American Pharoah draws post 5, at 3-5
ELMONT, N.Y. – Bob Baffert is hoping the fourth time is the charm.
Three times previously he has been in the same position he now finds himself with American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, and War Emblem in 2002. All three were tripped up in the final jewel of the Triple Crown, their names now part of the lengthy list of horses who have failed to complete the sweep since Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner in 1978.
On Saturday, American Pharoah steps to the plate. He will either become the 12th Triple Crown winner or the 14th horse since Affirmed – and the 24th overall – who won the Derby and Preakness but did not win the Belmont.
“I never thought I’d go through this again,” Baffert said.
Having done it three times previously, though, Baffert has not been overwhelmed by the moment. He has been in a particularly lighthearted mood in recent days, and it doesn’t seem like false bravado. Much of that, though, likely emanates from the confidence he has in American Pharoah. Baffert won’t say it publicly, but it’s pretty obvious that as good as Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and War Emblem were, American Pharoah represents his best chance to win the Triple Crown, and perhaps is the best horse he has ever trained.
“I’ve never had a horse that travels over the ground like he does,” Baffert said. “His biggest weapon is he’s fast. There’s something in there that makes him different from other horses.”
When American Pharoah arrived at Belmont Park on Tuesday, Baffert said he thought the colt looked “really well for what he’s been through.” His itinerary has been compressed, with no margin for error, for months preceding the Triple Crown. After a layoff because of an injury prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, American Pharoah did not have his first workout of 2015 until Feb. 2, made his first start March 14, and now will be racing for the fifth time in 12 weeks, with the final three starts, the Triple Crown races, coming at three tracks in three states at three different distances, in the space of five weeks.
“You have to earn it,” Baffert said. “If he’s a great horse, he has to do it.”
Baffert has won the Belmont once, in 2001 with Point Given, who was fifth in the Derby but then won the Preakness and Belmont. Of his prior Belmont starters, Point Given “was the only one who gained weight,” Baffert said.
“He got bigger and bigger,” Baffert said.
American Pharoah “was the most tired he’s been” after the Derby, Baffert said, “yet he bounced back in the Preakness.”
“I’ve never had a horse win the Preakness like that,” he said.
As for the Belmont, “the mile a half, we don’t know,” Baffert said. “That’s what this test is all about.”
A field of eight entered the Belmont on Wednesday, with American Pharoah drawing post 5. From the rail out, the field is Mubtaahij, Tale of Verve,
Madefromlucky, Frammento, American Pharoah, Frosted, Keen Ice, and Materiality.
American Pharoah is the 3-5 favorite on the line set by Mike Watchmaker,
national handicapper. He has Materiality as the second choice at 9-2, with Frosted at 5-1.
Eric Donovan, who makes the morning line at Belmont Park, also has American Pharoah at 3-5, with Frosted the second choice at 5-1 and Materiality next at 6-1.
Loaded Belmont undercard
It isn’t often that a trainer could run the defending Breeders’ Cup Classic winner in a Grade 1 race and have it be only the second-most important race of his day.
Such is the case for Baffert, who two hours before he saddles American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes will send out Bayern in the $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. The Met Mile is one of five other Grade 1 races – and nine other stakes – on a 13-race card that begins at 11:35 a.m. Eastern. The Met Mile will go as race 9 on the program.
Bayern drew post 7 and was installed as the 7-2 second choice on Donovan’s morning line. Bayern is coming off a lastplace finish as the 4-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes on May 2, his first start of the year.
Twice previously Bayern has rebounded from a bad performance to win a major race. Last year, after finishing ninth in the Preakness, Bayern won the Grade 2 Woody Stephens here. He also won the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby after finishing last in the Travers at Saratoga.
Bayern meets a very tough group that includes last year’s Belmont Stakes winner, Tonalist, who is 4 for 4 in graded stakes at Belmont Park, and Private Zone, a two-time Grade 1 winner at Belmont and the winner of the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last fall at Aqueduct. Private Zone likely will have to use his speed from the rail. Tonalist, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, breaks from post 4.
Others entered include Wicked Strong, Honor Code, Tamarkuz, Bay of Plenty, Pants On Fire, Kobe’s Back, and Noble Moon.
Untapable 2-5 in Ogden Phipps
Untapable, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, heads a field of six entered for the Grade 1, $1 million Ogden Phipps, which will go as race 5 (1:52 p.m.). Wedding Toast, the winner of the Grade 2 Ruffian, and Princess Violet, second to Untapable in the Grade 1 Mother Goose last year, are Untapable’s main challengers.
Untapable will break from post 4 under John Velazquez.
Finnegans Wake tops Manhattan
Twilight Eclipse was installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite, but Finnegans Wake is likely the horse to beat in the Grade 1, $1 million Manhattan Stakes at 1 1/4 miles, the race immediately preceding the Belmont.
Finnegans Wake has won four of his last five starts. including a head victory in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at 1 1/8 miles on Derby Day at Churchill Downs. He will break from post 3 under Victor Espinoza.
Twilight Eclipse, coming off his first Grade 1 victory in the Man o’ War, is drawn immediately to his inside. Other opponents include War Dancer, beaten a neck by Twilight Eclipse in the Man o’ War, and a trio of horses from Chad Brown’s barn – Big Blue Kitten, Hyper, and Slumber. Jack Milton, a Grade 1 winner at shorter distances, and General a Rod, attempting turf for the first time, go out for Todd Pletcher.
Jerkens pair tops Brooklyn
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens holds a pair of aces for the Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn in Travers winner V. E. Day and the everimproving Effinex. Those two head a field of 13 entered for the 1 1/2-mile race.
V. E. Day won last year’s Travers at 1 1/4 miles and is going from turf to dirt for the third time in his career. The previous two times he’s done it, he won a maiden race at Belmont Park and the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.
Effinex is 2 for 2 this year, including a three-quarter- length victory over Red Rifle in the Grade 3 Excelsior at 1 1/4 miles. Red Rifle is entered in this spot but was cross-entered in Friday’s $250,000 Belmont Gold Cup at two miles on turf. Red Rifle’s trainer, Pletcher, also entered Coach Inge and Micromanage in the Brooklyn. In other stakes:
Shook Up, the runner-up in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, drew post 8 and was made the morning-line favorite for the Grade 1 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies at a mile.
Coffee Clique will aim for her second consecutive victory in the Grade 1, $700,000 Just a Game Stakes against a field that includes Tepin, who defeated Coffee Clique in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill, and Ball Dancing, the winner of the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland in her last start.
Power Alert, the winner of the Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day, and Ageless, the winner of the The Very One at Pimlico on BlackEyed Susan Day, were supplemented to the field for the Grade 3, $300,000 Jaipur Invitational. The Jaipur drew a field of 13 and will go as race 4.
The undefeated Competitive Edge heads a field of six entered in the Grade 2, $500,000 Woody Stephens at seven furlongs. Competitive Edge will break from post 3 under Velazquez and face stakes winners Cinco Charlie, March, and Ready for Rye as well as Two Weeks Off and Classy Class.
American Pharoah will aim for his seventh straight graded stakes win in the Belmont Stakes.