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Preakness 2015: American Pharoah Wins Second Leg of Triple Crown - By Joe Drape I New York Times

Posted on - 17 May 2015

Preakness 2015: American Pharoah Wins Second Leg of Triple Crown
By Joe Drape
New York Times
 
BALTIMORE — Horse players had been checking the weather radar all afternoon — there was a storm rumbling toward Pimlico and a wet track, well, that made the Kentucky Derbywinner American Pharoah a lock to win thePreakness Stakes and the second leg of theTriple Crown.
 
The colt’s trainer, Bob Baffert, wasn’t so sure. Yes, he knew American Pharoah had sliced his way like a Jet Ski to a six-and-a-quarter-length win two months ago on a sloppy track in Arkansas. But as the colt and his seven rivals stepped onto the track here Saturday, thunder was booming and a deluge had chased thousands of raucous infield revelers to seek cover and made the jockeys in their colorful silks and aboard their horses barely visible.
 
Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah winning the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course after splashing through a half-mile in 46.49 seconds and six furlongs in 1 minute 11.42.
 
“I was getting a little leery,” Baffert said. “These horses, you could tell they didn’t like getting pelted.”
 
Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah’s rider, however, was experiencing a moment of clarity. He was drenched and uncomfortable, and as he walked his colt in a circle, he made a decision. He was going to get American Pharoah out of the gate quickly and take this field gate to wire and to victory and, presumably, to New York and the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become the 12th Triple Crown champion in history, and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
 
“I didn’t want to get mud kicked into my horse’s face,” he said.
 
So Espinoza inched American Pharoah into the No. 1 hole and waited for the starting bell to ring. When it did, however, his colt’s back end swung out, causing him to leave a bit late. Espinoza smooched to him, and scrubbed his neck, and suddenly American Pharoah was floating like a swamp buggy atop the water, leaving first Mr. Z and then his stablemate Dortmund in his wake.
 
Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah finished seven lengths ahead of Tale of Verve, a long shot, after fighting off a challenging field.
 
He splashed through a half-mile in 46.49 seconds and six furlongs in 1:11.42. It was quick, dangerously quick. “It was a fast pace, but I had no choice,” Espinoza said. “But as soon as I took the lead, I knew that was it.”
 
Behind him, Corey Nakatani, aboard Mr. Z, believed he had American Pharoah measured. “He was in it,” he said of his colt.
 
Martin Garcia, atop Dortmund, sensed he was in trouble. His colt is a strapping 17 hands but had never had mud kicked in his face. Garcia knew his colt was not comfortable.
 
Before the race, Baffert told Espinoza that Mr. Z was going to be difficult to shake. In fact, the colt was not supposed to be in the field at all. He began the week owned by Ahmed Zayat, the owner of American Pharoah. He did not want to run Mr. Z two weeks after a 13th-place finish in the Derby.
 
But the colt’s trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, did. So on Wednesday morning, before the draw, Zayat got an offer to buy the colt from another of Lukas’s clients, Calumet Farm.
 
In the paddock, watching American Pharoah gliding down the backside, Baffert was no longer worried. Instead, he felt a shiver and a flutter in his heart.
 
“I saw his ears go up, and I thought, oh yeah, oh yeah,” he said.
 
Espinoza was relaxed atop American Pharoah as he leaned toward the rail and braced for the stretch. Baffert’s wife, Jill, tugged on his sleeve as the pack seemed to close in on American Pharoah.
 
“He’s waiting, he’s waiting, to let him go,” Baffert told her.
 
When Mr. Z got within a half-length, Espinoza crossed his reins, gave American Pharoah his head and essentially enjoyed the ride. The rider and his colt hit the stretch four lengths ahead and then rolled down the lane with the force of a waterfall. By the time Espinoza crossed the finish line, he and American Pharoah were seven lengths ahead of the long shots Tale of Verve and Divining Rod.

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