No one will argue that the best thing for horse racing is to have American Pharoah become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. That’s a given.
But in the ultracompetitive world of sports there are seven horses trying to do what is not good for horse racing -- deny the country a historic event that would catapult the sport back in the headlines for maybe even a week.
So that you’re not surprised if another horse ends up in the winner’s circle, here is a look at the horses that will be trying to spoil this feel-good story. American Pharoah, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza, is running from Post 5 as the 3-5 morning line favorite.
(Post position, horse, trainer, jockey, morning line odds)
1. Mubtaahij, Mike de Kock, Irad Ortiz Jr., 10-1
How he got here: He has won four of his eight starts, the most impressive being an eight-length win in the UAE Derby in Dubai. He finished an unimpressive eighth in the Kentucky Derby, his first race in the U.S.
Chance for an upset: His lackluster performance in the Kentucky Derby makes him suspect, especially at this distance. He was struggling to make the 1 1/4 mile at Churchill Downs, making that extra quarter-mile at the Belmont all that much more daunting. Biggest positive is jockey switch to Irad Ortiz Jr., who is one of the top riders at Belmont.
How he got here: He was the shocking second-place finisher in the Preakness Stakes, but that probably had more to do with him not minding the heavy rain and sloppy track than him being a legitimate contender. Prior to that race it took him six tries to break his maiden.
Chance for an upset: It’s hard to make a case for a horse that has never won a graded stakes race. Along with American Pharoah, he is the only horse that raced three weeks ago, so his freshness is suspect. He does get an upgrade in jockeys to the veteran Gary Stevens.
How he got here: He’s had almost a month off since winning the Peter Pan Stakes over this Belmont track. He did finish second to American Pharoah in the Rebel Stakes and fourth in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. This is his first Triple Crown race.
Chance for an upset: He looks a lot like Tonalist, last year’s upset winner of the Belmont, coming off a win in the Peter Pan. He’s also the only horse that has won at Belmont and will carry the seasoned Javier Castellano in the saddle. Even though he has won only three of eight races, he certainly bears a look, especially since he’s run here before.
4. Frammento, Nick Zito, Mike Smith, 30-1
How he got here: His 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby was certainly not a stellar performance. Some said he was lucky just to make the field. He has only one win, a maiden race, in eight starts.
Chance for an upset: There is nothing about the horse, but everything about his connections, that makes you think he can win. His trainer is Nick Zito, who has derailed two Triple Crown third acts. He trained Birdstone in the 2004 Belmont when he stopped Smarty Jones’ bid and was in charge of Da’Tara when Big Brown failed in his attempt in 2008. There is also a positive jockey switch to Mike Smith, who has won two of the last five Belmonts.
6. Frosted, Kiaran McLaughlin, Joel Rosario, 5-1
How he got here: His fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby was an impressive race, passing several horses down the stretch. This will be his seventh race, with one of his two wins coming in a competitive Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
Chance for an upset: He is probably the strongest stretch runner, which would benefit him if Pharoah starts to tire. Skipping the Preakness also makes him fresher. He has the best breeding to go the 1 1/2 miles with Tapit being his sire. His half-brother is Tonalist, last year’s winner. Both the trainer and jockey have their home base in New York, so there is added familiarity.
7. Keen Ice, Dale Romans, Kent Desormeaux, 20-1
How he got here: He has only one win in eight starts and no wins this year. He ran a respectable seventh in the Kentucky Derby, weaving his way through horses after entering the stretch 14th, after running in two prep races in Louisiana and finishing third and fourth.
Chance for an upset: He has late finish and distance breeding, but what he seems to lack is the ability to win. He may be over his head in this company and with a small field there is less of a chance of trouble from which he could overcome with his talent.
8. Materiality, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 6-1
How he got here: After a bad start in the Kentucky Derby, he rallied to finish a strong sixth. He’s lightly raced, having run only four times, three of them wins. He didn’t run as a 2-year-old.
Chance for an upset: He should be American Pharoah’s toughest competition. He will probably break toward the front and may try a stalking trip if Pharoah goes to the lead. He should have plenty left and stands the best chance to steal the race if Pharoah starts to tire in the stretch. Definitely the horse to watch if Pharoah falters.