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Bossert: American Pharoah will face rested horses at Belmont

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Mike Stewart/AP

American Pharoah’s road to history is about to become even tougher than the mud at Pimlico.

BALTIMORE – Steve Coburn was wrong when he called Tonalist a “coward” for not running in last year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, before taking the Belmont Stakes, ending California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in 2014.

But he had a point.

Since the bonus was eliminated after the 2005 Triple Crown, there is no incentive to run in all three races anymore unless you keep winning, which American Pharoah has.

There was a $ 5 million bonus available for the lucky horse to sweep the three races, although none did, and there was a $ 1 million bonus for the horse that performed the best based on his three finishes in the three races, but now it is gone.

Now, there are six horses who ran in the May 2 Kentucky Derby, passed the Preakness, and are waiting for American Pharoah in the June 6 Belmont Stakes, along with Peter Pan Stakes winner Madefromlucky, who will be making his third start since April 11, while American Pharoah will be making his third start in just five weeks.

Tonalist, who won the Belmont Stakes last year after taking the Peter Pan Stakes, was only making his fourth start of the year in the Belmont.

The six horses coming from the Derby are Frosted (4th in the Derby), Materiality (6th), Keen Ice (7th), Mubtaahij (8th), Carpe Diem (10th) and Frammento (11th).

“I know everybody right now is sharpening their knives getting ready,” Baffert said of his likely competition.

Wayne Lukas, who won the 2000 Belmont Stakes with Commendable after finishing 17th in the Derby, skipped the Preakness Stakes before pulling off his upset in the Belmont.

“I think you got to read what’s in front of you,” Lukas said. “Not every horse can do it. I would have no problem skipping the Preakness if I thought it (the Derby) knocked my horse out. Not a bit. I would never, in the Triple Crown series, predetermine that I was going to run Derby-Belmont. I would play it day by day, and see what I got to work with.”

Lukas thinks a return of the bonus system would help keep horses running in all three races, but thinks it won’t happen because of racetracks’ reluctance to work with one another.

“I think it would be good,” he said. “The Triple Crown would have to hold hands and do it collectively and that would be difficult because Churchill (Downs) could care less. This place (Pimlico) might fall into line because of (owner Frank) Stronach, because he’s so positive for racing, but to get Churchill to put up some money for a Triple Crown, they’ll say we’ll run our race and we don’t care what the rest of them do.”

Todd Pletcher had four horses considered for the Preakness Stakes but decided to pass with all of them and now has three fresh horses – Carpe Diem, Materiality and Madefromlucky – pointing for the Belmont.

“He’ll ambush them (in the Belmont), when they roll into town,” Lukas said of his former protégé. “Here’s the problem, it’s not just one. It’s Custer and the Indians, he’s going to surround them. He might have three or four.”

Let it be clear, no one is breaking the rules, and maybe that’s why there have been only 11 horses to win the Triple Crown and maybe American Pharoah is that special for he’ll have to be running for the third time in five weeks, going the demanding distance of a mile-and-a-half.

There have been 34 horses in the same position as American Pharoah entering the Belmont Stakes, but only 11 succeeded.

“Bring it on,” said owner Ahmed Zayat.

We’ll find out on June 6 just what kind of horse American Pharoah really is.

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