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Preakness 2015: Defending American Pharoah’s Derby Win

Preakness 2015: Defending American Pharoah’s Derby Win– Bettors wishing to play against American Pharoah on Saturday, May 16, 2015 in the GI Preakness Stakes might become discouraged by the fact that trainer Bob Baffert never lost the Preakness with any of his Kentucky Derby champions. But, much criticism has been made over three points of American Pharoah’s Derby win: the slim margin of victory, 32 whips by jockey Victor Espinoza and the “slow” pace. Of course, there are holes in the three arguments and this article will focus on using history and logic to refute them.

American Pharoah Preakness Stakes 2015

Bettors wishing to play against American Pharoah on Saturday, May 16, 2015 in the GI Preakness Stakes might become discouraged by the fact that trainer Bob Baffert never lost the Preakness with any of his Kentucky Derby champions. Photo: Benoit

Ironically, two of Baffert’s previous Preakness winners, Silver Charm and Real Quiet, came into the Preakness after winning the Derby by slim margins. Silver Charm made a career out of winning close finishes, as his habit was not letting the other horse by once he saw them. In the 1997 Kentucky Derby, Silver Charm put away Free House in the stretch before holding off Captain Bodgit in a dramatic finish that showed off Silver Charm’s heart and determination to win races. After reviewing the race on YouTube, one part about the finish stood out and matched this year’s Derby. Silver Charm, Free House and Captain Bodgit created separation from the field, with Free House regressing slightly towards the end.

Just replace Dortmund with Free House and American Pharoah with Silver Charm. Firing Line was on the inside of American Pharoah, but he takes Captain Bodgit’s role by default. The fact those three horses were close in ability did not take away from their ability. All three proved their superiority, and they finished 1-2-3 in the Preakness again! This time, Free House and Captain Bodgit switched positions.

In the 1998 Derby, Real Quiet made a wide move on the far turn, started to pull away in California Chrome style, then faded nearing the end and barely held off Victory Gallop. Then Real Quiet went on to win the Preakness in a more authoritative manner by two lengths over Victory Gallop once more, before Victory Gallop spoiled his Triple Crown dreams by mowing Real Quiet down in the Belmont Stakes three weeks later. Still, these two examples prove that a small Derby-winning margin does not translate into a Preakness loss necessarily.

As for the alleged 32 whips by Espinoza, the jockey got carried away there. In general, the effect of whip use is overstated though. Think back to a few weeks before the Kentucky Derby when American Pharoah won the Arkansas Derby in a hand ride. At least quite a few fans were expecting domination again because they held the common logic that “if American Pharoah can run that way without being asked or whipped, imagine how many lengths faster he will go once asked.”

Well, Espinoza asked and American Pharoah answered. Some fans were not enthusiastic about the response. Yet, just a few weeks ago, there was absolute certainty that using the whip would make American Pharoah even more invincible. Does the whip affect the horse or not? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Espinoza used the whip too much, but at some point in those 32 whips, the effect evaporated, which means the horse ran on his own will.

American Pharoah still had enough talent to run wide through a normal pace and pass Firing Line and Dortmund. He deserves credit for that, regardless of the whip use.

The third criticism of a slow pace, is also refutable. Historically, Churchill Downs has not run at the breakneck speed of Santa Anita or the old Gulfstream Park dirt surface. Opening in 23 seconds and going in 47 for the half is considered normal for a nine furlong race on most days. For a 10 furlong race, going at that pace seems reasonable, if not fast. TimeformUS believes the pace went at a normal rate, according to their figure maker on the TVG Insider Blog.

Dortmund, Firing Line and American Pharoah opened up in the top three positions, and the three finished 1-2-3 in reverse order. Because none of them ever dropped out, the pace received the “slow” label on internet land. Yet, the top three were highly regarded coming into the Derby and withstood fast-paced races before.

Whether American Pharoah wins the Preakness remains to be seen. This post only intends to defend his Derby triumph as a quality win. Racing fans are different than in the past. Gritty wins over quality horses are seen as questionable, while the big margin victories generate more attention and reverence. There are few flaws in American Pharoah, although his expected Preakness challengers are talented in their own right. An exciting week lies ahead.

Preakness Stakes 2015 Post Positions & Odds
Race 13 6:18 pm ET
1 American Pharoah 4-5 Espinoza/Baffert
2 Dortmund 7-2 Garcia/Baffert
3 Mr. Z 20-1 Nakatani/Lukas
4 Danzig Moon 15-1 Leparoux/Casse
5 Tale of Verve 30-1 Rosario/Stewart
6 Bodhisatttva 20-1 McCarthy/Corrales
7 Divining Rod 12-1 Castellano/Delacour
8 Firing Line 4-1 Stevens/Callaghan

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