Saturday, June 06, 2015

Will American Pharoah bring America together during trying times? The Triple Crown, perhaps the most difficult achievement in all of sports


In 1973 the world was in turmoil and America was just finishing one of the most challenging decades in the history of our nation.  There were student riots, anti-Vietnam war riots, Civil Rights riots, assassinations of major public figures, and we were ending ten years of war in Asia leaving over 57,000 dead.

Towns were in flames as wave after wave of social issues pummeled America, shaking it to the very foundation.  Then there was the Cold war, Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crisis, and even Watergate break in.  Our institutions were under assault by the very citizens of our country.

In 1973 it had been twenty-five years since a horse had won horse racing's coveted Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.  We were barely out of the second World War when Citation won in 1948.

There have only been 11 Triple Crown Champions since 1875.  The longest drought without a champion since the first Triple Crown in 1919 is the current 37 years.  Second longest was the 25 years before Secretariat became champion in the most remarkable series of races in thoroughbred history.  As I have outlined, it came when the nation was in need of a new hero and in need of hope. To this day Secretariat holds the record for fastest in all three races.

Triple Crown Champions 

1919    Sir Barton

1930    Gallant Fox

1935    Omaha

1937    War Admiral

1941    Whirlaway

1943    Count Fleet

1946    Assault

1948    Citation

1973    Secretariat

1977    Seattle Slew

1978    Affirmed

Once again we are coming off a rather tough decade of wars, political animosity,strained relations with most of our allies, threats from terrorists that have already killed thousands of Americans, a fractured economy, financial collapse, corruption, political constipation, and about all the things needed to result in a Triple Crown winner at last.

Saturday we might get to watch history being made when American Pharaoh attempts to win the magical Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes, the longest race the horse has ever run. Many get the chance but few have captured the brass ring and walked away with the Triple Crown.

Following is a very good article analyzing the prospects in the race.

The Horse I'll Bet to Upset American Pharoah

By David Papadopoulos

Pharoah on this day.

The math looks like this: Belmont Park officials forecast Pharoah will go off at odds of 3-5 while Materiality will be 6-1. Those prices spit out implied win probabilities -- after factoring in the track’s cut -- of 53 percent and 12 percent, respectively. In my own fair odds estimate, those numbers would look something more like 43 percent for Pharoah and 22 percent for Materiality.

Combined, that’s a 20-percentage point gap between market prices and my true-value calculations. For any gambler worth his salt, that’s a huge green light to go ahead and bet the undervalued horse.

So I will.

Here’s a breakdown of the full Belmont field. Runners are listed by post position. Odds are the racetrack’s estimate of how the public will bet.

-No. 1 Mubtaahij (10-1) -- I was underwhelmed by his effort in the Kentucky Derby. He made the same basic mechanical mistakes that he had in his previous races, and his daily workouts at Belmont since then have gotten mediocre reviews. If he were 20-1, maybe I’d dabble, but not at this price.

-No. 2 Tale of Verve (15-1) -- This colt’s trainer, Dallas Stewart, is cut from the same cloth as the men in charge of numbers 4 and 7 (Nick Zito and Dale Romans): Dreamers who ambitiously place their horses in America’s biggest races. All three have pulled off shocking upsets over the years but have more often seen their charges go down in lopsided defeats. Tale of Verve is a classic case. He finished second behind Pharoah -- albeit a distant-second -- at odds of 28-1 in the Preakness Stakes. Could he duplicate that effort on Saturday? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

-No. 3 Madefromlucky (12-1) -- This horse has the right running style for the Belmont’s marathon 1 1/2-mile distance: He’s a one-paced sort who has no real burst of speed but just keeps grinding away. I can’t knock anyone for taking a shot on him at this kind of a price.

-No. 4 Frammento (30-1) -- He was in over his head in the Kentucky Derby and he is again here. For those looking for reasons to bet him, though, note that Zito has spoiled two Triple Crown bids in the past 11 years, knocking off Smarty Jones in 2004 and Big Brown four years later. Both times, his horses paid over 30-1.

-No. 5 American Pharoah (3-5) -- The big horse. He has all the tools. Questions are, especially for those inclined to back him at such prohibitive odds: Will he handle Belmont’s deep sandy surface (There’s something about the way he spun his wheels a bit over a very dry track on Derby day that suggests he might not)? Will the wear and tear of four races in eight weeks catch up to him late in the stretch? Will his jockey Victor Espinoza keep him out of trouble? If the answers to those questions are yes-no-yes, then the Triple Crown drought will end late Saturday afternoon.

-No. 6 Frosted (5-1) -- A very talented, well-bred colt that ran big in the Derby to get up for fourth place despite getting caught wide on the turns. And by all accounts, he’s been training great here in New York. Dangerous horse.

-No. 7 Keen Ice (20-1) -- He stumbled into some traffic in the Derby that slowed him down a bit, and that’ll lure some bettors to him in the Belmont. I won’t be one of them.

-No. 8 Materiality (6-1) -- He’s fast, he’s rested and he’s much more seasoned now after getting bounced around early in the Derby (he surged by 11 horses in the stretch that day to finish sixth). Now some touts spotted flaws in his final major workout last week, but they’re nitpicking. To my eye, it looked good. And when I asked his trainer Todd Pletcher what he made of the chatter, he was unmoved: “I wouldn’t listen to any of that.” This is where I’m putting my money.

(David Papadopoulos, managing editor for the Americas editing hub at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)

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