Belmont Distance Figures to Challenge American Pharoah

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A key to Saturday's Belmont Stakes Presented by DraftKings (gr. I) will be American Pharoah's efforts to carry his brilliance through a 1 1/2-mile race, a distance his breeding suggests will not be to his liking, against some rivals who figure to like the added distance, or at least like it more than American Pharoah.

American Pharoah has the highest Dosage Index of any of the eight 3-year-olds being pointed to the Belmont, and, at 4.33, he is the only horse in the field with a Dosage Index higher than 4.0. No horse has won the Belmont with a D.I. higher than 4.00 since Sarava in 2002. The Dosage Index number looks at prominent sires in a horse's pedigree to determine a horse's likelihood to favor sprints, which registers as a higher D.I. number; or longer distances, a lower D.I. number.

American Pharoah - Anne M. Eberhardt Photo

While pedigrees have traditionally been examined closely to determine a horse's likelihood to stretch out to 1 1/4 miles for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), it amazes me that little analysis or debate is devoted to how a horse will handle stretching out to 1 1/2 miles. I frequently hear people say, "Well, none of them are bred to go 1 1/2 miles." While I understand that sentiment, some are horses are more likely than others to handle the distance.

Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Materiality boasts a low D.I. of 2.33, is by Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, and is conditioned by a Belmont-based trainer, Todd Pletcher, who won the Belmont in 2007 with filly Rags to Riches and in 2013 with Palace Malice. Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) winner Frosted is by leading sire Tapit, who was the sire of last year's Belmont winner Tonalist. Tapit is by Pulpit, a son of 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy, himself a son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Frosted's D.I. checks in at 2.75. Frosted also is based at Belmont and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin won the 2006 Belmont with Jazil.

This isn't to say it's impossible for American Pharoah to win on Saturday. There's even some hope in his pedigree for success at 1 1/2 miles. He's by young sire Pioneerof the Nile, who may prove to be a top distance sire as his career goes along. Pioneerof the Nile is a son of 2003 Belmont winner Empire Maker.

2003 Belmont winner Empire Maker - Kate Hunter Photo

Things are less promising on the female side though, as dam Littleprincessemma is by Yankee Gentleman. In his four starts at age 4, Yankee Gentleman's connections kept him sprinting, where he registered his lone career stakes win that season in the six-furlong Pirate's Bounty Handicap at Del Mar. As a sire, the average winning distance for Yankee Gentleman foals is 6.32 furlongs and his lone grade I winner is sprinter E Z's Gentleman, winner of the 2010 Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I).

It's fair to say that you never know for sure how a horse will handle 1 1/2 miles until they try it. It's also fair to say American Pharoah already has won two classics, which of course is encouraging in terms of this final distance question. But I still think the move up to 1 1/2 miles is significant and his breeding suggests it's a potential problem.

In terms of a Belmont horse who arguably will be racing at something close to his preferred distance, there's Mubtaahij, who boasts a 1.00 D.I. The question mark for the son of Dubawi is the opposite of American Pharoah's as Mubtaahij will have to show that even at what figures to be a better distance for him than the dual classic winner, "Is he talented enough?"

The Dosage Index for the other four expected Belmont starters: Frammento, 3.50; Keen Ice, 2.73; Madefromlucky, 3.21; and Tale of Verve, 2.25.

My Pick
If you were asking me who is the most likely winner for the Belmont Stakes Saturday, I'd consider that a very tough question with American Pharoah, Materiality, Mubtaahij, and Frosted all in the running for that honor. I'll take the easier question. if you ask me the best bet, the answer is Mubtaahij as he figures to have the highest odds of the four.

I think those odds will be higher than his true chance of winning, which makes him a nice horse to back at the windows.

I even think there's reason to believe the talent gap between Mubtaahij and American Pharoah is not as wide as the 9 1/2 lengths he finished behind in the Derby. Before the Louisville classic, Mubtaahij traveled halfway around the world after winning the U.A.E. Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (UAE-II) and figured to need more time to get acclimated.

Mubtaahij is one of several Belmont contenders who have been rested since the Derby, settling in at Belmont Park for this race; while American Pharoah delivered another classic victory in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) two weeks after the Derby.

Mubtaahij - Coglianese Photos/Susie Raisher

Considering Mubtaahij's speed figure numbers in Dubai were comparable to this year's top U.S. 3-year-olds, I suspect he didn't run his best in the Derby. He's had time to acclimate, and now may be more likely to deliver his top effort. Throw in the likelihood that this distance suits him better than any other horse in the field, and he's my pick to win this year's Belmont.

The picks: 1. Mubtaahij, 2. Materiality, 3. American Pharoah, 4. Frosted 

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