All week, the connections to the Preakness' top contenders have been asked an impossible question: What will your horse do in the downpour that might drench the racetrack, or might not come at all? Their answers have differed only in style.
Superstardom did nothing to dull American Pharoah's competitive form. He won the $1.75-million Haskell almost casually, with jockey Victor Espinoza easing him to the finish line as a record crowd of 60,983 roared approval.
Questions quickly turned to American Pharoah's future schedule and his potential impact on a struggling sport, but Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat mostly wanted to soak in the moment after the horse won the 2015 Belmont Stakes and horse racing's Triple Crown.
When American Pharoah breaks from the gate at Belmont Park on Saturday, he'll be carrying more than jockey Victor Espinoza on his broad shoulders. He'll also have to lug 37 years worth of baggage around the track on his 1 ½-mile run for horse racing's elusive Triple Crown.
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."
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert nodded in approval as he heard American Pharoah will start from the No. 5 hole when he attempts to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in history in Saturday¿s Belmont Stakes.
American Pharoah left no doubts about his status as the pre-eminent 3-year-old of a gifted crop after winning the 2015 Preakness Stakes. Now the question is whether he can handle the war of attrition that will culminate with a Triple Crown shot on June 6 in the Belmont Stakes.
American Pharoah swept to a commanding victory — and kept alive hopes for an elusive Triple Crown — as Baltimore eagerly embraced the 140th Preakness Stakes' boisterous day-long festivities, which came less than three weeks after the city was torn by riots and looting.
American Pharoah is a brilliant horse, admired by all the wisest observers in the racing game. But the Kentucky Derby champion is always a sensation during Preakness week. What sets this year apart is the presence of two challengers in Firing Line and Dortmund who gave the champ all he wanted at Churchill Downs.
One of the greatest trainers in Preakness history, six-time winner D. Wayne Lukas, created a bit of intrigue Wednesday by unexpectedly entering Mr. Z in Saturday's race. Mr. Z's owner, Ahmed Zayat, had said he did not want to bring the horse back on two weeks' rest after a 13th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. But Lukas helped facilitate a mid-week sale of the horse from Zayat to Kentucky's Calumet Farm and entered the horse into the Preakness, where he will start third from the rail.
It had to be one of those what-are-the-odds moments for trainer Bob Baffert, and we're not talking about the fact that Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah was set as a 4-5 morning line favorite for the 140th running of the Preakness on Saturday at Old Hilltop. Baffert, who said before Wednesday's race draw that he is always "post-position sensitive," ended up with both Pharoah and third-place Derby finisher Dortmund stacked 1-2 on the rail.
Baffert's remarkable duo — the effortlessly swift 5-2 favorite American Pharoah and undefeated 3-1 second choice Dortmund — will start in the No. 18 and No. 8 posts, respectively, as determined by Wednesday evening's post-position draw.
As California Chrome began his recovery from a foot injury that might have contributed to his flat performance in the Belmont Stakes, his co-owner, Steve Coburn, stood by harsh comments about owners and trainers who run fresh horses in the third leg of the Triple Crown.
California Chrome was the best 3-year-old thoroughbred in America going into the Kentucky Derby. He was the best at Churchill Downs. And now he's the 2014 Preakness Stakes champion after distancing himself from Saturday's 10-horse field.
Twelve years after missing out on the Triple Crown in the final leg, Victor Espinoza is getting an improbable second chance. His horse, War Emblem, stumbled early in the 2002 Belmont Stakes and was never able to recover position. After winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the horse finished eighth in the Belmont.
California Chrome may be a heavier Preakness favorite than Orb was a year ago. But turns of fortune are swift and unpredictable in thoroughbred racing, even for the champions who appear least vulnerable.