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American Pharoah draws fifth position in Belmont Stakes

As the sun beamed down on Rockefeller Center and racing officials called out the post positions for Saturday's Belmont Stakes, Todd Pletcher knew plenty of people viewed him as the black cloud over a potentially historic celebration.

The story of the week is American Pharoah's attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in history and the first since Affirmed in 1978. But if the graceful colt is to pull it off, he'll have to run past a field of seven fresher horses. Two of those, Materiality and Madefromlucky, are trained by Pletcher.

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With debate raging hotter than ever over the fairness of the Triple Crown schedule, Pletcher knows he's a poster child for skipping the Preakness and ambushing the Belmont with fresh horses. Madefromlucky didn't run in either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Materiality has rested since the May 2 Derby.

They're exactly the sorts of fresh challengers Steve Coburn complained about last year when his horse, California Chrome, fell short of a Triple Crown in Elmont, N.Y.

But Pletcher didn't become the most successful trainer in the country by worrying about other people's grand storylines. He says it's his job to win as many races as he can for his clients, and he rarely betrays much emotion about the consequences.

Asked if he's been cast as the spoiler of American Pharoah's fairy tale, Pletcher allowed himself a brief chuckle. "I hope so," he said.

Pletcher's chief rival for training supremacy, Bob Baffert, nodded his head in approval Wednesday when he heard American Pharoah will start from the No. 5 post.

"I've always liked the No. 5, always done well with it," Baffert said after the draw. "But the most important thing is the horse is doing well."

American Pharoah, a 3-5 favorite in the morning line, looked perky jogging Wednesday morning in his first trip over the track at Belmont Park. He'll gallop Thursday as he prepares for his date with history.

"He was so strong," Baffert said after his horse's jog. "I could tell when he got out on the track he was just marching right along. He was really full of himself. … He looked happy out there, and that's the whole key."

Jockey Victor Espinoza, who'll be riding for a Triple Crown for the third time, said he's confident in American Pharoah, but wary of every opponent.

"You know why? Because these horses, they've never run 11/2 miles," Espinoza said. "We're all in the same situation. To me, they're all dangerous. They're all in the race for a reason, because their trainers and owners think they can go 11/2 miles."

Frosted, the 5-1 second choice, will start next to American Pharoah from the No. 6 post.

"It doesn't really matter," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of the draw. "It's 11/2 miles with an eight-horse field. If it were more than 10, you don't really want to be outside, because you've still got to get over. Being that it's eight, even if we draw eight of eight, it's fine."

Frosted ran a solid fourth in the Kentucky Derby. McLaughlin hopes that if American Pharoah tires late, as many Triple Crown aspirants have, his horse will be the one to catch the favorite at the end.

The Irish-bred Mubtaahij will also take another shot at American Pharoah after finishing a disappointing eighth at Churchill Downs. He'll start from the No. 1 post, but trainer Mike de Kock said that shouldn't be a problem.

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He said the trip from Dubai to Kentucky might have undermined his horse's performance in the Derby, but Mubtaahij has been in New York for almost a month now. "The fact he's been settled in one place … has made a difference to him," de Kock said. "He settled in very well training, and we're very happy with the way he's going in training."

Keen Ice, another horse who showed late speed in the Derby, will start from the No. 7 post as a 20-1 choice in the morning line. Tale of Verve, who finished second as a long shot in the Preakness, will start from the No. 2 post as a 15-1 choice. Frammento, the longest shot in the morning line at 30-1, will start from the No. 4 post.

Pletcher's Materiality, a 6-1 third choice, will start all the way outside from the No. 8 post. Materiality runs a similar style to American Pharoah, preferring to be on or near the lead. So, Pletcher said he's happy his horse will start outside the favorite.

The trainer's other horse, 12-1 fifth choice Madefromlucky, will start from the No. 3 hole. Given Madefromlucky is more of a late charger, Pletcher said his draw didn't matter as much.

He admires American Pharoah, praising him as "phenomenal so far," and he said the favorite will probably need to be off his A game to lose. But he's seen a lot of strange things happen at Belmont to seemingly invincible horses.

Pletcher grew up in racing, working as a groom for his father, Jake, and later learning the game from legendary trainers such as D. Wayne Lukas and Charlie Whittingham. He knows how much the sport would cherish another Triple Crown winner. Yet he won't concede there's a part of him that wants to see history on Saturday.

"I want to see it happen," he said. "With me training the winner."

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