I’ll apologize in advance to the connections of Texas Red.
But first I’ll pose The Riddle of the Stinx:
Which creature has one voice and yet becomes footed-in-mouth then footed-in-head then footed-in-butt?
Moi, who picks Upstart in the Kentucky Derby, Firing Line in the Preakness and Frosted in the Belmont.
These are the Great Pyramids of my Triple Crown Necropolis, the burial ground of selections against American Pharoah.
I didn’t even bother retracing whatever twisted rationale led me to these conclusions. I will say this, not in my defense, but just for posterity, that my Derby pick beat no horses, my Preakness pick beat one and my Belmont pick beat six and still was 5 1⁄2 lengths behind the Pharoah.
Picking American Pharoah to win the Travers today should be as plain as the nose on the Sphinx’s face, but that was blasted off by one of Napoleon’s cannonballs or something.
I choose to believe that it fell victim to centuries of sandblasting in the Egypt desert, and erosion is a slow process, as we all know.
So, no, don’t try to break me down and get me to pick A TRIPLE CROWN WINNER in the Travers.
There will be a lot of people walking around Saratoga Race Course in Egyptian pharaoh headdresses today, and I’m the crazy one.
In case you didn’t already know, American Pharoah’s name is misspelled because owner Ahmed Zayat opened it up to a fan contest, and somewhere along the line there was a mistake. The Jockey Club accepted the spelling as is when it was submitted electronically.
As someone whose name has been misspelled in any number of ways, I’m not going to hold it against the animal, who has endeared himself to the public not just because of his spectacular success on the track but by his behavior off it.
Back at the barn after Friday morning’s gallop, American Pharoah resisted efforts by assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes to bring him back to his stall, because he was too interested in all the people gawking at him. It wasn’t hoof-planted stubbornness, but more like a child who wants to stay up past his bedtime.
If you have any doubt that this horse has developed a devoted following, you should’ve heard the hosannas cooed by onlookers standing behind the media while trainer Bob Baffert was talking about his horse.
“We will witness greatness,” one woman commandingly commanded, like Yul Brynner in “The Ten Commandments.”
Sing it, sister. I’ve got a ticket to cash on Texas Red.
First off, only 10 horses have completed the Jim Dandy-Travers double, but six of them — Medaglia d’Oro, Flower Alley, Bernardini, Street Sense, Stay Thirsty and Alpha — have done it since the last time a Haskell winner won the Travers.
That was Point Given, in 2001, and the obvious parallel there is that Baffert trained both Point Given and American Pharoah. I’ll give Baffert a pass on his last three Travers disasters because those horses were there just to take a shot.
But running in the Jim Dandy, win or lose, has been a pretty good indicator of Travers success in recent years. Seven of the last 11 Travers winners ran in the Jim Dandy.
During that span, 17 Haskell runners have come to the Travers, including five from the 2010 Haskell, and only Summer Bird has won the Travers, after finishing second in the Haskell.
OK, we’re talking about the Pharoah. I get that, all evidence to the contrary.
Texas Red, who missed the Triple Crown meat grinder with an injury, is a fresh horse, though, and even though he only beat three horses in the Jim Dandy, I love the way jockey Kent Desormeaux hand-rode him to the wire with Frosted breathing down his neck on the outside.
“Pharoah seems bullet-proof. But in the typical horse world, freshness matters,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said. “And it seems like we’ve got the good combination of experience, race fitness and freshness.”
There’s a lot of tread on American Pharoah’s tires, or, as Upstart trainer Rick Violette put it, “I think so [a tire], or an hourglass. For some, the sand goes through quicker, and they disappear in a hurry. He’s a special horse. I’m a big fan. He has more tread than most horses. You just don’t know where that wears out.”
Or when your own sand runs out. It’s a cruel, hot desert out there for anyone who picks against the mighty Pharoah.
Wait, what’s that shimmering on the horizon . . . ?
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