BALTIMORE –- Three weeks from now, the 140th Preakness could be remembered for American Pharoah’s dominating win. If the horse doesn’t complete the Triple Crown, it may be remembered for the torrential rain that sent much of the record crowd scattering for cover.
Officially, American Pharoah’s seven-length win at Pimlico before 131,860 came on a track listed as sloppy. It was much worse than that.
“The first think I thinking about is so much water in my boots. I was flooded in them,” American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza joked.
“Each race, I learned something new and surprised me the way he runs. Today was just an amazing race for him. I can’t really see how far I was in front because there was so much water in my eyes.”
American Pharoah took the lead just after the start. A decided outsider, Mr. Z chased him and trailed by a length-and-a-half entering the stretch before fading and eventually finishing fifth.
But, American Pharoah, who won the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago by a length over Firing Line, steadily increased his lead. He led by four in the stretch and won going away.
It was trainer Bob Baffert’s sixth Preakness win.
“I’ve never won this race as easily and handily,” Baffert said.
Tale of Verve finished second. Divining Rod was third, and Dortmund, the third place finisher in the Derby, and also trained by Baffert, came in fourth.
“I’ve always said this was the easiest of the three legs, and the next race, I know, everybody’s sharpening their knives getting ready,” Baffert said.
Hard rain began falling about 20 minutes before the start of the Preakness.
“I’ve never been through anything like that. That was crazy,” Baffert said.
American Pharoah is a rather high strung horse, and Baffert was on edge.
“These horses, I could tell they didn’t like it when they get pelted like that, and I was worried about the cotton balls in his ears,” Baffert said. What if they’re getting soaking wet? How is he going to react? Maybe I should have taken them out.”
Baffert’s horse ignored the inclement weather, and now becomes the 14th horse to have a chance for the Triple Crown since Affirmed last won it in 1978.
“We could be talking about history,” Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah’s owner said. “For me, how could I be more happy than that?”
A year ago, Espinoza had a chance at the Triple Crown when he rode California Chrome to wins in both the Derby and Preakness.
California Chrome’s co-owner Steven Coburn loved the limelight, and when the horse finished in a dead heat for fourth, Coburn attacked the owners of Tonalist, which hadn’t run in the previous two legs.
Baffert identified with California Chrome’s trainer, the veteran Art Sherman, and now he hopes he has a horse that will draw interest in the Belmont.
“It’s so good for racing with a horse like this,” Baffert said. “Horse racing, we needed a little lift. Whether he wins the next one or not, what he’s brought to the table, there are a lot of people here today that came to see him run.”
Baffert will keep his horse at Pimlico until at least Monday before deciding where he’ll go next. With a long break, he can return to his California home or send him on to Elmont, N.Y. for the Belmont.
Danzig Moon finished sixth while Firing Line, which was the second choice, never contended and was seventh. Longshot Bodhisattva finished last.
It’s not known how many challengers await American Pharoah three weeks from now. The Belmont released a list of seven horses who didn’t run on Saturday that could try the mile-and-a-half.
Six were in the May 2 Derby: Frosted, Materiality, Keen Ice, Mubtaahij, Carpe Diem and Frammento. The seventh is Madefromlucky, winner of last week’s Peter Pan at Belmont.
Espinoza, who also rode California Chrome a year ago, will have his third shot at the Triple Crown. War Emblem came up short in 2002.
He hopes the weather is much better on June 6. The hot, humid day suddenly became chilly.
“I was just freezing,” Espinoza said. “I just wanted to get it over with.”
Espinoza endured the conditions and brought his horse home in an understandably slow, 1:58:46.
“I wasn’t really worried about it. I was so focused with American Pharoah to see how he is traveling on the messy track,” Espinoza said. “I had no choice just to let him run the messy and wet track.”
American Pharoah paid $3.80, $3.40 and $2.80. Tale of Verve paid $19.00 and $8.80. Divining Rod paid $5.20.
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