Speed is key for American Pharoah in 2015 Belmont Stakes

Profile Picture: James Scully

May 20th, 2015

American Pharoah carried his speed all the way in sensational fashion at Pimlico, a stark contrast to the Kentucky Derby where he rated a couple of lengths behind pacesetter Dortmund down the backstretch before working hard to grind out a one-length victory.

Is there any doubt surrounding his best tactics for the June 6 Belmont Stakes?

Granted, American Pharoah is tractable enough to win from anywhere, providing jockey Victor Espinoza with options, and the colt may not be three lengths clear during the early stages of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont like the Preakness.

But there’s no need to rate just off the pace on June 6 -- American Pharoah’s best chance is on the front end, the supremely talented speedster runs rivals into the ground from that position.

None of the rivals being assembled for the Belmont can keep up if Espinoza lets American Pharoah scoot from the start.

I predicted Espinoza would send in the Preakness, given American Pharoah’s natural speed and rail post, and wasn’t surprised by the outcome.

The front-running superstar rolled along a good clip while appearing completely relaxed and unhurried, true American Pharoah style.

But Espinoza’s post-race comments caught me off guard.

“Not before but after the rain I changed my mind,” Espinoza said when asked if he planned to lead wire to wire.

That worries me. The Triple Crown is so difficult and the path of least criticism, when it comes to the possibility of losing the Belmont, involves taking back.

If Espinoza allows another rival to seize the early advantage, settling a length or more behind and American Pharoah comes up short, he can say the horse didn’t have it.

But if Espinoza sends and runs out of steam, he can be blamed for going too fast on the lead.

Those personal concerns wound up costing California Chrome last year. The 2014 Derby and Preakness winner broke sharply from the rail in the Belmont, about a half-length up on the field before Espinoza took a strong hold, wrestling his mount back in the pack before guiding him outside for a wide trip the rest of the way.

California Chrome was the lone speed on paper, winning multiple starts wire to wire earlier in his career, but Espinoza’s tactics allowed confirmed plodder Commissioner to almost steal the race on the lead, finishing a nose second to Tonalist on the wire.

Speed serves as a tremendous weapon for American Pharoah and there’s no need to play cute in the Belmont Stakes.