Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but that American Pharoah was a pretty special racehorse.
You remember American Pharoah, the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 37 years and who, for an encore, wrapped his stellar career in a perfect bow by winning the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland before settling into his present job of greeting lady friends over at Ashford Stud in Versailles.
Once American Pharoah finally quenched the parched Triple Crown thirst there was some thought we might be entering another golden age of racing. After all, history told us these things tend to arrive in bunches. Once the great Secretariat snapped a 25-year Triple Crown drought in 1973, Seattle Slew followed suit in 1977, followed by Affirmed in 1978.
Last year, the first year A.P. (After Pharoah), Nyquist looked poised to keep the ball rolling. His Kentucky Derby victory improved his record to a perfect eight-for-eight. He was rested and ready to conquer first the Preakness in Baltimore and then the Belmont in New York.
Alas, a track optimistically listed as sloppy ruined that scenario — and my nice pair of Cole Hahns — as Nyquist slid home third in a Preakness won by Exaggerator.
Forgive American Pharoah if back in his stall at Ashford, he whinnied just a little that day.
This year brought us Always Dreaming. Great name. Great talent. Great performance in a 5-length win in the Florida Derby followed by trainer Todd Pletcher’s second Kentucky Derby victory. Lightly raced, Dreaming appeared fresh, fit and ready to watch his Triple Crown banner be raised at Belmont Park.
Again, the Preakness put an end to the dreaming. Pressed on the lead by Classic Empire, Always Dreaming backed up in the stretch and faded all the way to an eighth-place finish in a race won by Cloud Computing.
“It just wasn’t our day,” Pletcher said.
True that, nodded American Pharoah back at Ashford.
Though deflated — no Triple Crown this year — the scene shifts to the endurance test that is the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes on June 10. The connections for Preakness runner-up Classic Empire, third-place finisher Senior Investment and fourth-place finisher Lookin At Lee all indicated Sunday they were inclined to take a bite out of the Big Apple.
Cloud Computing isn’t likely to join them. Trainer Chad Brown said Saturday he had not made a decision but had not necessarily seen his colt, with just four career starts, as ready for either the Belmont’s grind or distance requirements.
As for Always Dreaming, Pletcher repeated Sunday what he said post-race Saturday. It’s too soon. He won’t let emotions get in the way of a good decision. He’ll see how Dreaming does when he leaves Baltimore. The guess here is we won’t see Always Dreaming again until late summer.
As was stated plenty of times leading up to last Saturday, the Preakness isn’t Pletcher’s thing. In a stellar career that has seven Eclipse Award trophies for best trainer displayed in the home trophy case, he’s never won the second jewel of the Triple Crown. The two-week turnaround from the Derby doesn’t jibe with his successful strategy of allowing extended breaks between races.
And if Pletcher has a horse he thinks might win the Kentucky Derby, he sure isn’t going to skip the Run for the Roses for a crack at the Black-eyed Susans. That’s not what it’s all about.
Yet leading up to last Saturday, Pletcher couldn’t have sounded more optimistic. The 49-year-old is not one for hyperbole, but he gave no indication Always Dreaming wasn’t primed for another standout performance, despite the quick turnaround.
The trainer did make one costly pre-race error. While in Baltimore, Pletcher had eaten crab cakes for seven straight days until he slipped up Thursday night and ordered something else off the menu.
“A bad decision,” he admitted Friday.
The Triple Crown is way too tough to tempt fate like that.
Back at Ashford, that’s American Pharoah thinking, “How do you like me now?”
When: 6:50 p.m. Saturday, June 10
Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.