Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Post-Triple Crown World

After 37 years of bad starts, bad rides, bad trips, bad luck, and just plain old horses that weren't good enough to pull off the feat, a colt finally successfully navigated the Triple Crown gauntlet. American's Pharoah's run into racing history was, almost ironically, lacking in the drama of a desperate finish at the wire. Instead, us racing fans were treated to another smooth, consistent, and rival-crushing race by the best three-year-old thoroughbred in America.

The wait is over. Now a new world, one with the first Triple Crown winner in almost four decades, begins.

In my conversations with non-horse racing fans over the last ten years, the most common question (by far) that I've been asked is "do you think a horse will ever win the Triple Crown again?" And my answer every time without exception, was "yes."

I didn't know "when" it would happen, I didn't know "how" it would happen (although I had some theories), but there was no doubt in my mind that a horse would one day sweep all three races. The reason for my certainty? Because we'd come so close so many times. Had we witnessed 37 years of only two or three horses even getting a chance at the Triple Crown and then coming up short, my answer would be different. But we were close oh-so many times.

Starting with Spectacular Bid and ending with California Chrome, a long list of very good to great horses failed in the Belmont. But they didn't fail at the Belmont because the Triple Crown was impossible to achieve. They failed because of real flaws, real weaknesses, or simply getting beat by a better horse.

Spectacular Bid steps on a safety pin and then gets a questionable ride.

Sunday Silence is easily defeated by Belmont monster Easy Goer, who was clearly a better horse than Sunday Silence at a mile and a half. (A mile and a quarter was a different story.)

Funny Cide didn't bring his best race.

Real Quiet loses by a nose.

War Emblem stumbles out of the gate.

Smarty Jones did everything he could to win all three, but his pedigree got the best of him in that final testing quarter mile at Big Sandy.

Big Brown fought through foot issues and a circus-like atmosphere around his trainer, and then fails to finish the race.

California Chrome got stepped on coming out of the gate and then simply ran out of gas.

American Pharoah succeeded where others had failed because he was able to maintain great form over a grueling stretch of races while employing a running style that greatly reduces the chance of trouble.

In American dirt racing there is no greater asset a horse can possess than legitimate early speed. The ability to get to the front and set testing but sensible fractions will produce more winners than any other running style. We all know the difference between cheap speed - those horses that merely set things up for everyone else - and the dominant speed that we know will offer no chance for the others in the field if another horse (or horses) fails to put pressure on the leader.

Many, including yours truly, expected Materiality to provide the pace pressure to American Pharoah. In a race with little to no speed, Materiality was the only horse in the field with even a chance to run with him early.But even with a bit of a slow break by American Pharoah, Materiality was never able to really put pressure on the favorite, and I'm not sure it would have mattered either way because Materiality clearly didn't have it yesterday. After providing some token pressing of the leader, Materiality threw in the towel before he was even half way through the far turn. Imagine if he had gunned it to the lead? He might not have made it a mile. Well, he didn't make it a mile; might not have made it 6f.

John Velazquez after the race, said this about his colt's chances early on:
"We were going slow enough, with those fractions, but I just didn't have anything. I was in trouble as soon as we got to the backstretch."
Johnny V. knew just as we all knew: once Pharoah got into that easy gallop, while still churning out :12 splits for every 1/8th of a mile in the race, no horse was going to run him down.

Here are the internal Trakus splits for American Pharoah:

1/4: 24.07
1/2: 25.05
3/4: 24.42
Mile: 24.56
1 1/4: 24.54
1 1/2: 24.17

1st 1/2 Mile: 49.12
2nd 1/2 Mile: 48.98
3rd 1/2 Mile: 48.71

Look at that consistency because it's a thing of beauty.

American Pharoah churned out :12 after :12 after :12. He came home the last quarter mile of the mile and a half Test of Champions in 24.17 after setting all the early fractions. He did the dirty work early and still had something left in the tank; American Pharoah earned his place in history.

The Triple Crown is one of the ultimate tests in sports - it's not easy. It's not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be the ultimate test for a thoroughbred in America. And while the Derby, Preakness and Belmont have changed since their inception over a century ago, the current Triple Crown format has remained the same since 1931. As far as I can tell, there's no reason to change a thing.

"American Pharoah is finally the one! American Pharoah has won the Triple Crown!" - Larry Collmus


  1. Oh, one more thing. There's bound to be talk concerning the strength of this crop, but who cares? Frosted is good. Dortmund is talented but peaked too early. Firing Line is good. The others? Who cares! Pharoah is awesome, this is fun, and any and all accolades are deserved.

  2. As usual, Tribe, spot on.

    And for the whole "weak crop" nonsense: we've witnessed weaker crops in the past (much weaker, imho), and yet never saw a Triple Crown winner. Smarty's crop was very thin and he was much the best. Ditto some others. Winning these three races in five weeks is about more than just crop strength. It's about form, consistency, speed, stamina, and (yes) luck.

    Like you wrote: Pharoah is awesome and this is fun. So much fun.

  3. As if on cue:

  4. Nice to find your place here Matt. I missed your take this TC season on ADTSTC. So glad to finally see a Triple Crown.

  5. Thanks! Glad to be back even if the visibility is a lot lower.

    What a fun TC season, huh?

    1. Definitely was. I almost choked up, not gonna lie,

    2. Same here. It got very dusty in my TV room.