CITATION AND COALTOWN REDUX?

The (Louisville) Courier-Journal captioned an online video “Is Baffert’s 1-2 punch best in Derby history?”  Similarly, racetrack handicapper Mike Battaglia and sportswriter Billy Reed have made comparisons between trainer Bob Baffert’s entries of American Pharoah and Dortmund and Calumet Farm’s Citation and Coaltown in 1948.

If, like Citation and Coaltown,  American Pharoah and Dortmund run first and second in the Kentucky Derby (in either order), the analogies will inevitably ramp up.  However, there is a fundamental difference, besides field size, between the 1948 and 2015 scenarios, and this distinction makes it more difficult for one of the Baffert-trained colts to win the Triple Crown in 2015.

In 1948, Citation and Coaltown (both sired by Calumet stallion Bull Lea) were owned by Calumet Farm and trained by the father and son team of Ben and Jimmy Jones.  Moreover, the pair ran as a betting entry.  By contrast, American Pharoah and Dortmund have different owners and will not run as a betting entry.

The common ownership in 1948 allowed the Jones boys to increase the chances of Calumet winning the Triple Crown.  Once Citation won the Kentucky Derby over second-place Coaltown, the colts did not run against one another in the Preakness or Belmont.  While Citation was clearly the better colt, there was always the outside possibility that the speedster Coaltown could upset him, especially in the shorter-distance Preakness, and thereby ruin the Triple Crown run.  Ben and Jimmy Jones did not take this risk.

Unlike Ben and Jimmy Jones in 1948, if Bob Baffert wins the 2015 Kentucky Derby with, say, American Pharoah, he cannot easily ask Dortmund’s owner to forgo a rematch in order to improve American Pharoah’s opportunity to sweep the Triple Crown.

Baffert has said that not much separates American Pharoah and Dortmund in terms of talent.  Thus if American Pharoah wins the Kentucky Derby, there is a strong likelihood that Dortmund will prevail in the Preakness or Belmont (and vice versa).   American Pharoah’s speed would be dangerous in the Preakness and Dortmund’s size and long stride is suited to the Belmont.

In 1995, D. Wayne Lukas trained the winners of all three Triple Crown races.  Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont and Timber Country won the Preakness.  The colts had different owners.  That outcome could repeat itself in 2015.  On the other hand, maybe American Pharoah or Dortmund is slightly better than the other one and takes the Triple Crown, just as Affirmed managed to best Alydar in all three races in 1978.

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business

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