Does Materiality take it to American Pharoah in 2015 Belmont Stakes?

Profile Picture: James Scully

May 28th, 2015

American Pharoah continues to train forwardly in advance of the June 6 Belmont Stakes and at face value, no rival appears capable of stopping him. However, the grind of the five-week Triple Crown trail, coupled with the 1 ½-mile Belmont distance, can be extreme.

When it comes to viable upset contenders, Materiality is often the first horse mentioned. He possesses the speed to be a serious early factor in a race lacking front-runners.

Materiality raced on or close to the lead winning his first three starts this year, including an impressive Florida Derby victory over Upstart that netted a 105 BRIS Speed rating.

The son of 2005 Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex established himself as a serious win candidate but drew post 3 in the Kentucky Derby, a severe liability considering the lack of foundation for the unraced juvenile. Materiality was caught flat-footed at the break, slamming into the starting gate as well.

The disastrous beginning compromised any win chance, with Materiality being shuffled back in traffic during the opening furlongs, and trouble continued as he was stopped in traffic while rallying forward on the far turn. After appearing certain to finish far up the track in upper stretch, Materiality offered an eye-catching move past more than half the field to be sixth, beaten 7 ¾ lengths, and his 101 BRIS Late Pace rating was easily a field-best.

The Todd Pletcher trainee skipped the Preakness in favor of a Belmont bid, training over the 1 ½-mile oval during the five-week interim. He gained valuable seasoning last time, making his first start outside the friendly confines of Gulfstream Park in the Kentucky Derby, and Materiality looks capable of building upon an encouraging effort.

His speed is key considering American Pharoah’s skill set – the Bob Baffert-trained colt ran the competition ragged setting the Preakness pace. One school of thought believes Victor Espinoza should send the dual classic winner straight from the Belmont starting gate: the Preakness showed it doesn’t matter how fast he runs early, American Pharoah finds a way to catch a breather on the front end.

But if another horse breaks running with good speed, Espinoza may be content to sit close considering American Pharoah’s versatility, with the tractable colt winning the Kentucky Derby and Arkansas Derby from just off the pace.

Predicting race shapes in the Belmont is far from an exact science – I didn’t expect to see Commissioner showing the way last year – and Wednesday’s post position draw will determine who starts inside.

But with the exception of Materiality, none of the Belmont rivals appear quick enough to run with American Pharoah.

Materiality could make it difficult for the overwhelming favorite and his early tactics are an important storyline heading into the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes.