Heading into the holiday weekend with a Triple Crown attempt still alive and relevancy within the mainstream for a few more weeks, American Pharoah returned to the training track at Churchill Downs on Thursday morning. The Derby-Preakness winner jogged once around the one-mile oval under the Twin Spires in preparation for his historic try in two weeks in the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes.
American Pharoah’s Triple Crown hopes will likely find himself in a field of 11, including seven colts returning from the Kentucky Derby after skipping last weekend’s Preakness.
Tale of Verve is the only likely returner from last weekend’s race after a decent second-place finish in the slop at Pimlico.
During my conversation prior to the Preakness with trainer Mark Casse, he mentioned that Conquest Curlinate received the go sign from Conquest Stables to try the Belmont. He indicated this wouldn’t hamper a run in the Queen’s Plate for his Ontario-bred on July 5 at Woodbine for the colt who finished second behind Madefromlucky in the Peter Pan.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is loaded with three probable starters including the aforementioned Peter Pan winner as well as Carpe Diem and Materiality. The latter’s sire, Afleet Alex, won the 2005 Belmont completing two-thirds of the Triple Crown that year.
Casse is pointing Danzig Moon to the Queen’s Plate after a disappointing run at Pimlico. A vet who scoped him after the race was quoted as saying “he had half the track down his throat.”
The scene at Pimlico on Saturday was truly surreal, the weather turning on a dime with 15 MTP before the Preakness. I heard some complaints about why they didn’t move it forward to avoid the rain, but that’s just part of the game. In addition, over $33 million was wagered on the Preakness alone, a lot of that money is wagered in the last few minutes prior to post.
Start studying pedigrees now, the mile-and-a-half Belmont is truly “The Test of a Champion” and those stayers with stamina are the ones to back when it comes to the third jewel of the Triple Crown. If you’re wondering about Pharoah’s stamina, his grandsire Empire Maker was himself a Triple Crown spoiler, defeating Funny Cide in 2003.
Can American Pharoah do it? That will be the question posed at the water cooler for the next two weeks. His front-running style benefits him as a Belmont runner, which favors a horse on or around the lead at most, if not all, points of call. Closers rarely win the Belmont and without a real pace presser, he rates as good a chance as any of the last 12 Triple Crown attempts at Belmont Park.
I really like Frosted, but am concerned if he doesn’t have any pace to run into, he won’t be a win threat, but an exotics play underneath. Materiality is still lightly raced and still gaining maturity, but he’s extremely talented.
Keen Ice’s sire Curlin came in second in 2007 and sired the 2013 Belmont winner in Palace Malice, so he’s another to consider. Mubtaahij definitely has the stamina, but has he adjusted enough since shipping over from the Derby and did he gain back some of the weight he supposedly lost?
There’s a lot to consider over the next few weeks on what should be a tremendous day of racing on June 6 at Big Sandy.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.