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2015 Belmont Stakes pace preview: American Pharoah's race to lose

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There hasn't been a Triple Crown winner since 1978. Will that change on Saturday?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

American Pharoah has his chance at making history on Saturday afternoon when the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, is run. NBC's coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET and the expected race time is 6:50 p.m. ET.

Here are the Pace Figures and Past Performances for the Belmont Stakes before American Pharoah attempts to complete the 12th Triple Crown.

Mubtaahij (10/1)

Here's what I had to say about Mubtaahij before the Derby:

The only international runner to compete in the race, Irish bred Mubtaahij carries the burden of his ancestors as seven Irish-bred horses have competed in the Derby since 1974 with an average finish of 12th. His jockey and trainer connections are among the best in Europe and can't be knocked.

While Predicteform does not yet publish international Pace Figures (it's coming), his most recent win in the UAE Derby was visually impressive, winning by eight lengths against a good group of international 3-year-olds. His connections are deeply based in Duba.

His sire, Dubawi, stands in Britain for the equivalent of almost US$200,000. He ran third in a Group 1, 12-furlong affair at Epsom and his offspring show success at up to 10 furlongs, but there is still a question as to whether he can get 12 furlongs. Additionally, and even more importantly, his Derby effort was suspect.

Mubtaahij's Derby effort was just so-so. He had a good stalking spot throughout the race but from mid-stretch to the wire two horses passed him on the outside while two others got him a jump late.

He sports eight previous races with the majority from Dubai. In checking the weather for each racing day from Dubai, it was unseasonably cool with temperatures between 70-80 degrees for each start. With the expectation that his assimilation to the weather and climate will be complete, Mubtaahij will have no excuse.

From a Pace Figure perspective, his one race in the US was a 77.4/68.2 REV, Reversal Pattern. An indication of the first time a runner has a faster final figure than 4f figure, this REV pattern gets discounted as it was his first start and very likely would occur in his first start at this Grade I level going a route of ground (> one mile).

As a matter of course, only one runner in this 2015 Belmont Stakes field does not have a faster final figure then 4f figure -- American Pharoah.

The biggest plus for this horse is the jockey change from a very good international jockey to the top rider at the Belmont Spring Meet, Irad Ortiz Jr., winning at a 27 percent clip.

The Play: Regressor - weakening in the stretch at 10 furlongs doesn't instill confidence at 12 furlongs.

Tale of Verve (15/1)

Here's what we had to say about Tale of Verve prior to the Preakness:

A maiden-only winner, Tale of the Verve tries the impossible jump to Grade I competition. He's won $54,000 lifetime and took five tries to get his first win. His average final Pace Figure is 10 points below the top three.

Picking up the pieces late, Tale of Verve finished second in the Preakness to American Pharoah at odds of 28/1. Moving from maiden company to the Preakness Stakes and finishing second is amazing, but much of that credit goes to American Pharoah. It was anybody's race for second in the Preakness and once the rain started, the options lessened to the runners that didn't mind being pelted. However, the Belmont Stakes at 12 furlongs is a different game. In this year's case, the Preakness was minor league.

Tale of Verve's final pace figures are the slowest in the field. And even if the Preakness final figure is discounted due to the rain (which we are not saying), he is still too slow by five lengths.

The jockey change to Gary Stevens makes for a storyline but his figures say otherwise. Add to it just 21 days rest and the cards are stacked against Tale of Verve.

The Play: Too Slow - his last final figure is three points slower than the rest of the field. To duplicate hitting the board as a long shot in the Belmont will be near impossible.

Madefromlucky (12/1)

Madefromlucky has not dipped his toe in the water in the Triple Crown series until now. Here's what we had to say about Madefromlucky prior to the Arkansas Derby (which American Pharoah won):

After a successful jump into Graded Stakes competition, Madefromlucky takes on American Pharoah again, who beat him handily last out in the Grade II Rebel Stakes. That being said, there are a few interesting angles to like. He makes his third start for top trainer Todd Pletcher, big-game rider Johnnie V stays aboard and he is coming off 28 days of rest, perfectly spaced. His half-sister, A Shin Gold (by Medaglia d'Oro), was a very good race horse in Japan, winning almost $1mm including the Japan Dirt.

His most recent Pace Figure showed a five-point regression from 73.4 - 68.3 but it aligns with American Pharoah's regression, likely due to a very heavy track.

And while he finished a semi-competitive fourth in the Arkansas Derby, his most recent effort in the Peter Pan garners interest. Here's what we said about Madefromlucky earlier in the week:

Madefromlucky ran in the Peter Pan and won, just like Tonalist did prior to his Belmont Stakes win last year. As seen from the chart, Madefromlucky has similar Final and Four Furlong figures to Tonalist entering the last leg of the Triple Crown (about two points off for each). Furthermore, both horses were coming off positive Form Cycle Patterns, Tonalist and his NPT (New Pace Top), while Madefromlucky is currently sitting on a SOFT Pattern (with a previous NPT). Read the full blog post on the value of Madefromlucky here.

Sent off as the fourth choice in a field of just five in the Peter Pan, he rallied into a slow pace, raced four wide while lugging in down the stretch, still winning while going away at a margin of closer to two lengths than one.

Madefromlucky is the second runner in the race from the Todd Pletcher barn and has the top jockey at Belmont Park (and in the US), Javier Castellano on board to ride. Lucky is also one of two runners to previously race at Belmont Park and the only one with a win.

The Play: Breakout/Fringe Contender - New shooter status and series of positive Form Cycle Patterns creates value at morning line odds of 12/1 and still a strong play at double-digit odds currently.

Frammento (30/1)

Here's what we had to say about Frammento before the Derby:

After a late defection Thursday afternoon by Stanford, Frammento scratches in off the also eligible list and inherits the outside post, No. 20. While you can't win it unless you run, pundits might say this longshot had his day in the sun by getting into the race. He's earned only $140,ooo, which puts him dead last in money earned in the field. He has just the one win, breaking his maiden as a two year-old. Beaten by a combined 25 lengths against the likes of Carpe Diem and Upstart, you are looking at the expected longest shot in the race at post time. Interestingly enough, his most recent final figure was a 74.1 and highest of his career but there is significantly more chance that he regresses off that top.

Another who ran a lifetime top in the Derby, Frammento did improve his lifetime best final figure by almost three points. Though he was beat by double-digit lengths, which oftentimes is the "line in the sand."

However, logic can be tossed out the window when you look at his trainer Nick Zito. Zito trained not one, but two Belmont Stakes winners who upset Triple Crown hopefuls! Birdstone in 2004, who upset Smarty Jones (at 3/10), paying $74 to win, and Da' Tara, who paid $79 in winning the 2008 Belmont after Big Brown (3/10) refused to run.

Jockey Mike Smith agreed to ride him for the first time, which is a huge plus after six different riders in his previous eight starts. Smith is well known for getting horses to relax and charge late. Smith has won two of the last five Belmont Stakes with Palace Malice in 2013 and Drosselmeyer in 2010 as well as finishing second in 2012 with Paynter (ironically owned by Zayat Stables).

The Play: Too Slow - Not much to get excited about, the only difference between Frammento and having absolutely no shot is the Zito/Smith combo.

American Pharoah (3/5)

What more can be said about American Pharoah? He's overcome two challenging post positions to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. While the final time in the Kentucky Derby was considered slow, his Derby Pace Figures were excellent. His ability to run through his lifetime Top Pace Figure (81.4) to win the most high profile race in the world from an outside post was a sign of greatness.

He quieted all doubters by dominating the Preakness in wire-to-wire fashion from the rail while running an 81.5 four furlong figure. This is the type of inter-race figure reserved for stakes caliber sprinters and milers, so posting it on the front end of a 9.5 furlong Grade I race is mega-impressive. And while his final figure in the Preakness was just 73.4, he earned an NPT (New Pace Top), the strongest pattern on dirt. The NPT designation occurs when a horse runs its fastest 4f figure of its career yet does not finish with its max final figure. His open length win, while dialed down at the end could also contribute to the 73.4 final.

From a breeding perspective, his Sire is Pioneerof the Nile, who was owned by Zayat and trained by Baffert. His Grand Sire (Sire of his Sire) was Empire Maker, who won the 2003 Belmont Stakes. There is little to report on the Dam side other than to say his Dam, Littleprincessemma, is also owned by Zayat. Trainer Bob Baffert takes his fourth shot at trainer immortality, looking for his first Triple Crown (you can watch all the Triple Crown near misses here).

Standing in American Pharoah's Triple Crown path is not his past performances, pace or speed figures; rather what has taken down the 12 previous Triple Crown contenders: How will he fare running the mile and a half (12 furlongs), which is just once around the biggest track in North America known as "Big Sandy"? Will the other jocks try and race ride Victor Espinoza? Will one of AP's competitors quietly be sitting on the biggest race of its lifetime? Will AP's third race in five weeks (and fourth race in eight weeks), including his Preakness effort over a completely muddy and sticky surface, take a toll?

The Play: Top Contender - Only one Triple Crown contender went off at odds over even money (War Emblem was 6/5 in 2002). American Pharoah is expected to be punished down on the tote board near 2/5, which would require over 70 percent confidence to bet. By our analysis, American Pharoah is the most likely winner of the Belmont and should win this race (and, thus, the Triple Crown) just over 50 percent of the time. From a value perspective, there is little.

Frosted (5/1)

Here's what we had to say about Frosted prior to Kentucky Derby.

An early career "hanger" (a horse that comes close but doesn't win), Frosted was just one for six with four second place finishes before his minor throat surgery which was followed by a big win in the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, a key Derby Prep race.

His Final Pace Figure improved from 65.8 to 77.3, a 12-point jump and the biggest improvement from a final figure perspective in the field. However, his four furlong figure regressed from 71 to 65, indicating a runner who is learning to manage his own pace better. Jockey Joel Rosario stays aboard which is a positive.

From a Pace Figure perspective, Frosted's Derby effort was significant. He ran his fastest lifetime final figure of 80, three points quicker than the aforementioned 77.3, with an increasing dirt spread (which means he is conserving his energy later in the race). These back-to-back strong final figures are an illustration of his improvement since his throat surgery in March that has turned him into the Grade I caliber competitor his connections hoped, essentially a different horse from his earlier racing career. From a Pace Figure perspective, we have given significant weight to his post-surgery numbers.

Visually speaking, his Kentucky Derby effort was impressive. He passed a number of horses coming from far back.

Frosted is better bred to go a mile and a half than any other runner in this field. He is by Tapit, the perennial leading stallion in North America who stands for $300,000, and his half-brother Tonalist (same Sire) won last year's Belmont. His Dam Sire, Deputy Minister (mother's dad), has produced three Belmont winners and a second in a dozen years. Read the full Belmont Stakes Breeding Analysis here.

Belmont Park is considered home turf for both trainer Kiaran McLaughlin (29-10-4-4), who is off to a strong Belmont meet, and jockey Joel Rosario. In essence, and unlike the Derby, this is their home court. Lastly, Frosted is one of two runners with a start at Belmont.

The Play: Fringe Contender/Contender - There is a lot in this analysis to indicate he has been pointing to this race for awhile. His morning-line odds of 5/1 are still shorter than they should be in an eight horse field that condenses value. While he is one of three runners with a shot to upset American Pharoah, it's tough to fully buy into his post-surgery numbers and expect him to continue to progress forward.

Keen Ice (20/1)

Here's what we had to say about Keen Ice prior to the Derby.

With a paltry race record of 7-1-0-2 and earnings of $160k, Keen Ice could likely be one of the longest shots on the board. You've got to hand it to his trainer Dale Romans, who has raced him in five straight Graded Stakes races, while cashing checks in every start (albeit 2 percent for running fifth). Romans has been sneaky good in the Derby finishing third in 2010 (Paddy O'Prado) and 2012 (Dullahan) and fourth in 2011 (Shackleford). The jockey change to Desormeaux should also be considered a positive. His final Pace Figure average is just 70.8 with a lifetime top of 74, but he does have an off the pace win at Churchill as a two year-old where he ran a 72 REV Form Cycle Pattern. The Play: Mega longshot - if he appreciates the extra ground (which he might) and shows that off the pace running style, he could blow up the tote board in the bottom part of exotics.

Keen Ice ran a sneaky good Belmont Stakes on the track and from a figure perspective. He finished with a 77.7 final figure, his best lifetime final figure by almost four points, while running a 4f figure of just 60, also a lifetime low. His dirt spread (final figure minus the four furlong figure) was 17.7, the largest in the field.

Visually speaking, Keen Ice was 14th at the top of the stretch; he had to zigzag through horses and got knocked off his right lead at the 16th pole (horses in North America lead with their left on turns and right on straightaway). And while this had no impact on where he finished, it does allow for some belief that he could improve off that effort without trouble.

Sired by Curlin (who ran second in the Belmont in 2007), Keen Ice's half brother, Palace Malice won the 2013 Belmont Stakes. Breeding wise, at least on the top (from the dad), Keen Ice is solid.

Kent Desormeaux retains the mount on Keen Ice, the very same jockey that rode Real Quiet in the 1998 Belmont Stake, ; the most ungracious of all Triple Crown beats ever.

The Play: Too Slow - While he should eat up the extra distance, his figures say he is too slow still to finish in the top three.

Materiality (6/1)

Here's what we had to say about Materiality prior to the Kentucky Derby.

The most lightly raced horse in the field, Materiality has three open length wins from his three starts. Only Big Brown (2008 Derby winner) had three starts prior to his Derby victory. However, Materiality looks to overcome "the granddaddy of Derby rules," as only one runner won the Derby having never raced at two years-old - Apollo in 1882. Since 1937, horses in the Derby without a race at two are 0-for-57. His average Final Pace Figure (via the Value Play view) is 73.8, which puts him mid-pack.

His 6th place finish passing horses in the stretch was better than expected.

His Derby Final Figure was 78.1, the fastest Final Figure of his lifetime by almost three points, while posting his lowest 4f figure. This led to his career best positive dirt spread lifetime (final figure minus four furlong figure) and, similar to Frosted, it means Materiality is learning how to manage and more evenly distribute his pace.

Visually speaking, Materiality ran a heck of a race. He was almost dead last from my perspective after watching the race 20 plus times (not from the PP's) and rallied up the inside to pass eight horses while finishing a quick moving sixth.

Jockey Johnnie Velazquez retakes the mount as he guided Materiality to his three previous victories, while Trainer Todd Pletcher has lit up the Belmont Park Spring Meet winning at a clip of 49% while being in the money 79% (yes, really).

From a breeding perspective, Materiality is by Afleet Alex, winner of the 2005 Belmont Stakes, a possible indication that he can handle the 12 furlong distance.

The Play: Fringe Contender/Regressor - if Johnny Velazquez can keep Materiality close to the lead, he's got a decent chance to steal the race, giving him some value at 6/1, but that will be tough in this field and he's at least as likely to regress.

★★★

Dan Zucker is a co-founder of Predicteform.com (and PredictionMachine.com), a horse racing data analytics company that focuses on how horses are progressing or regressing coming into a race. Zucker is a thoroughbred owner and partner and has campaigned stakes runners - Quiet Meadow, Street Life and Pianist and his current pride and joy, Catch My Drift.

Read more about how Predicteform.com works here.