Amer­i­can Pharoah draws post 5, at 3-5

Daily Racing Form Saturday Stakes Preview - - FRONT PAGE - – Jay Priv­man – David Gren­ing

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.

BAR­BARA D. LIVINGSTON

Amer­i­can Pharoah will aim for his sev­enth straight graded stakes win in the Bel­mont Stakes.

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