Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah was widely respected as the best horse leading into the Derby, although pundits questioned his heart, outside post position and need for the lead. In a sense, he has even MORE detractors following his Derby score than he did before, for different reasons (below). Firing Line and Dortmund ran well in defeat, so now the "Great One" talk has turned into the "Big Three" debate. This harkens back to the days of Triple Crown rivalries like Affirmed, Alydar, Believe It (1978), Silver Charm, Captain Bodgit, Free House (1997) and Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun (2007) repeating their top 3 finish at Baltimore two weeks later. I'll go out on a limb and say a long-shot will spoil the trifecta reunion!
Knock 1: American Pharoah had a perfect stalking trip with no dirt kickback.
Response: He was parked wide on both turns, which would translate to an additional 3-4 length winning margin and better finishing time. The perfect trips were actually those of the second and third place finishers, who couldn't finish him.
Knock 2: Victor had to use his whip far too much based on his position and the slow fractions.
Response: Pharoah's best weapon is his high cruising speed -- the ability to run his foes "off their feet" and keep going. He was compromised by the dawdling pace such that he won by running down an opponent for the first time. My guess is that Baffert tells Victor "GO" from the opening bell.
Knock 3: The time of the race and final fractions were slow.
Response: True, but this is more of a knock on Dortmund and Firing Line for not being able to hold him off, especially with Pharoah running sideways into the stretch while only Frosted made up any ground through the stretch.
Knock 4: Prior to Derby- he's not battle tested. Now- his stern Derby test probably took too much out of him.
Response: Well, which is it?! Dortmund has had 7 tough races without even a training break since his Nov. 2 maiden race and Firing Line 6 races dating back to Oct. 25, also w/out a break. Pharoah had 5 1/2 MONTHS off prior to his 3YO campaign. You tell me who the fresh horse is.
Obviously, my top pick (and Triple Crown hope) remains American Pharoah! But I think Divining Rod is sitting on a big one and could steal the show. While Firing Line or Dortmund should round out the trifecta, I'll also have long-shot Bodhisattva in my 3rd-4th positions for sentimental reasons. His dam, Dr. Cheryl P., leapt off the page at me when I recognized that name. Surely, this couldn't be the same mare that dropped a non-descript Louisiana bred foal that I had an ownership stake in a couple years ago named Byappointmentonly? Come to find out, that's one and the same! What drew me to this filly was that her 2nd dam produced juvenile champion Wilko about a decade ago. Typical of my racing luck, I was a day late and a dollar (errr... horse) short!