by Tom Carley
The BELMONT STAKES is now in the history books. What a performance put in by American Pharoah as he became the first Triple Crown winner since 1978! This is the last column of BABYTALK for the 2015 Triple Crown season. Look for us to return in October as we look at the up and coming 2-year-olds who may be 2016 contenders.
This column will be a wrap up of the season. This week’s Featured Three:
I. BELMONT STAKES NOTES
- Pace makes race: When I saw that the time in BELMONT STAKES was 1:13 for the first 6 furlongs, I knew the race was over. A horse like American Pharoah simply can’t be allowed to set that easy of a pace and expect to be caught at the end. The slow pace allowed a front runner like American Pharoah to go all the way as he saved much energy in the first half of the race.
- Horses had shots: On two different occasions I thought horses were going to challenge and go past the winner. At the 3/8ths pole Mubtaahij started to make a move and got within a length of the leader. This is a similar move to the one that he made in Dubai. He just did not get past the winner this time. At the 3/16ths pole Frosted started to challenge American Pharoah, but he tired and provided no threat.
- Great for the sport The Triple Crown win was great for the sport. I was at a street festival later that evening and heard at least a dozen people talking about horse racing. This was a first for me since I moved back from Kentucky. Even CNN covered this "horse with the misspelled name":
- Let’s hope the sport generates many new fans.
- NBC’s Great Coverage For the first time in 8 years, I did not watch a Triple Crown race either at the venue or at an OTB: this was the first time I saw NBC’s coverage. They did a great job interviewing the connections, following them on the walkover, and detailing the recent failed Triple Crown attempts. This kind of coverage shows why NBC needs to be the vehicle that brings our sport to network television.
- Faced Many Foes American Pharoah faced over thirty foes in winning the Triple Crown. This is the second highest number ever faced.
II. CHURCHILL DOWNS DID A GREAT JOB HONORING AMERICAN PHAROAH
Churchill Downs got heavily criticized last year for the way it handled the Triple Crown. This year the racetrack built a new VIP area for the owners of the twenty contestants. Included were the horses' racing colors painted on the roof of this VIP area that sits adjacent to the winner’s circle. I had the fortune of visiting this area the day before the BELMONT STAKES, because I was in Louisville for a conference. The colors from KENTUCKY DERBY 2015 of all the horses that had run for the roses were still atop the roof.
As a part of the STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP on June 13 (and after dark racing card) Churchill Downs honored American Pharoah and his connections. The Triple Crown winner was paraded past the stands adorned in a blanket bearing the symbols of all three Triple Crown races. After the walk in front of the grandstand, the horse was led into the paddock to his stall #18 where American Pharoah was saddled before he ran the KENTUCKY DERBY. Churchill Downs even put up the identifying sign bearing his name on the back stall wall. It is estimated that this ceremony increased attendance 5,000- 10,000 fans at that Saturday Night’s card.
As the fans crowded into the paddock area and snapped pictures of this impressive equine, I could not help but ask myself how many new fans this horse has brought to the sport over the last six weeks? Is it no wonder that the steed has his own Facebook page? https://www.facebook.com/pages/American-Pharoah/704945992931540
I know the Churchill Downs was heavily criticized by California Chrome’s connections last year, but the track's effort in upgrading their facilities and honoring the 12th Triple Crown winner has once again shown me why historic Churchill Downs remains the racetrack that the world sets its eyes on during the first week of May.
III. WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE 3-YEAR-OLDS?
As I was cleaning out my desk before writing this column, I came across several articles written the weeks before the KENTUCKY DERBY which heavily lauded this group of 3-year-olds. I stopped to ask myself, "what happened to this group?" Citations from the articles I reread today used phrases like:
- Best crop of 3-year-olds in 40 years.
- 6 horses have run Beyer speed figures over 100.
When I watched a replay of the Triple Crown races, I am reminded that the KENTUCKY DERBY was run in a conveyor-belt-like fashion in which the top three horses had the lead and remained that way all the way around the track. Where were all these other great 3-yearolds? I remember the thunderstorm that turned Pimlico into a mud bog shortly before the running of the PREAKNESS, and understand why that race was so one-sided. American Pharoah took the field in gate-to-wire style on the front end in the BELMONT STAKES, with only modest challenges put forth by Mubtaahij and Frosted. Once again, I wonder where the parity was among this group?
I asked myself a simple question: was this 3-year old crop overrated? Or is American Pharoah that good?
The answer will come soon enough when these 3-year-olds begin to face older horses as Summer turns into Fall. There is a relatively healthy and fast group of 4-year-olds awaiting this group of 3-year-old challengers. The true barometer will be how American Pharoah, Frosted, International Star (remember he missed the Triple Crown races) and the other 3-year-olds do when they face the older horses. I still think the BREEDER’S CUP CLASSIC could be a special race. I am not ready to sell this group of 3-year-olds short yet, and look for an upset or two to happen as we near Halloween in Lexington.