Sunday, May 17, 2015

Random thoughts on American Pharoah, the Belmont, and the Triple Crown

Things I think/believe after the 2015 Preakness:
  1. I thought before the Derby that American Pharoah and Mubtaahij were clearly the best of the bunch that I watched this spring. I bet accordingly and had a pretty good Derby Day. Fortunately, I was half right: AP is the real deal but the jury is still out on Mubtaahij (although I think he could be a lot better in the Belmont with a slower pace).
  2. If it rains on Belmont Day, I'm not sure any horse will be able to keep up with AP. His Rebel in the slop, paired with his Preakness victory, certainly doesn't inspire confidence that another colt can be better than AP on an off track. He simply eats that slop up. 
  3. I think AP's best chance to win the Belmont is to go to the lead and take it to his rivals. It's the same strategy I thought Espinoza should have employed with California Chrome last year. I know, I know - "it's a mile and a half! He'll be too tired at the end!" - is the line from the peanut gallery. But consider this: pretty much every horse in the field is not bred to go a mile and a half, that's just the nature of today's game.

    We don't breed horses to go 12 furlongs on dirt so what's the advantage of a speed horse slowing things down, allowing inferior horses stick around in a tightly bunched pack? The only thing that does is make it easier for the lesser colts to get the distance.

    I'm not suggesting that AP try to "Secretariat" the field, cause that's impossible. And it's not a Smarty Jones-situation where you had a colt with a clear pedigree issue that got rank and pulled to the front. Instead we have the most talented colt with a high cruising speed (and possible the best speed horse in the field), where I think it makes sense to make the others chase him.

    Send him to the front and run them into the ground. If non-speed types want to challenge him early, they'll be toast by the mile pole. Sure, you're vulnerable to the grinders late but that's going to be the case in any pace scenario at a mile and a half.

    [Plus just for historical purposes, check out every Triple Crown winner's Belmont chart - they all prompted the pace and ran on the lead. The path to the Crown is up front and without fear of the distance. IMHO.]
  4. I'm not sure how you make a figure for the Preakness that isn't either A) a complete guess, or B) simply giving AP the same number as his Rebel win and adjusting every other horse accordingly. The idea that you can create a variant from a sample size of one is beyond preposterous.
  5. There was a lot of talk about the whip and Espinoza's use of it during the Derby. But consider this little gem of a factoid:

    Espinoza hit AP zero times in the Rebel.
    Espinoza hit AP zero times in the Arkansas Derby.
    Espinoza hit AP an estimated 30 times in the Kentucky Derby.
    Espinoza hit AP zero times* in the Preakness.

    I don't know if any of that means anything, I just thought it was interesting.

    *Based on my viewing of the replay, it looks like Espinoza simply showed AP the whip but never actually reached back and hit him. So I'm calling it zero.
  6. AP's internal splits during the Preakness:

    1/4: 22.90
    1/2: 23.59
    3/4: 24.93
    Mile: 26.32
    Final 3/16: 20.72

    The final time was slow (as noted, ad nauseam, elsewhere), but the early pace was very strong. 
  7. Lots of quitters yesterday at Pimlico, including Dortmund, who clearly didn't want anything to do with that off track. He's a much better horse than what he showed in the Preakness but, I think it's safe to say, it's unwise to play this horse on an off track in the future.
  8. Tale of Verve didn't quit as he grinded his way to the runner-up position at the wire. The trip note might read "passed tiring horses" but I'd change that to "passed quitting horses."But regardless, he was one of the few that didn't spit the bit into the mud.

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