American Pharoah is the king of the nation’s horse races this month: in a driving rain, the Kentucky Derby winner took home top prize at the Preakness Stakes Saturday.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, he left the other horses at Pimlico Race Course eating his mud; with an unofficial time of 1:58.46, he led by an impressive seven lengths.
If he can win the Belmont Stakes on June 6, he’ll be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
American Pharoah, owned by Ahmed Zayat and trained by Bob Baffert, was the favorite heading into the race. But he was in a tough spot, as NPR’s Tom Goldman told Scott Simon: “He drew the dreaded number-one post position along the rails, where dreams of victory often get hemmed in. The last horse to win the Preakness from that position was Tabasco Cat in 1994.”
Dortmund, the Derby-winner’s stablemate, and Firing Line were widely regarded as the horses most likely to spoil his Triple Crown dreams; they were third and second at the Derby, respectively, and had American Pharoah fighting for the lead for much of that race.
But at the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes, torrential rains complicated affairs — it became a question not only of speed, but of how well the horses could cope with the sloppy track.
American Pharoah and Mr. Z quickly outpaced the other horses. Dortmund and Divining Rod joined them for what looked, for a moment, like a four-way competition, but American Pharoah soon pulled away, essentially uncontested in the final stretch as he approached his dramatic win.
Far behind him, long-shot Tale of Verve pulled up for a surprise second-place finish, and Divining Rod placed third.
The race was held in Baltimore not long after protests and unrest put the city in the national spotlight. As Donna Marie Owens reported on Weekend Edition, Freddie Gray’s death from injuries sustained in police custody, and the tumult that followed, took an emotional and economic toll on the city.
Sal Sinatra, the general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, which oversees the Pimilico race track, told Owens he thought the city would welcome a chance to celebrate: “This year’s Preakness, because of the unrest in Baltimore, I think is even more special … it’s something that the city needs to bring a little calming effect to everybody.”
The city lost millions of dollars in tourist revenue during the unrest, Owens reports — but Preakness ticket sales didn’t seem to be affected.