We've stood in this exact position before. Thirteen times, in fact, since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978.
But there is something different about this year. Something that makes people believe that this could be the year.
OK, it's fair to bring up Einstein's definition of insanity at this point. No one would argue that odds and logic say there will be no Triple Crown winner, yet again.
But we're going to convince you anyway and give five reasons why American Pharoah will become the 12th winner of horse racing's Triple Crown on Saturday.
1. He's the best horse. This is the one you can't dispute. His seven-length win over a sloppy course in the Preakness was probably the most impressive of his wins. He has won six in a row, with the Kentucky Derby being the most difficult of his races. He's answered every time he's been asked, and clearly none of the other horses in the Belmont are as good as him. But the best horse wins only about a third of the time because there are so many variables.
2. He's looking good physically. There is one really big factor that trainers look at when a horse is coming off a short layoff: How's his weight? Last year, California Chrome was already showing signs of being tired as he entered the Belmont as he was, at best, just maintaining his weight. American Pharoah has actually put on a few pounds, meaning he is in good health, has a great appetite and is just loving life. His ears are perked and he seems to be having fun. Of all the factors, this is the one that brings the most optimism. He seems more than ready.
3. It's a small field. No horse has ever won the Triple Crown when having had to beat more than seven horses. The number of other runners on Saturday: seven. With such a small field the chances of getting in needless trouble are less. This puts more emphasis on Victor Espinoza running a smart tactical race, which he has proved he does well.
4. He can rate. Some horses need to be in the front and others need to come strong at the end. And some are content to just sit off the lead and make their move when they need to. That's called rating. If you look at his commanding performance in the Arkansas Derby, Pharoah stayed comfortably in second place through the turn and all along the backstretch before making his move. In the Kentucky Derby, he couldn't get the lead and ran a ground-losing race in the middle of the track before pulling away at the end. In the Rebel Stakes and Preakness, he went right for the front and was never challenged. The strategy on Saturday is probably to rate off the lead. If not, he can win in other ways.
5. The distance isn't that big a factor. Much is made about the 1 1/2-mile length of the Belmont Stakes. True, it's a distance a dirt horse will probably never run again. But the race usually sets up with incredibly slow fractions for the first half-mile. The horses are doing more of a fast gallop than what they might be doing in a mile or 1 1/4 race. The major factor is that American Pharoah will have been the only horse that will have run three races in five weeks. That's what gasses the horse, not the distance. But this horse seems very fit (see Reason 2), and that’s why he will be the 12th winner of horse racing's Triple Crown.
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