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    Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah is on his way to possibly become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The Bob Baffert trainee, owned by Ahmed Zayat’s Zayat Stables, captured the second jewel in the Triple Crown Saturday when he won the 140th running of the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (G1) before a record crowd of 131,680 gathered at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.

    The victory elevated Baffert to six Preakness victories, which ties him with legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Only one trainer has more than this pair, nineteenth century trainer Robert Walden with seven. Baffert will make his fourth attempt at the elusive Triple Crown, having failed to capture the feat with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and War Emblem (2002). The win gave jockey Victor Espinoza his third Preakness win, including back-to-back years. It also marks the third time Espinoza has been in position for the Triple Crown—in 2002 with War Emblem and last year with California Chrome.

    “He’s just an amazing horse,” said Baffert after his colt romped to a seven-length win over a sloppy track. “Everybody talks about the greatness and he’s starting to show it. To me, they have to prove it. Today, the way he did it. He’s just so fast, the way he ran. It was like poetry in motion.”

    Despite a late-arriving thunderstorm that cleared the infield crowd, the grandstand attendance, and blurred the post parade for most television viewers, the race went off without delay and a track that had been rated fast most of the day changed to sloppy in a matter of minutes.

    Breaking from the rail as the nearly even-money favorite, American Pharoah and Espinoza overcame a brief challenge from Corey Nakatani and Mr. Z, who soon settled in behind the Kentucky Derby winner. Dortmund, third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, held the third position on the outside under jockey Martin Garcia. Divining Rod, Bodhisattva, Firing Line, Danzig Moon and Tale of Verve were strung out behind the trio.

    American Pharoah proved the rain was not going to dampen his parade and set sharp fractions of :22.90 and 46.59 for the first half of the 1 3/16 race, but the race was rather uneventful for his challengers. As it was in the Kentucky Derby, the field followed in merry-go-round fashion through much of the race before reaching the final turn and the superfecta began to take shape. After Mr. Z gave way, Divining Rod passed Dortmund to move from fourth to second and, although there was no catching American Pharoah who already had a nearly four-length lead, should have been able to hold on to second place, but the young colt drifted out in the stretch which lead to an opening for Dallas Stewart’s longshot Tale of Verve. Tale of Verve, making his stakes debut, was forced to maneuver around Divining Rod more than once in order to pass and grab the second-place finish. Divining Rod held third and Dortmund kept position in fourth.

    “We were going in hoping he would do something like that,” said Baffert of American Pharoah’s wire-to-wire victory. “You never know how they’re going to react. We just told Victor, ‘Just let him roll today.’ It turned out all right with the rain there. I was getting a little bit leery there, but I know he loves the mud. Once Victor got him rolling, the way he moves he’s just the most beautiful moving horse.”

    The Zayat Stables homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile, completed the slowest Preakness Stakes, in 1:58.46, since Fabius defeated Kentucky Derby winner Needles in 1956 in a time of 1:58.40 on a fast track. For comparison, that’s nearly four seconds slower than California Chrome’s winning time of 1:54.84 in 2014.

    “Somebody asked me just before the race if there was anybody in the field that had any slop form,” said Mark Casse, trainer of sixth-place finisher Danzig Moon. “I said, ‘Yeah, American Pharoah.’ He’s run on it at Oaklawn and he just skipped across it. You know what, he’s a great horse. Maybe we’re going to have a Triple Crown winner.”

    The race was a wash for Kentucky Derby runner-up Firing Line, who was eased and finished seventh. “His second jump out he stumbled badly,” said trainer Simon Callaghan. “That took his momentum and then he never really got hold of the track. Nothing went right, what with all that rain coming. I don't know about the Belmont.”

    American Pharoah returned $3.80, $3.40, and $2.80. Tale of Verve paid $19.00 and $8.80 and completed the $2 exacta for $124.40. Diving Rod paid $5.20 and completed the $2 trifecta for $985.00. Dortmund completed the $1 superfecta for $1,906.90. The final time for the 1 3/16 mile race over the sloppy track was 1:58.46.

    Photo: J. Oswald

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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