The Belmont Stakes are this weekend. And, for those not familiar with horse racing, it is the third race in the crowned jewel of American horse racing. The New York track is also far longer than either the Preakness or the Kentucky Derby. That, coupled with the fact that it’s a 3rd strenuous race in a five week span makes it a dream crusher. The reason is: by and large, racehorses are either/or runners. They’re either built for sprints or long distance. The last time a horse was truly built for both, Secretariat beat Sham by 31 lengths in the most incredible individual performance by a horse in the history of thoroughbred racing–yes, I am aware Affirmed won the Triple Crown five years later, and yes, I am aware that his race versus Alydar was one for the ages. Affirmed over Alydar in 1978 was the last time a horse won the Triple Crown.
Here’s why that drought is over.
Before I get more into the specifics, understand this. American Pharoah is not Secretariat–he doesn’t even wear Secretariat PJs, or Affirmed PJs for that matter. Still, the better comparison is between Affirmed and Pharoah, the fact that Pharoah would get smoked by both horses notwithstanding.
Let’s start with the kind of horse American Pharoah is. The horse’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile, placed second in the Kentucky Derby in 2009. The horses grandsire, Empire Maker, won the Belmont Stakes in 2003. So, Pharoah’s bloodline has shown well in major Triple Crown races of varying lengths.
Pharoah’s dam’s pedigree is relatively uneventful with one small exception: Pharoah’s great-great damsire–maternal grandfather, knight lineages are less confusing–happened to sire Affirmed!
Make no mistake, American Pharoah is not a slam dunk horse by any stretch. He’s a pedigreed horse from a bloodline with prior success running long distance races like the Belmont. However, he’s a few generations removed from true greatness. Moreover, due to the length of the Belmont Stakes, we are likely to see distances horses enter the field fresh. These horses have no business running in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, but they do have business in spoiling Pharoah’s fun.
Still, consider the wins the horse already has, the Preakness and the Derby. And, based on his bloodlines, those are the races you would predict Pharoah to be shaky in. This horse appears to have been bred for distance and trained for sprints. If that’s the case, then we should be in for an incredible spectacle in New York on Saturday.
The reality is: the field just isn’t that strong this year. Barring anything wild, this race is Pharoah’s for the taking. Is this a guarantee? No. Can anything happen in horse racing? Just about.
Still, one thing is certain. American Pharoah may win the Triple Crown, but it will never be Lou Wolfson’s Affirmed nor Penny Tweedy’s Secretariat. However, I would like to see a Triple Crown in my lifetime, and American Pharoah has one of the best chances in 3 decades to deliver.
Enjoy the race!
PS: this is the unmatched feat by Secretariat.