Two questions have hovered over American Pharoah's preparations for the Belmont Stakes: Can he triumph where 13 others have failed and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978? If he does it, would his achievement lift a sport that has lost much of its stature over the last four decades?
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert continues to see all the right signs from his Triple Crown contender American Pharoah, who took his first gallop over the track at Belmont Park on Thursday morning. "When he finally came down the stretch, he was moving so fluidly, like he usually does," Baffert said. "So it was a very positive gallop. It looks like he's moving along just like he always moves along. It was very comforting to see that. You can tell he still has his energy."
What mainstream attention horse racing garners is overwhelmingly focused on the Triple Crown. Is it all too much? Are we obsessed with the Triple Crown to the detriment of a sport desperate to attract attention the rest of the year?
Morning-line long-shot Tale of Verve charged down a muddy homestretch past a trio of Kentucky Derby contenders to take second, seven lengths behind Triple Crown aspirant American Pharoah, in his first stakes race.
California Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman, raised the rather startling possibility that his horse might not run in the Belmont Stakes because of New York rules barring a nasal adhesive strip the colt has used throughout his six-race winning streak.
Orb's path to the finish line in the second leg of the Triple Crown remains uncrowded. Normandy Invasion, the fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, dropped from contention for Saturday's 138th running of the Preakness 2013.
Todd Pletcher knew there were rumors. He even figured some of them impugned his horses. When you're one of the winningest trainers in the game who just happens to condition a quarter of the Kentucky Derby field, that, he said, "is part of the deal."
Even without I'll Have Another going for the last leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes did OK in the ratings for NBC, drawing an overnight audience 13 percent larger than last year's and 74 percent above 2010.
Hansen does not need to try to be noticed. The nearly all-white colt always stands out among his peers. Yet on Thursday morning, the Breeders' Cup juvenile champion did all he could to draw the attention of a robust crowd on his first day this week at Churchill Downs before the 2012 Kentucky Derby.