By Frank Scandale @FScandale @TheDailyPayoff
Any number of factors could go against American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown on Saturday, not the least of which is history.
While the pre-race reports about everything from his glistening coat to his unbridled energy continue to fuel the hopes of millions that he can break the 37-year drought, history’s heartbreak lurks around each turn. And bettors know that.
Joe Kristufek, one of America’s Best Racing ambassadors and the racing analyst for Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY, noted that if you are a bettor, you have to look at the trends.
“A lot of people who are gamblers and like any sport, they have to look at the trends,” he said. “At the Belmont Stakes, in addition to the fact that no horse has won the Triple Crown since 1978, and since 1996 only two favorites have won this race, and no Triple Crown winner has ever beaten seven horses in the Belmont…there is lots of history going against American Pharoah.”
Then he paused.
“That said, trends are there to be broken and, really, how good he is and how well he is doing, I think he will win.”
In Las Vegas, the gamblers are getting excited for the race, says Johnny Avello, race and sports book director at Wynn Las Vegas. He’s been studying the film of the three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s, the decade many call the Golden Era in horse racing, as well as the races of those who had a chance and came up short. During the seventies, the last era there was a winner, race fans were treated to Triple Crown winners Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) ..
“We had three during the seventies and not one since,” he said. “Thirteen have tried, but none has won it. If we don’t get it this year, it will be disappointing. It will look like it will never happen.”
Avello said American Pharoah is the best of the group in this race. While not fresh – he ran the Preakness two weeks ago – he is a touch better than any other horse in the race.
Both Avello and Kristufek see scenarios that could thwart American Pharaoh’s heroic efforts to date. With rain down to a 10 percent chance in New York on Saturday, that element that American Pharaoh thrived in at the Preakness is an unlikely aid for him this time.
But Kristufek says if a muddy and drying track is presented, that could create some “randomness.”
Sitting in the fifth post in the eight-horse field, American Pharoah was 3-5 in the morning line. Some see Materiality (6-1), a fresh horse, possibly exhausting American Pharoah, and then letting Frosted (5-1) sneak by him.
Avello, whose book has American Pharaoh at 5-7 currently, can see the possibility of Frosted sitting behind American Pharaoh the whole race and then pulling ahead toward the end of the 1.5 mile race, the longest of the three Triple Crown legs.
“There are so many scenarios,” he quipped. But he hopes the track is dry and the weather does not play a factor because there are so many good horses on the card all day, that it would be unfortunate if unfavorable track conditions played a role.
So what is the play, Johnny?
“The play? I think nothing is sure in this game, but American Pharoah finishes first or second, and the question is who is above or below him? That is difficult. I will have to see the prices 15 or 20 minutes out,” Avello said.
Kristufek sees playing the Exacta as well, but picking the second horse is also difficult.
He had American Pharoah at 3-5 in the morning line, but could go to 2-5.
With a fast track, he says 70 percent odds American Pharaoh wins. Twenty percent Frosted wins. Ten percent Materiality wins.
One thing is for sure on Saturday. There will be 20,000 fewer fans in the stands because of restrictions imposed on the size of the crowd. In past years, complaints about overcrowding and over taxed facilities inside the track led to this year’s reduction.
The other thing both Avello and Kristufek are sure of is that many bettors will not cash the winning ticket if it is American Pharoah.
“Oh, they are holding that ticket,” Avello said.
It’s the least fans could do for the horse that might buck history.