, Danzig Moon and couple of others have no intention of handing it to him on a silver platter, or any platter for that matter.
While I still believe American Pharoah is the best horse in the race and was much more the best in the Kentucky Derby than the final margin and time would indicate, I do have that nagging question of whether he can bounce back in two weeks after being subjected to the first gut check of his career in the Derby. Also, there is the question of drawing the rail, which could help or hurt him, depending on he breaks, how the others break, and what pace scenario develops going into the first turn. With all that said, it certainly wouldn’t shock me if he won the Preakness easier than he did the Derby. The bottom line is, everything will become crystal clear by Saturday night.
There are two other keys that need to be addressed. Firing Line, drew a great post, being on the far outside, which will allow Gary Stevens to dictate his own strategy based on what the others inside him do. But with five tactical speed horses in the field all jockeying for position early, there is a fine line between getting a good stalking position behind Pharoah and Dortmund and getting hung five-wide going into the first turn. That very well could be the difference between winning and losing.
Because there are so many horses with similar running styles, we could see Victor Espinoza, or Martin Garcia or Stevens, take on a match race philosophy. The jock who can get the jump on the others, let’s say on the far turn, could be home free, knowing he has no one to fear from the back of the pack. For example, if American Pharoah sets the pace with Firing Line, Dortmund, Mr. Z. and Divining Rod breathing down his neck, Espinoza could ask Pharoah to open up, forcing Stevens and Garcia and the other riders to go with him. If he can turn back their moves, that could be the race right there, as neither of those horses are proven stretch runners and have never had to run down a horse late, especially having already made a bold move to keep up with Pharoah. The same would apply if Firing Line or Dortmund were setting the pace. The first move could be the winning move.
That is where Danzig Moon comes in. Despite being only three lengths off the pace in the Derby, he does have a closing kick, and could very well benefit by taking back to sixth or seventh and just sitting and waiting, in the hope that the above scenario unfolds, leaving him as the logical horse to come on late and pick up the pieces. The only reason Danzig Moon was so close up in the Derby was because Julien Leparoux, as instructed, broke sharply and asked his horse to get that all-important good position going into the first turn. But in the Derby, once you do that, it’s extremely difficult to then grab hold of your horse and ease him back. He’s too keyed up by then, especially with a cavalry charge on all sides. You cannot just shut a horse down in the Derby once you give him his head.
To compound matters, Danzig Moon was roughed up pretty good going into the turn, along with Mr. Z and Bolo. He had to recover and then finally settled in sixth, after which he ran fairly evenly the rest of the way. In the Preakness, there is no need for him to get position early and he can just suck back and let the others expend their energy early. That running style fits perfectly with Leparoux’s style and he can just ride the race knowing he needs only to make one run. Even if American Pharoah or Dortmund or Firing Line prove much the best, there is still a good chance you can come away being classic placed.
So with that said, this is not a good betting race, especially if you don’t have a monster bankroll to play with. There is no way I’d be crazy enough to go off of American Pharoah now. At 4-1, Firing Line would seem like the logical horse to bet, but he actually may be shorter than that, based on all the things that have gone right for the horse in the past two weeks.
Divining Rod is up an up-and-comer, but we don’t know if he’s ready at this point in his career to jump up a quarter of a mile and be competitive with this group after impressively winning the Lexington Stakes over a fairly inexperienced, unproven field.
That leaves Danzig Moon as the logical win bet and to play in all exotic bets, in order to try to get at least a decent payoff. He is improving with every start -- visually, statistically, and speed-wise and he’s been moving beautifully over this track and has held his flesh very well.
In summation, just enjoy the race and either root for another live Triple Crown horse or root against him. Chances are you’re not going to get rich betting this race, so try to find some value and go in that direction.
By the way, if it comes up sloppy, does anyone remember the two sloppiest Preaknesses in memory? They were won by Bee Bee Bee and Deputed Testamony – both Maryland-based horses. Can anyone say Bodhisattva? Literally?
Firing Line has had enough restraint from the pony girl. Time for some action.
Firing Line free at last.
Firing Line is off and running on his first real strong gallop at Pimlico.
Dortmund is all business, pinning his ears during his gallop.
Dortmund looking sharp and alert.
The kind face of American Pharoah.
Danzig Moon heads to the track.
Danzig Moon still looking for more action as assistant Norman Casse attaches the shank following his strong gallop.
Danzig Moon after his bath.