By Kevin Martin
Torrential rain came to Baltimore about ten minutes before post-time of the Preakness Stakes but that didn’t bother the Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah. He cruised to an easy win over a track that went from fast to sloppy in a matter of minutes at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday. American Pharoah is now on his way to the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become the twelfth winner of the Triple Crown.
American Pharoah, breaking from the number one post position, veered to the right out of the gate but quickly straightened and went to the lead. For the first half mile, longshot Mr Z pressed him on the pace but soon backed down to give the Kentucky Derby winner the lead alone by the time he reached the backstretch. As they approached the second turn American Pharoah felt pressure from a charge of three competitors who all moved to within a half length. The three challengers ran just behind behind the leader all the way around the final turn. As they turned for home, it was clear that American Pharoah was not giving up the lead. He gradually distanced himself from the field as he progressed down the stretch and crossed the finish line with an easy seven length victory. Longshot Tale of Verve finished a surprising second and Divining Rod ran third. The second place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, Firing Line, never threatened and finished a distant eighth, beating only one other horse. Dortmund, who was third in the Derby, sat off the pace, and was among the trio that challenged the winner in the final turn, but he flattened out in the stretch and finished fourth.
American Pharoah’s jockey Victor Espinoza said the rainy conditions and inside post position forced him to get to the lead early. As soon as the gates opened, he pushed his mount to the front, and led every step of the way. It’s the third time that Espinoza will enter the Belmont Stakes on a colt with a chance at the Triple Crown. “Hopefully, third time is a lucky charm,” he said. He is the first jockey in history to enter the Belmont Stakes in consecutive years with a chance for the ultimate trifecta. He rode California Chrome last year.
Trainer Bob Baffert summed up succinctly his fourth horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown: “Great horses, do great things.” It’s been thirteen years since Baffert’s last attempt for the sweep in 2002. That year, War Emblem stumbled out of the gate at the Belmont and finished a distant eighth. He came excruciatingly close with two second place finishes in the Belmont with Silver Charm and Real Quiet in 1997 and 1998.
American Pharoah will mark the fourteenth time that a horse will enter the Belmont Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978.
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