American Pharoah guns for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown in the 140th Preakness Stakes Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, but he’ll start off from a position that hasn’t exactly been kind to other contenders.
The Kentucky Derby winner and betting public favorite will burst out of the No. 1 position right beside the rail of the 1 3/16-mile track where the seven other horses in the field can pin him and jockey Victor Espinoza inside and possibly out of contention.
The last horse to win from the No. 1 spot was Tabasco Cat in 1994, but American Pharoah’s shown numerous times why he’s considered one of the most special horses to come along in quite some time.
Espinoza told The Courier-Journal the unfortunate draw does affect strategy, but also stated the challenge could be a test to see if American Pharoah really is a threat to snap the almost four-decade long Triple Crown drought.
“Everything changed,” said Espinoza. “But I believe if he’s not good enough to win in any position what hope do we have for the Triple Crown. For me I think it's good that he has the one hole. Every race we always have to worry about position. It might change things a little, but I believe in American Pharoah.”
Under the tutelage and care of trainer Bob Baffert, who’s eyeing the sixth Preakness victory of his career, American Pharoah could be the 14th horse to capture the first two legs of horse racing’s most illustrious title since Affirmed won all three back in 1978.
The weather forecast does call for a flash thunderstorm in the Baltimore area at 4 p.m. ET, and its predicted to last at least an hour, but American Pharoah’s powered through the slop before. He easily claimed an almost eight-length victory at the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in March, despite heavy rain muddying over the prior two days.
American Pharoah’s main competition will be right next to him in fellow Baffert student Dortmund at the No. 2 post, and Derby runner-up Firing Line all the way on the outside at No. 8.
A hulk of a three-year-old colt, Dortmund won the first six starts of his career, most notably the Santa Anita Derby. But he never faced American Pharoah until the trip to Churchill Downs two weeks ago and wound up in third.
Given his pedigree, sired by 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, Dortmund’s become a favorite among experts more than American Pharoah.
Firing Line provided a thrilling finish as he challenged American Pharoah down the homestretch of the Derby, and came up just one-length short of his own bid for the Triple Crown despite entering the gate at 9/1 odds.
The rest of the Preakness field includes two others who trotted out in Lexington, Danzig Moon at No. 4 and Mr. Z at No. 3.
Originally pulled by his former connections, Zayat Stables, who own American Pharoah, because of his 13th place finish at the Derby, Mr. Z was actually purchased on Wednesday by Calumet Farm and entered in time for a shot at the Preakness' $1.5 million purse.
Danzig Moon ran well at the Derby, coming in fifth place, and he’s also put up solid performances with a runner-up at the Blue Grass Stakes last month and fourth place at the Tamp Bay Derby.
Latest Odds with Pole Positions
The odds haven’t changed yet from the morning lines, but once Pimlico opens that could change. Keep abreast of any changes at the Preakness’s official site.
No. 1 American Pharoah (4/5); No. 2 Dortmund (7/2); No. 3. Mr. Z (20/1); No. 4. Danzig Moon (15/1); No. 5 Tale of Verve (30/1); No. 6 Bodhisattva (20/1); No. 7 Divining Rod (12/1); No. 8 Firing Line (4/1)
Actual Start Time: The projected post time is 6:18 p.m. ET, meaning the contenders will start to walk up to the gate at that time. With eight total making up the field, figure the race actually commences a little before or after 6:30 p.m.
TV Channel: NBC’s coverage starts at 4:30 p.m.
Live Online Stream: A live stream is available to watch all of NBC’s coverage at NBC Live Extra