Schmuck: American Pharoah was the best horse and he won the 2015 Preakness

Sometimes, it's not that complicated.

When Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah drew the supposedly unforgiving first post position for Saturday's 140th running of the Preakness Stakes, the conversation quickly turned to the reasons why he couldn't win. This year's Triple Crown candidate was no lock to get out of Baltimore with history still hanging in the balance, the experts said.


Top Derby challenger Firing Line, for instance, couldn't have asked for a better draw, and veteran jockey Gary Stevens wasn't shy about predicting it would put him in position to take advantage of Pharoah's apparent misfortune.

Racing analysts wondered whether the early speed of Dortmund and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Mr. Z would force Pharoah to rush to the front to avoid trouble and expend energy he might need for a strong finish.

Some even worried that Pharoah required too much of the whip down the Derby stretch after winning easily in his previous four stakes races.

They were all legitimate concerns, but when Pharoah came out of the gate on Saturday and dug his hoofs into the muddy track, all of that skeptical pre-race analysis became meaningless. The second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown came down to something so basic it almost got buried in all that slop.

American Pharoah was, quite simply, the best horse and he proved it by, quite simply, running away from everybody else.

Maybe the muddy conditions actually helped him dominate the rest of the field because he had won under adverse conditions before, but he just ran to the front and didn't look back. Jockey Victor Espinoza eased him a bit on the backstretch, but even that wasn't necessary. He was, as they say in this game, much the best, which certainly bodes well for the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.

"I've never won this race as easily and handily,'' said trainer Bob Baffert moments after Pharoah pulled away from surprise challengers Tale of Verve and Divining Rod and won by seven lengths. And there was precious little room for debate on that score.

The expected challenge from Derby runner-up Firing Line on the outside did not materialize. Stevens had hoped that the race would set up well for his horse, but Firing Line never really fired and it probably would not have made any difference if he had. Pharoah took control of the race early and the only horse that ever looked like it might spoil this party was Divining Rod at the top of the stretch.

Who knows how much the sudden storm and driving rain affected the other horses in the race, but the conditions didn't bother Pharoah a bit. He had run in the slop at the Arkansas Derby in April and won by eight lengths.

"I think the rain can really change the whole dynamics of the race," Baffert said. "That's when long shots can come and get you and weird things can happen. But he ran on a really muddy, horrible track that day. I mean, it rained at Oaklawn Park and he skips through anything. He's that kind of a horse … wet track, dry track."

The bottom line was the same as it was at Churchill Downs, where Baffert conceded that Pharoah did not bring his "A-game," which owner Ahmed Zayat viewed as proof of the special quality of this horse.

"The sign of a good horse is whatever is thrown in his face, he finds a way to win,'' Zayet said, "and I honestly unbelievably felt so good about him winning the Derby. I don't care if it was going to be an inch or a photo finish. But I also felt, in fairness to this horse, that everything went against him, but still because of his heart and his brilliance, he still won it."

Nothing went against him on Saturday at Old Hilltop. He sprinted around the track with Mr. Z in tow and then held off the late challenge from Diving Rod and punched his ticket to the Belmont, where a unique challenge awaits.

Many a dominating horse has given way down the stretch in the marathon final leg of the Triple Crown, but maybe this one is different.


Baffert seems to think so.

"Great horses do great things,'' he said.

Maybe it really is that easy.


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