The first two legs of the Triple Crown Series are behind us and we are on the verge of what could be a historical afternoon at the 2015 Belmont Stakes. After victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, American Pharoah will be entering the starting gate with a chance at racing immortality.
Can American Pharoah be the 12th Triple Crown winner? That is the beauty of it all. We all get to debate that point over the next three weeks until we sit back, try to relax, and enjoy the Sport of Kings during the Belmont Stakes as American Pharoah looks to joins racing immortality. Below are some reasons why he can will the Belmont Stakes and some reasons that are programmatic in his Triple Crown bid.
Why American Pharoah Will Be the 12th Triple Crown Champion
He Is The Reigning Two-Year-Old Champion
I can hear everyone already. Why does that matter? If history is a guide, there is a lot to factor in this regard. Of the last seven Triple Crown winners, six of them were champions at two. Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed were all two-year-old champions. What can be gleaned from this? Clearly a steady and not overwhelming two-year-old campaign can build a foundation for the three-year-old campaign. Is it the deciding factor? Of course not, but to discard it is a mistake.
The Empire Is Strong With Him
He has Empire Maker in his bloodline which is an obvious plus. For those that do not remember, Empire Maker spoiled the Triple Crown bid of Funny Cide in the 2003 Belmont Stakes. Empire Maker glided over the track to victory, holding off Ten Most Wanted. American Pharoah has a stride that is very similar to the one displayed by Empire Maker. While not great weather, the fact that Empire Maker ran very well at a mile and a half only bodes well for American Pharoah.
Victor Espinoza will be aboard American Pharoah for his shot at history but this is not the jockey’s first try at a Triple Crown. Espinoza was the jockey aboard War Emblem in 2002 when he broke poorly out of the gate and over-exerted to get back into the race before fading. He was also the jockey aboard California Chrome in 2014 when he attempted to win it all. It is argued that Espinoza made a few bad decisions on California Chrome that contributed to finishing fourth. Espinzoa should have learned from that mistake. This will be his third shot at a Triple Crown, making him the only jockey with three attempts, but will he succeed this time? Most of that will depend on American Pharoah but the pressure should not be a factor for Espinoza.
His Style Runs The Right Way
The running style that American Pharoah can employ is exactly what this race needs. He has the ability to take the front and set the pace or can sit just off the pace and pounce on the far turn. The misnomer and popular belief is that the mile and a half of the Belmont Stakes sets up for a deep closer. The reality is that it is just not true. Near the pace or in mid-pack are the two ideal locations to capitalize on victory. In the last 12 years, only one Belmont Stakes champion came from way back. Many were mid-pack, up front or in an overall bunched up field. That sits well when looking at how American Pharoah wants to attack the Belmont Stakes.
Why We Will Wait Another Year For A Triple Crown Champion
For American Pharoah, the Belmont Stakes will be his third race in five weeks. A more traditional schedule would see him run once every four or five weeks. The shorter race period is clearly a challenge for any horse chasing Triple Crown history including American Pharoah. On top of that, the Belmont Stakes and its mile and a half distance is the longest of all the Triple Crown races. That is one heck of a way to end a race cycle.
While it is true that some top horses return to challenge the Kentucky Derby champion in the Preakness Stakes, some bypass the middle jewel to wait for the Belmont Stakes. Frosted for example, had a great closing kick in the Kentucky Derby but chose to bypass the Preakness Stakes in lieu of the Belmont Stakes. Materiality, who did not have the best Kentucky Derby trip, will be waiting in New York as well. The last nine Belmont Stakes winners have either missed the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. Look no further than Tonalist, last year’s winner of the Belmont Stakes.
The “Big Sandy” Factor
Anyone that even casually follows racing will tell you that Belmont Park and its sandy surface, affectionately referred to as “Big Sandy,” is a unique track. American Pharoah has yet to experience the track and it will remain to be seen whether he will take to it or not. Previous Triple Crown winners like Affirmed or Seattle Slew were actually based and trained at “Big Sandy.” The track is a variable that cannot be answered until he gets to run over the surface.