American Pharoah lost a horse race. And not since Chicken Little proclaimed that the sky was falling has there been so much ado-doo about nothing.
After the Triple Crown champion was overtaken by Keen Ice in the stretch of last Saturday’s Travers Stakes, the excuses came faster than a speeding bullet.
American Pharoah was “lathered up” and not himself during the post parade; the champ was “dueled to death” by Frosted — almost literally according to jockey Victor Espinoza, who claimed that Jose Lezcano, rider of Frosted, “was trying to hurt American Pharoah.”
Dr. Fager duels wide in the 1968 Washington Park Handicap, carrying 134 lbs.
“He put [Frosted’s] chest right on American Pharoah’s hip,” Espinoza told SI.com. “He hit me five or six times. I almost went into the rail. I understand that everybody in the race is trying to beat American Pharoah. I think he was trying to hurt American Pharoah. I don’t think Rosario would have ridden him like that.”
Sure, blame the new kid on the block. As a last-minute replacement for Joel Rosario, who was injured earlier on the card, Espinoza was apparently easy pickings for those looking for a scapegoat. Heck, even Frosted’s trainer criticized the journeyman rider, claiming that pressing American Pharoah in the early stages of the Midsummer Derby was not part of the game plan.
“The instructions were to sit third to fifth, but when nobody else went with [American Pharoah] [Lezcano] decided to go with him,” McLaughlin told my colleague Laura Pugh.
“It wasn’t ideal for us, but it happened,” McLaughlin went on. “[Lezcano] rode [Frosted] to win, but it wasn’t the instructions. We would’ve possibly been first or second, and we most likely would’ve been the ones in the center.”
The fact that Frosted hasn’t won since he annexed the Wood Memorial on April 4 and has now been defeated by American Pharoah four times seems to be lost on those who’ve latched onto Lezcano as the Bill Buckner of the 2015 Travers Stakes.
After all, I’m sure things would have been different if Lezcano had kept Frosted off the tepid Travers pace (the -1 early speed ration was the slowest since Grasshopper nearly lulled them all to sleep in 2007): Lezcano would be receiving kudos from McLaughlin for following instructions and we’d all be celebrating another victory by America’s Horse.
Of course, I’ve heard the argument that it wasn’t so much the slug-slow pace, but the constant pressure that got to American Pharoah and, I have to admit, there is a precedent for such a claim. In fact, the last Triple Crown champ, Affirmed, faced unrelenting pace pressure in both the Belmont Stakes as a three-year-old and in the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a four-year-old. Each of those races was at 1 ½ miles (two furlongs longer than the Travers) — and Affirmed won them both, over a couple of nags named Alydar and Spectacular Bid.
Look, I get it. We’re racing fans and, as such, we become attached to certain horses. I loved The Green Monkey and was sad to see him retired before he reached his potential as a $16 million version of Zippy Chippy, but that’s racing.
American Pharoah didn’t “bounce;” he didn’t run unduly fast or face extreme pace pressure. He just got beat by a better horse on the day of the race.
It happens. Get over it.