In recent years, several horses have made a run at the Triple Crown, winning the first two legs only to come up short at the Belmont. Typically there’s a lot of excitement and anticipation when a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but that really hasn’t been the case this year with American Pharoah – at least in the eyes of Brandon Tierney.
Pat Forde, however, has gotten a different feel entirely.
“Kind of a little bit the opposite,” the Yahoo! Sports horse racing and college sports columnist said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “There’s been a pretty high amount of interest it seems like in these first two legs. I don’t know what the TV ratings were for the Preakness, but for the Derby they were really good. There was a record crowd of 170,000 at Churchill Downs, and there was a record of 131,000 at Pimlico.”
That means that more than 300,000 people have traveled and paid to watch American Pharoah run his last two races.
“I think at least in certain segments out there that this has caught people’s attention,” Forde said. “Maybe not everywhere. The NBA playoffs are in full swing. Maybe the week of the race I think people across the board will tune in a little bit more seriously. This horse is a very good horse. It’s just a very difficult task.”
No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, so what are the odds American Pharoah pulls it off?
“I still think the odds are against him – even though he’s an excellent horse with a trainer (in Bob Baffert) who knows how to win these races (and) a big-time jockey (in Victor Espinoza),” Forde said. “Still, this is not what horses do. The modern thoroughbred doesn’t race three times in five weeks at three different tracks over three different distances. It’s a big, big ask, especially when there are a lot of horses – New York-based horses – that skipped the Preakness to load up for the Belmont. So it’s not necessarily a fair fight. There’s going to be more-rested horses. You’re looking at a horse and saying, ‘Now you’ve got to run the farthest you’ve ever run in your life off of three weeks rest after running in a monsoon – and that comes after running the mile-and-a-quarter in the Derby in an absolute alley fight of a battle. So it’s a big, big ask, even though it’s a good horse.”
Tierney, however, doesn’t buy that argument. How long does it take a horse to recover from running for 90 seconds?
“It takes a long time,” Forde said. “It does. That’s a lot of stress on these animals, especially these days when they are very lightly raced in general. They just don’t do it. This is like when pitchers used to throw complete games every four days. Now do they do that? You’re asking a pitcher to go throw basically nine innings three times in a week. What’s his arm going to be like on that third outing? Not very good.”
Tierney countered that pitchers would be physically capable of doing that; they’re just now allowed to due to pitch counts. Forde said horses are a different animal – literally.
“They’re not bred the same way anymore,” he said. “There’s physical differences. They’re bred more for speed. They’re bred less for stamina. There are more infirmities that are bred into the line. There are physical reasons why it’s much riskier to run horses back this quickly. And again, the competition is going to be more well-rested and have a very free shot at taking him down.”