The first rain drops fell innocently upon Pimlico Race Course at 5:52 p.m. Post time in the Preakness Stakes was 26 minutes away.
Nobody knew what was about to be unleashed, by Mother Nature and by American Pharoah. In torrential tandem, they took Baltimore by storm.
With lightning flashing, thunder rumbling and sheets of blowing rain soaking a Pimlico record crowd of 131,600, the Kentucky Derby champion danced through a Biblical deluge to win the Preakness by seven emphatic lengths. Provided he comes out of this race OK, the dazzling colt owned by Ahmed Zayat, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza will be the latest in a long and futile line to attempt to end thoroughbred racing’s 37-year Triple Crown drought June 6 at the Belmont.
Jockey Victor Espinoza celebrates aboard American Pharoah after winning the Preakness. (AP)
That quest will be the dominant storyline going forward – but this surreal second leg of the Triple Crown deserves its own soggy moment.
The end result of the Preakness was easy – a splash in the park, really. But getting there was harrowing.
With sinister timing, the racing gods opened the heavens upon American Pharoah and his seven competitors just before the race. The Pimlico racing surface turned into soup. Water cascaded from the jockeys’ helmets to their goggles to their silks; Espinoza said a lot of the rain ended up in his boots.
It was widely accepted that an off track was going to favor American Pharoah, who won the Rebel Stakes authoritatively in the slop in March. But this was far beyond an off track – this was all meteorological hell breaking loose, and it was impossible to handicap how the sensory bombardment would affect eight high-strung thoroughbreds.