Triple Crown

End American Pharoah “What If” Scenarios

Victor Espinoza, aboard American Pharoah, looks back after crossing the finish line to win the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.  American Pharoah becomes the 12th Triple Crown winner.
June 6, 2015
Michael Clevenger/Louisville Courier-Journal

As time passes, accomplishments can either be enhanced or forgotten quickly in our 24-hour news cycle, social media-obsessed world. Sometimes, we can’t even remember what the big story was last week as we are constantly inundated with the news of today from our phones sending us updates, e-mails and Twitter/Facebook posts.

That’s why when a truly great accomplishment is enhanced a year after it happens, it is even rarer in today’s world than in the past.

Such was the case over the past few weeks as American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win was brought to the forefront again and discussed so often that it somewhat overshadowed the great performances and races of the recent Belmont Stakes weekend.

The prime example was after Frosted’s Grade-1 Metropolitan Handicap (“Met Mile”) win. There were accolades for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and his team on his horse’s record time and romp by 14¼ lengths, but at the same time there were rumblings, “I wonder what American Pharoah would have done if he had run as a four-year old?”

It wasn’t enough that Frosted set the highest ThoroGraph number of all-time and the highest Beyer speed figure of 123 in the past 9 years. There were still those thinking about American Pharoah’s accomplishments of 2015 and the four times that he beat Frosted in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

American Pharoah was indeed flattered by Frosted’s huge performance and that should be enough. The memories of American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run served us well and will never be forgotten, but it is time to move on from ”what-if” scenarios and focus on the racing of today.

2016 Triple Frown

Still, what the racing of today reminded us is that the task of completing a Triple Crown is so arduous that it should not be taken for granted.

After Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby, many were already discussing if he’d be able to get the 1½ miles of the Belmont Stakes, thinking that a Preakness win was a foregone conclusion. We were reminded quickly when a Derby winner has a target on his back and the rest of the field is gunning for him, it is difficult to even capture the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

We also were reminded that “everything needs to go right” for a horse as they go down the Triple Crown path. Nyquist was diagnosed with a fever shortly after the Preakness and needed to skip the Belmont Stakes, so even the slightest hiccup can derail Triple Crown dreams quickly. The toll that the preparation for the Kentucky Derby, winning the Derby and then continuing onward to win two more races in the next five weeks is so demanding that it can never be underestimated.

Three Races in 5 Weeks

With Nyquist’s ailment, only Exaggerator and Lani went onto race in all three Triple Crown races this year. When Preakness winner Exaggerator was left empty turning for home in the Belmont Stakes, we were reminded once again of the toll that the Triple Crown can have on a horse. Exaggerator had looked so impressive winning the Grade-1 Santa Anita Derby, closing like a rocket to place second in the Kentucky Derby and his romp in the Preakness slop that some quickly forgot how the Triple Crown can wear down a horse.

In his last workout before the Belmont Stakes, there were signs that Exaggerator was not at the top of his game as he switched to his right lead early on the turn and swung out wide over the Belmont oval. In the Belmont Stakes, all of those fears from a sub-par work came to fruition as he did not fire. Jockey Kent Desormeaux was quoted as saying, “The horse was empty” and “there was nothing there” when he asked for Exaggerator’s best coming into the Belmont Stakes stretch.

Conversely, after running on late in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Lani showed a strong closing kick in the Belmont Stakes to finish third. Even though Lani’s races were admirable, his ninth, fifth and third place finishes in the three Triple Crown races is a far cry from winning all three legs.


As soon as we thought a Triple Crown was possible this year with an undefeated perfect 8-for-8 Nyquist entering the Pimlico starting gate, we were brought right back to reality quickly.

What the last few weeks have reminded us all is that American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run was special and it is indeed an amazing accomplishment. We waited 37 years for a reason.

Multiple trips to Belmont Park over those years resulting in Triple Crown defeats were quickly wiped from our memory in the euphoria of American Pharoah crossing the finish line first at Belmont Park on June 6, 2015. Now those memories have renewed themselves once again as we realize the Triple Crown cannot be taken for granted and is not a simple task.

How long we will wait until we see another Triple Crown is up to the “Horse Racing Gods” to decide. As we wait each year without a Triple Crown, Pharoah’s 2015 accomplishment will be “phlattered.” As horses that raced against Pharoah continue to perform well (see article from February ranking top horses that  can flatter Pharoah in 2016), Pharoah will continue to be complimented again and again.

As we watch Pharoah’s contemporaries perform and wait patiently on another Triple Crown, let’s enjoy each race and try to evaluate each race and horse as its own entity going forward. Pharoah’s accomplishments should be remembered and cherished, but his shadow should not minimize the great performances that we are witnessing.

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