Preakness Recap: The good, the bad and the ugly

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Derek Simon

May 19th, 2015

He came. He saw. He conquered.

After giving his all to win the Kentucky Derby by a hard-fought length, American Pharoah cruised in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, pulling away to a 7-length score in the Preakness Stakes, while his two closest pursuers in Louisville, Dortmund and Firing Line, were left in his muddy wake.

At the finish, Dortmund was 15 ½ lengths in arrears; Firing Line was in a different zip code.

Naturally, before American Pharoah had even dried from the sudden rainstorm that changed the Pimlico surface from “fast” to “sloppy” in the blink of an eye, talk of a Triple Crown had already begun.

“American Pharoah is special,” said trainer D. Wayne Lukas. “I think this could be the year.”

Of course, Lukas was also adamant about running Mr. Z in the Preakness, noting that the colt — sold by Zayat Stables (owner of the race winner) to Calumet Farm at the 11th hour —  was “better than I have ever had him."

Mr. Z was beaten by 17 ¼ lengths.

Still, there’s no denying that American Pharoah looks the part of a Triple Crown winner and, according to Chris Chase of USA Today, he has another thing going for him — a cool name.

“The only horses that can win Triple Crowns have powerful names,” noted Chase. “American Pharoah fits into that category. Say it aloud: American Pharoah. The name projects strength, vigor and triumph. That’s what a horse needs to win the biggest prize in the sport.”

Be that as it may, to etch his “powerful” name into the history books, American Pharoah will probably need to run a bit faster in New York than he has in either Kentucky or Maryland.

After earning a subpar 100 Brisnet speed figure in the Kentucky Derby, Bob Baffert’s stable star recorded an even-worse 95 BSF in the Preakness (it has since been adjusted to 100), albeit over a track that took in more water than infield patrons took in vodka during a blinding rainstorm that descended on Pimlico shortly before post time for the featured event.

In fact, if one wanted to take a glass-half-full view of Pharoah’s Preakness performance, his speed rations (my own pace figures, which measure energy disbursement) give hope.

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For, despite expending an insane amount of energy early (-14 early speed ration), the son of Pioneerof the Nile recorded the best dirt-race Pace Profile of the day (-2 degrees).

The Pace Profile is, in essence, a comparison of a horse’s laste speed ration (LSR) to the pace of the race. A negative PP indicates a horse that went relatively faster early than late, whereas a positive PP denotes the opposite. For American Pharoah to have earned a -2 PP after setting such a fast pace is impressive.

By way of comparison, when Palace Malice recorded a -16 ESR in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, his Pace Profile was -81 degrees… and, five weeks later, he won the Belmont Stakes.

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Obviously, American Pharoah will need to be at his very best in Elmont, NY. 34 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, yet less than a third (11, to be exact) have emerged as Triple Crown champions. And the list of near-misses is impressive, including such track luminaries as Northern Dancer, Majestic Prince, Spectacular Bid and Sunday Silence.

One thing's for sure: It's going to be a fun three weeks.