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May 29, 2015

Can American Pharoah be denied the Triple Crown?

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Nine colts are expected to challenge American Pharoah in the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes. Five could give him a tussle while four others are vying for smaller parts of the $1.5 million purse.

This week's column features the four expected also-rans while next week's write-up will look at American Pharoah's toughest rivals.

The four longest shots in the race will be (in no particular order): Frammento, Conquest Curlinate, Keen Ice and Tale of Verve. All four like to run from well off the pace, and even though the Belmont Stakes is the longest of the three Triple Crown races, it is the one most conducive to speed.

Since 2007, five of the eight Belmont winners were either on or within two lengths of the lead after the first half-mile. In addition, not one of the eight victors was more than 4 1/2 lengths behind the early leader at that stage of the race.

Besides running style, there is one other attribute separating the two groups of challengers. Each of American Pharoah's closest foes has won multiple times. Carpe Diem sports four wins, Frosted has won twice, Madefromlucky has hit the wire first on three occasions, Mubtaahij has four wins in eight races, and Materiality has lost just once in four tries.

On the other hand, Frammento, Conquest Curlinate, Keen Ice and Tale of Verve all are eligible for a non-winners of two lifetime entry. Both Frammento and Keen Ice have won once in eight races, Tale of Verve has started seven times, and Conquest Curlinate has five career starts.

That is not to say all four horses have no chance to win the third leg of the Triple Crown. Almost half of the last nine winners - Palace Malice (2013), Summer Bird (2009), Da 'Tara (2008) and Jazil (2006) - have won the race with just one lifetime victory.

One caveat remains and that is Da 'Tara was the lone horse of the four to win when the Triple Crown was on the line. In fact, Da 'Tara is the only colt with one previous win to stop a horse from winning the Triple Crown. Since 1979, the average number of victories the Belmont Stakes winner had in a year when a horse could have won the Crown has been 3.75. Easy Goer leads the list with seven, while Sarava and Tonalist come closest to Da 'Tara with two apiece.

Time now to take a closer look at the four outsiders.

Frammento broke his maiden in his second career start and his first around two turns. Instead of sending him into stakes company, trainer Nick Zito raced him in a pair of allowance races at the end of 2014. Frammento ran fourth to Sky Hero at Churchill Downs and then second, beaten 4 3/4 lengths, to Bluegrass Singer.

Bluegrass Singer went on to win the Mucho Macho Man Stakes next time out while Frammento rested for the Holy Bull. Unfortunately, the son of Midshipman finished sixth by 18 lengths.

Frammento rallied strongly to run third in his next outing - the Fountain of Youth Stakes - which got him a start in the Blue Grass. Once again, the colt failed to build any momentum running a non-threatening fourth.

The chestnut colt stayed in Kentucky hoping to get a crack at the Derby as an Also Eligible. When Todd Pletcher reported Stanford out of the race, Frammento was in. However, he had to start from the far outside post.

Frammento had a relatively clean trip and closed from 16th early on to finish 11th even though he lost ground inside the final furlong. Can he improve enough to make a dent in the Belmont Stakes? Once again, his style of running, along with his lack of quality makes it a daunting task.

On the flip side, he is bred to get the 1 1/2 miles and trainer Nick Zito has a tremendous record in the race,

One major negative is that he has raced against Keen Ice twice and lost both times.

Look for Frammento to finish in the back of the pack in the Belmont Stakes.

Speaking of Keen Ice, the son of Curlin also broke his maiden in his second lifetime outing. Unfortunately, the best he could do in the following six races was a pair of third-place finishes, one by 8 1/2 lengths to Leave the Light On in the Remsen and the other by 2 3/4 lengths to international Star in the Risen Star.

After running third in the Risen Star, Keen Ice was bet down to 5-1 in the Louisiana Derby, The Dale Romans-trainee never showed any hint of acceleration, finishing a dismal fourth. He was 6 3/4 lengths off the lead with a furlong to go and that was the number of lengths he lost by at the wire.

Sent off at 45-1 in the Kentucky Derby, Keen Ice raced the majority of the first mile on the rail. Jockey Kent Desormeaux moved him outside but got trapped behind a wall of horses approaching the eighth pole. The colt finally broke free from trouble a sixteenth of a mile later and closed strongly to finish seventh. Keen Ice missed Materiality by a length but pulled away from Mubtaahij by three-quarters of a length in the process.

Keen Ice is bred to handle the distance and could make some noise down the stretch if the pace is quick. Don't expect a top-two finish, but a third or fourth might be in the cards.

Tale of Verve ruined a lot of tickets by finishing second to American Pharoah in the Preakness at 28-1. He benefited from quick early fractions (22 4/5 and 46 2/5) and was the only horse to make up any ground through the stretch.

Did Tale of Verve like the off-going? His sire, Tale of Ekati, won the 2008 Jerome Stakes over a sloppy track at Belmont Park. His second dam, Mrs. Marcos, broke her maiden by eight lengths over a muddy track, also at Belmont.

The Preakness was thrown into a tizzy with the rain pouring down from the sky, so his effort has to be looked at with a touch of skepticism. In addition, trainer Dallas Stewart has not had much success in the Belmont Stakes with his other second-place classic finishers. Both Golden Soul and Commanding Curve finished ninth and that was with five weeks in between races. This will be Tale of Verve's third start since April 23.

Tale of Verve will be lucky to outfinish Frammento and not run last.

Conquest Curlinate is the final stone-closer trying to buck recent history. Curlin's second colt in the race does not own a dazzling pedigree for 1 1/2 miles. His second dam won two races, both at four furlongs. His damsire, Higher World, did not win past 1 1/16 miles.

It is true Conquest Curlinate can close with the best of them, but doing so over 12 furlongs might be asking too much. The Belmont Stakes is usually better suited to grinders rather than pure closers and the gray colt has been last early on in each of his past four races, including the Peter Pan Stakes.

Madefromlucky prevailed in the Peter Pan, defeating Conquest Curlinate by one length. The time of 1:48 1/5 was quick, but the Belmont Park surface was very fast that day. Wolf Man Rocket, the leader for much of the race, ran last and was beaten by less than five lengths.

On the positive side, Conquest Curlinate is one of just three horses in the field with a race over the track. Madefromlucky and Frosted are the other two. The last three and nine of the last 12 Belmont Stakes winners raced at Belmont Park prior to winning the final leg of the Triple Crown.

All in all, I would not wager on Frammento, Keen Ice, Tale of Verve or Conquest Curlinate to upset American Pharoah. If any one of the four were to fill out the superfecta, I would choose Keen Ice.

Stay tuned for next week's column, which will feature in-depth analysis on Carpe Diem, Frosted, Mubtaahij, Madefromlucky Materiality and, of course, American Pharoah.

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