On Saturday, June 6, American Pharoah will attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. Over the years, there have been many that have tried and failed.
Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quit, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and California Chrome have all gone post-ward looking to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in horse racing history and they have all failed for one reason or another. Will American Pharoah meet the same demise? Time will tell. But I will say this, there is a reason why they call the Belmont Stakes, the “Test of the Champion.”
You are asking a 3-year-old to run three races in seven weeks with the last challenge being a mile-and-a-half. That is what makes the Belmont Stakes so grueling - 12 long furlongs. Trainer Bob Baffert said, “great horses do great things”, after watching his colt win the second jewel of the Triple Crown on Saturday in Baltimore. The 62-year-old Baffert has been here before, this is now the fourth time that he will bring a 3-year-old to Belmont Park with the crown on the line.
American Pharoah's owner, Ahmed Zayat said yesterday, “a sport is not a sport without a star.” That is very much true. He does have a 3-year-old star on his hands and the sport is starving for attention.
I have been a fan of the sport since I was 16-years-old and made my first trip to the Kentucky Derby with my Dad and my Uncle Pete. I am not here to convince anyone that horse racing is the greatest sport out there. That opinion is up to the individual sports fan. But I will say this: on Saturday the 6th of June, we will all be watching to see if we can witness a little history. That is what sports is all about.
Can he do it? American Pharoah has already shown you that he is at the top of the 3-year-old class. So he CAN do it. Will he? Not so sure about that. His final times in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness were rather pedestrian. His final time in the Preakness was really slow, finishing the race in 1:58.46. He relishes the slop as he showed in the Rebel Stakes in Arkansas so the conditions Saturday aided him. He walked home and was hit 32 times down the stretch of the Kentucky Derby by his jockey Victor Espinoza to grind down Firing Line under the Twin Spires. So the Preakness win looked easier then the Derby, but Pharoah did not show that he relished the classic distances. No matter, he won. But there will be a fair share of skeptics heading into the Belmont.
The sport needs the attention and it needs a star. Many decades ago, horse racing dominated the headlines. That was a different time in America. Can it get back to that? No. But what the sport can do is have a special day, and on that day a special horse might become the star the sport so desperately needs.