We have absolutely no way of knowing how a Triple Crown winner will fare in the Breeders' Cup Classic for one big reason - no horse has been able to try it before. So, we enter uncharted territory as American Pharoah prepares to run for the last time. He already has his place in racing history secured. With a win here he would ascend to the levels of the immortal legends. It won't be easy, though - he's facing a strong field, being asked to do some things for the first time, and is at the end of a long and grueling year. So, can American Pharoah win the Breeders' Cup Classic? We have time to come to a conclusive decision, but here are nine factors that will have to shape our opinion:
Big races: This is a very big race. Needless to say, though, we know that this horse can get up for big races. He won the biggest of all races on the first Saturday in May and then won arguably the biggest race of the last 30 years to clinch his Triple Crown. He and his connections aren't going to be intimidated by the scope of the pressure and attention he will receive in this race.
Last race: This is a problem. He was supposed to come into this race on a wave of momentum. That came unraveled in the Travers at the end of August at Saratoga, though. It wasn't a total disaster by any means - he finished second. He just never fired when called upon. You could tell early on that he wasn't himself, and he never truly recovered. He just looked like he was out of gas - like it was one race too many. He did what was needed after that - he took some time to regroup, got back in training instead of running another race, and trained up to this race. It's not what would have been the ideal plan, but given the circumstances it was the best that could be done. He has worked like a superhero recently, so there is a decent chance that it has all worked out.
Effort: The Travers taught us that the season has been a significant strain for the horse. That should be obvious. This will be his eighth race of the year. By comparison, Tonalist, Honor Code and Beholder have all run five times, and Gleneagles has just four starts on his tires this year. He is also the only horse in the field that has won at the grueling mile-and-a-half distance this year, and he won the toughest single race on the calendar - the Kentucky Derby. He didn't have anything in the tank last race - or at least not enough. Can we be sure he will have enough this time around?
Distance: The mile and a quarter distance can be a big challenge for many horses. We don't have to worry about that here - he has won at this distance and longer. If things go wrong for this horse, it won't be due to the distance.
Works: On Oct. 3 he had a very good work. On Oct. 20 he had an absolutely brilliant one. This is a horse that has always worked well. Right now he is looking as good as he ever has - and that's saying something. He looked good before the Travers, though, so we can't let ourselves be too optimistic. But, man, is he working well.
Older horses: In a perfect world he probably would have raced once more between the Travers and this race - in September against older horses. That didn't happen, so the first time he will face a horse older than him - or a female horse for that matter - will be in this race. This isn't a hurdle that can't be overcome by any means - Beholder crushed males the first time she faced them, for example - but it's a factor. Between this and his workload, it sounds like I am being negative or trying to talk myself out of this horse. The truth is, though, that I'm not at all. I'm all in - and just trying to convince myself that I need to be rational and objective.
Jockey: Victor Espinoza has won two Breeders' Cup races. Oh yeah, and he's the only active Triple Crown winner, too. On this horse. Needless to say, he's capable of pulling off this race on this horse.
Trainer: Bob Baffert has won 10 Triple Crown races. He won the Classic last year with Bayern. Oh yeah, he also won the Triple Crown this year. We don't have to be particularly imaginative to think of him winning this race here.
Race shape: He likes to run on the lead, though he showed in the Haskell, and especially the Kentucky Derby, that he doesn't need to kill himself getting there - he can settle off the pace if that works better. That shouldn't be an issue for him here, though. He is the only horse that likes to run on the lead by choice in the field. Even better, Beholder is really the only one that prefers to sit close to the pace early on. He is going to get to run the race he wants - at least early on - and he will dictate how the whole thing shapes up. That is a nice luxury but one that will require a whole lot of strategy. Luckily, Baffert and Espinoza are up to the task.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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