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History probably won't be made, but money can be

It's certainly easy to imagine American Pharoah sprinting home at the Preakness the way he did at the Kentucky Derby and keeping hope alive for horse racing's first Triple Crown in what seems like forever.

No one can dispute the quality and winning character of the horse, which opened as a decided morning-line favorite as most Derby winners do. But the "95 percent" of racing fans who are rooting for Pharoah to make history are probably going to be disappointed.

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"We're part of the 5 percent who are not,'' said Arnold Zetcher, who owns the horse that is primed to do the disappointing.

Firing Line came very close to being the Triple Crown candidate with a strong performance at the Derby, and the planets have aligned almost perfectly for him to upset Pharoah at Old Hilltop on Saturday.

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If you doubt that, go back and watch a replay of the final turn and the stretch run at Churchill Downs. It's not hard to find on the Internet. Watch again as Pharoah and Firing Line battle to the finish less than a full length apart.

There was no quit in either one and a strong performance by Dortmund created the three-horse narrative that already has made this a special Triple Crown series. Obviously, that narrative would be best served with another heart-stopping victory by this year's Derby winner, but the racing gods seem inclined to disagree.

The storyline was altered dramatically on Wednesday when Pharoah and Dortmund — both saddled by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert — drew the first two post positions and Firing Line got the prime gate on the outside.

Maybe it won't make any difference. Maybe American Pharoah is just too tough to care. But veteran jockey Gary Stevens, who has won a few Triple Crown races at Pimlico, was acting like he won the lottery after Firing Line drew the eighth post.

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And why not? His two most dangerous rivals are boxed in beside the D. Wayne Lukas speed horse Mr. Z, which should force them to expend some energy making sure they get out fast enough to avoid trouble from the outside.

Meanwhile, Stevens will be in a perfect spot to see the entire race unfold, which should allow him to put Firing Line in the best possible position to take advantage of almost any eventuality.

Though Firing Line was posted as the third morning-line choice at 4-1, don't be fooled. The early line on American Pharoah was set at 4-5, which seems surprisingly prohibitive considering Baffert's muted reaction to the unfavorable No. 1 post position. It is not, however, illogical.

The odds on any horse race are ultimately determined by the betting public. And the casual horse racing fans who come out to bet on a race of this magnitude aren't going to be as focused on race strategy as they are on the excitement surrounding a possible Triple Crown winner. There will be a lot of money bet on American Pharoah just because he's the chosen one, which may keep him at about even money in spite of competitive considerations that might argue otherwise.

If the public doesn't wise up and figure out just what an advantage Firing Line may exact from that fortuitous post position draw, it could go off at a very attractive price. Stevens even joked on Wednesday night that he might have to place a large bet on his horse at those odds, and maybe he wasn't joking.

Remember that Pharoah and Firing Line were nose and nose until Pharoah pulled away in the final one-sixteenth of a mile at the Derby. Remember also that the Preakness is a slightly shorter race ... one-sixteenth of a mile shorter, to be exact.

That doesn't mean Pharoah isn't the best horse in the race, but it appears that Firing Line is in the best position to win.

So, maybe you won't get to see history in the making on Saturday, but you might get a chance to make some money.

Twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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