It has been thirty-seven years since Affirmed won the eleventh and most recent Triple Crown in racing history, and newly-crowned Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner American Pharoah will face a steep challenge if he is to become the dozenth horse to sweep the three-race series. Fortunately, it appears that history may be on American Pharoah’s side as he prepares for the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) on May 16th, the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Since 2000, all fifteen winners of the Kentucky Derby have continued to Pimlico for the Preakness, and six of them turned in successful encore performances to win the race. But what is notable is that there is a striking connection between how each horse won the Derby and whether or not they repeated their performance in the Preakness,
The gist of it is this–since 2000, almost every horse that won the Derby after racing close to the early pace came back and won the Preakness, while every stretch-running Derby winner came back and lost the Preakness. Here are the year-by-year details:
- In 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus was fifteen early on in the Derby, and rallied from 12 1/2 lengths behind to win. He finished second in the Preakness.
- In 2001, Monarchos won the Derby after dropping back to thirteenth place in the early stages of the race, sixteen lengths behind the leaders. He finished sixth in the Preakness.
- In 2002, War Emblem utilized his excellent speed to win the Derby in gate-to-wire fashion. He came back to win the Preakness Stakes.
- In 2003, Funny Cide was never more than two lengths off the pace in the Derby and rolled to victory. He followed that up with a decisive win in the Preakness.
- In 2004, Smarty Jones was never more than 2 1/2 lengths back in the Derby and drew off to win by 2 3/4 lengths. He then scored one of the most dominating victories in the history of the Preakness.
- In 2005, Giacomo rallied from eighteenth place — 16 1/4 lengths off the lead — to win the Derby by a half-length. He finished third in the Preakness.
- In 2006, Barbaro stayed within four lengths of the pace in the Derby before pulling away to win decisively. Unfortunately, he broke down in the Preakness Stakes, so its impossible to know if he would have won or not.
- In 2007, Street Sense settled nearly twenty lengths off the lead in the Derby, then rallied up the rail to win by 2 1/4 lengths. He came close in the Preakness Stakes, but lost by a head.
- In 2008, Big Brown stayed within four lengths of the lead before pouncing to win by almost five lengths. He followed that up with a similarly easy victory in the Preakness.
- In 2009, Mine That Bird rallied from an improbable 21 lengths behind to win the Derby by almost seven lengths, the largest margin of victory since Assault in 1948. He put in another solid rally in the Preakness, but could only finish second.
- In 2010, Super Saver settled eight lengths off the early lead in the Derby, then sloshed through the slop to win. He finished eighth in the Preakness.
- In 2011, Animal Kingdom was never more than 6 1/4 lengths off the lead in a tightly-bunched field, but was as far back as twelfth after the first half-mile. In the Derby, he rallied to win the race by 2 3/4 lengths, but his late run in the Preakness could only yield second place.
- In 2012, I’ll Have Another finally broke the trend, as he closed from eight lengths off the lead (although he was never farther back than seventh place) to win the Derby before following up with a win in the Preakness.
- In 2013, the trend resumed, as Orb rallied from nearly nineteen lengths behind to win the Derby before finishing fourth in the Preakness.
- In 2014, California Chrome closed from two lengths off the lead to win the Derby, and was never farther back than third place at any call. He employed similar tactics to score a victory in the Preakness.
So viewing the historical data, it appears that American Pharoah–who was never more than two lengths off the pace in the Derby–will have an excellent chance to follow-up his Derby success with a win in the Preakness.