As told to: Perry Lefko
It’s going to be an incredible rush to be at Belmont Park in New York on Saturday as part of NBC’s broadcast of the Belmont Stakes in which American Pharoah will try to become the first winner of the triple crown of thoroughbred racing since Affirmed in 1978.
Having watched it so many times on TV and having followed it as closely as I have now for NBC, it’s going to be a lot of fun being there. It’ll be something I’ll never forget because it will be the first time I get to see it in person, which makes it a whole new different feeling.
Can American Pharoah do it? I think so. I don’t think it’s that great and deep of a field, but it’s a mile and a half and some horses love to run forever and some will be spent at a mile and a sixteenth or a mile and an eighth. It seems like he is training really well and will relish the distance. But when you put in the fact it’s three races in five weeks and no horse has swept the series in 37 years and jockey Victor Espinoza is trying to do it for the third time and has won only four of 73 career races at Belmont Park, anything can happen.
I’m hoping we can see history. It’s been so close so many times. There’s a lot of ways to look at it, but any positive communication that goes on with the race to the general public, whether it’s with a Triple Crown winner or not, it’s going to be good publicity regardless. If it’s meant to be, it’s going to happen.
I think you can look at it and work it any way you want. For me, if it doesn’t happen, you continue to sell just how difficult it is to sweep the Crown.
I played for the New York Rangers in 1994 and they hadn’t won a Stanley Cup in 54 years. They had some really good teams and weren’t able to get over the hump and eventually they did. Now all of a sudden it’s 21 years and they haven’t won another Cup. I grew up a Chicago Cubs fan. They have not won the World Series since 1908. What’s another 100 years?
Things happen in cycles. I guarantee if American Pharoah sweeps the series, people are going to say the last time a horse swept the Crown it happened several times in the ‘70s.
I think Frosted is the horse for me. All signs point to him improving off of the Kentucky Derby in which he finished fourth by 3¼ lengths with some traffic issues. He’s well rested. The distance should not be a problem. No excuses. Great trainer in Kiaran McLaughlin. I look at Frosted as a legitimate contender to be gaining on American Pharoah with an eighth of a mile to the wire or being neck and neck or head and head for history. We’ll see. You need a little luck. I don’t care what sport it is, you need some luck. There’s a reason why there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner in a long time. You need things to go your way and a clean trip and you need to catch a break.
If the track is muddy or sloppy, I don’t think anybody beats American Pharoah. I think this horse is better on an off track than on the dirt from what I’ve seen. He had a relatively, uneventful easy race in the slop in the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago in Baltimore after winning the Kentucky Derby with a hard-fought drive to the wire. Maybe the Preakness didn’t take as much out of him. It seemed like he got over the track with ease.
If you’re going to bet against him, you look for value and try and hit the exacta. I liked Firing Line in the Preakness, but I gave out Tale of Verve at almost 30-1, and some people used American Pharoah and Tale of Verve in exactas and it paid $124.40 on a $2 ticket.
As an aside, the Stanley Cup conference finals were like a horse race that came down to the wire going seven games apiece. If the Rangers beat Tampa Bay, they would have played host to the first two games of the Stanley Cup, and the plan was for me to work the Belmont Stakes and then switch to the Cup at Madison Square Garden if New York was in the final. New York would have hosted the first two games. My boss made the decision I would stay with horse racing and then move on to the Cup on Monday. I’ve been covering the Triple Crown this year for the first time and it’s been a thrill and I’m going to see it through. But it’s hard to walk away from my broadcast partner Doc Emrick and game two of the Stanley Cup finals.
It looked like the possibility of doing the Daily Double of the Triple Crown and Stanley Cup finals on the same day in the same city, but it didn’t work out.
You have to give the edge to Chicago to beat Tampa Bay in the Cup because of their experience and depth. They’ve been there and done that. Tampa is talking about how young they are. They played a heck of a game in the series opener, losing 2-1. It wasn’t even close early in the game. It could have been 3-0 for Tampa midway through the second and third period. Tampa had a couple of good chances and they just couldn’t score. Corey Crawford kept the Hawks in it.
Tampa can skate with the Blackhawks – there aren’t a lot of teams that can play that way – and they can score. I said before the series if either goaltender is average in the series, you can have 6-5 games.
I expect it will be a long series. I would be surprised if it’s anything less than six games, but you have to give the edge to Chicago because of their experience.
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