American Pharoah needs perfect storm to win 2015 Belmont Stakes

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

May 21st, 2015

American Pharoah probably didn’t need the help, but a perfect storm played a part in washing away the chances of his main rivals in last Saturday’s Preakness.

In order to sweep the Triple Crown in the June 6 Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah needs another perfect storm. Not necessarily the kind that will bring a deluge of rain and turn the track in to a sea of slop, although that might help (again). 

No, what American Pharoah needs is a perfect confluence of circumstances, leading up to the Belmont and during the race itself, in order to win.

One of the reasons why it’s become so difficult to sweep the series is that the size of the Belmont field when a Triple Crown is on the line has become much larger in recent years. The 11 Triple Crown winners faced an average of 4.36 rivals in the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion.” Generally speaking, today’s would-be aspirants often face 2-3 times as many saboteurs.

There have been a wide variety of factors that derailed every Triple Crown threat since 1979, but most can be lumped into a few categories.

Pre-race imperfection: Aside from the general weariness and fatigue associated with winning the first two legs, American Pharoah needs to avoid any additional mishaps. The Belmont-morning lameness of Spectacular Bid (1979), the lingering quarter-crack issues of Big Brown (2008), and the infirmities that kept I’ll Have Another (2012) from starting altogether are all musts-to-avoid.

Stumbling, fumbling: Several recent Triple Crown bid have arguably been lost at the start. War Emblem (2002) stumbled badly, Big Brown broke awkwardly, and California Chrome (2014) grabbed a quarter leaving the gate. American Pharoah needs a perfect start.

Pace makes the race: Numerous Triple Crown bids went up in flames due to pace factors. Spectacular Bid was too headstrong down the backside and ultimately wore himself out. Pleasant Colony (1981) and Alysheba (1987) were kept too far behind a slow pace (not a problem for American Pharoah), while Charismatic (1999), War Emblem, Funny Cide (2003), and Smarty Jones (2004) either raced too close to a fast pace or found themselves as a target too early (a potential problem for American Pharoah).

Miscellaneous: Sunday Silence (1989) had a rival in Easy Goer that was nearly as good and much better suited to winning over his own home track. Silver Charm (1997) narrowly lost due to a masterful ride by Chris McCarron aboard Touch Gold, while Real Quiet (1998) perhaps opened up too much, too soon, and was beaten a dirty nose by Victory Gallop.

There might not be much American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza can do to avoid the miscellaneous factors, but sidestepping the first three can get the dynamic colt three-quarters of the way to the Belmont winner’s circle and the history books.