American Pharoah intimidating but questions remain for horse players

Profile Picture: James Scully

May 5th, 2015

American Pharoah was clearly best in the Kentucky Derby, edging away to a one-length victory as the 5-2 favorite, and the talented colt may have more to offer in the final two legs of the Triple Crown.

But his 100 BRIS Speed rating, one of the lowest we’ve seen from a Kentucky Derby winner, must be considered disappointing and horse players have reason to ask: Will American Pharoah’s Speed ratings eventually catch up to him?

American Pharoah established himself as the clear leader of a projected strong crop of three-year-olds, making just his third start since September and sixth career outing on Derby Day, and the Run for the Roses represented the first real test in his relatively brief career. He is still fresh with room for improvement.

And he overcame a less-than-ideal trip, wide the entire way from post 18 and floated toward the center of the track by Firing Line leaving the far turn. American Pharoah always appeared poised to strike before determinedly proving best in the final furlongs at Churchill Downs.

His superiority on track inspires predictions of a Triple Crown sweep, and American Pharoah brings an air of superiority to the equation, but the lower Speed ratings remain a valid concern.

He came home slowly in the Kentucky Derby (final quarter-mile in 26.57 seconds) and has not distinguished himself from a Speed rating perspective in any of his two-turn starts, registering 99-99-102-100 in four attempts. His career-best number (103) came in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity.

Those BRIS Speed ratings pale in comparison to recent Kentucky Derby winners and don’t mark American Pharoah as an exceptionally fast horse – we’re still waiting for the speedy bay colt to deliver on this front.

The moderate pace (:47 1/5, 1:11 1/5 & 1:36 2/5) helped keep the final number down, but the 2014 Kentucky Derby was even slower up front (:47 1/5, 1:11 4/5 & 1:37 2/5) and California Chrome finished the final quarter-mile more than a half-second faster than American Pharoah despite being eased up in the last 20 yards by Victor Espinoza, registering a 103 BRIS Speed for the 1 ¾-length decision.

And California Chrome earned a 106 Speed winning the Santa Anita Derby beforehand. On paper, he performed much faster last year than American Pharoah.

American Pharoah may be able to raise his game in the Preakness, where Bob Baffert’s three previous Derby winners (Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem) all came back to win two weeks later, and it could be a case where we’ve overstated the qualifications of the competition. But, at least presently, his lower BRIS Speed ratings represent a potential chink in his armor.

(American Pharoah photo: Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photo)