Belmont Stakes Countdown–May 20, 2015

Belmont Stakes Countdown–May 20, 2015

Welcome to the first in a series of daily or near-daily articles covering the major news developments along the road to the June 6th Belmont Stakes (gr. I), in which American Pharoah will attempt to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the elusive Triple Crown.

The “Belmont Stakes Countdown” series will keep you posted on all of the latest workouts, jockey assignments, and noteworthy tidbits of information during the 2 1/2 weeks remaining before the big race. They will also contain many interesting historical statistics and trends, the first of which is included at the bottom of this post. I hope you enjoy!

We’ll start off today’s post with a few words on American Pharoah. The Triple Crown hopeful is back at Churchill Downs, where he is receiving a few days of rest after his romping victory in the Preakness Stakes. But even at rest, the colt is making headlines, for it was announced today that a deal has been finalized for American Pharoah to stand at Ashford Stud upon his retirement, which is expected to come at the end of the year. In the meantime, American Pharoah remains on target for the Belmont Stakes, and is expected to turn in one timed workout prior to the race.

In other news…

Mubtaahij Posts Sharp Workout

Just three days after breezing five furlongs on the Belmont turf in a bullet 1:01.11, UAE Derby (UAE-II) winner Mubtaahij was back on the track again, breezing four furlongs in :48.34 on the Belmont main track. Remarkable! It’s rare to see any horse breeze twice in the span of four days, especially at such relatively lengthy distances and on two different surfaces. It appears that Mubtaahij has come out of his eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby very well, and the extra time he has had to acclimate to the conditions in the U.S. should help his chances in the Belmont Stakes.

Who Will Javier Castellano Ride?

Prior to the Kentucky Derby, a great deal of pre-race conversation involved which horse jockey John Velazquez would choose to ride. As the regular rider of both Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) winner Carpe Diem and Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Materiality, Velazquez had a difficult decision to make. In the end, he chose Carpe Diem, allowing Javier Castellano to pick up the mount on Materiality.

But for the Belmont Stakes, it seems that Javier Castellano will be the jockey with a big decision to make. Assuming John Velazquez sticks with Carpe Diem, Castellano will have to make a decision between riding Materiality–whom he rode to a sixth-place finish in the Derby–or Madefromlucky, whom he guided to victory in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II). Many assume he will choose Materiality, a proven grade I winner that should be well-suited to the distance of the Belmont, but Madefromlucky’s victory in the Peter Pan was impressive, and he should also be a major contender in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Mike Smith, Gary Stevens Pick Up Belmont Mounts

With their mounts from the Derby skipping the Belmont Stakes, jockeys Mike Smith and Gary Stevens have picked up new mounts for the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Smith, who won the 2010 and 2013 Belmonts aboard Drosselmeyer and Palace Malice, has been named to ride Frammento, the 11th-place finisher from the Derby. Gary Stevens–who has won the Belmont three times aboard Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, and Point Given–will ride Tale of Verve, the runner-up in the Preakness Stakes.

Foundation Matters in the Quest for the Triple Crown

Should American Pharoah prove victorious in the Belmont Stakes, he will go down in history as the Triple Crown winner with the least number of starts prior to the Kentucky Derby. Presently, the record is held jointly by Seattle Slew and Sir Barton, who ran in six races apiece before winning the Derby. Additionally, American Pharoah would equal the record for the least number of starts at age two by a Triple Crown winner, a record currently held by Seattle Slew.

However, for those that might be worried about American Pharoah’s lack of races as a three-year-old–he had only two prep races before the Derby–this has actually been quite common for Triple Crown winners. In fact, six of the eleven Triple Crown winners had two or fewer prep races prior to the Derby–Sir Barton actually won the Derby in his first start of the season!

The full details of these statistics can be viewed below:

Horse Total # of starts
prior to Derby
# of starts
at age 2
# of Derby
American Pharoah 5 3 2
Affirmed 13 9 4
Seattle Slew 6 3 3
Secretariat 12 9 3
Citation 16 9 7
Assault 11 9 2
Count Fleet 17 15 2
Whirlaway 23 16 7
War Admiral 8 6 2
Omaha 11 9 2
Gallant Fox 8 7 1
Sir Barton 6 6 0
Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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