Trainer Bob Baffert has two good shots at Preakness Stakes – American Pharoah and Dortmund

In-form American Pharoah and Dortmund at the accomplished trainer’s disposal at Maryland on Saturday morning.

American Pharoah is in good form after winning the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2. Rob Carr / Getty Images
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At a certain exalted level in sport it is often said that you can only be beaten by luck or yourself.

Going in to the 140th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in the early hours of Saturday morning that is one of the more plausible eventualities staring Bob Baffert in the face.

Baffert has won the Preakness Stakes on five occasions, four of which were with horses that augmented their victories in the Kentucky Derby.

The trainer arrived in Maryland this week with such a strong representation that it was difficult to imagine him not adding another with either American Pharoah, his Kentucky Derby winner, or Dortmund, who had his first defeat at Churchill Downs when third to his unbeaten stablemate.

Lady Luck has already intervened and has placed American Pharoah in the awkward post position on the inside rail, while Dortmund can eyeball his rival from Stall 2 on his outside.

American Pharoah is the overwhelming favourite to become the 35th horse to tack on the Preakness Stakes to the Kentucky Derby and provide Baffert with yet another attempt at securing the fabled Triple Crown at Belmont next month.

It is easy to see why.

In the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby one of the few unproven aspects to American Pharoah’s vast armoury was his ability to win a street fight.

He had glided through his prep races, but at Churchill Downs rival Firing Line asked him some uncomfortable questions that transformed in the stretch to a full-on argument.

American Pharoah won that battle by a length, but there are signs that it may have taken its toll.

The pace during the half mile to the home straight was one of the fastest this century, but American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund paid for that as the final 400 metres was reduced to a lung-busting crawl.

Dortmund was tiring and could not find enough to beat his old rival Firing Line, who he had edged out twice previously in stretch battles, and Victor Espinoza had to resort to hitting American Pharoah an astonishing 32 times.

The rules of racing in the UAE state that a jockey has used his whip excessively if he has hit his mount a total of 12 times during a race, which illustrates how whip-happy the Mexican rider became during those final punishing stanzas to the Run For The Roses.

Baffert has subsequently defended Espinoza’s use of the whip, which did not leave a mark according to 12 veterinarians who poured over American Pharoah afterwards.

Mentally, though, we will never know, but American Pharaoh has taken all the travel this season for his three races in his stride, according to his trainer.

On Thursday in training he floated over the track at Pimlico, and Baffert is upbeat about his chance.

“I really think it’s a positive, because he showed that he got in a fight with Firing Line, and he came out on top,” Baffert said.

“He shipped to Arkansas, he wins that, he ships back. Then I ship him back to the Derby, he wins that with ease, then he flies again and he still looked great.

“There’s something really special about him, and you can’t do that with very many horses. You have to be a cut above.

“That was a good, stiff, hard race for him and it looks like he handled it pretty well.”

American Pharaoh’s ability to change gears for Espinoza will be crucial. The Mexican rider will either have to jump the gate and assume the lead, which will use up a lot of energy with Martin Garcia and Dortmund most likely looking to do the same thing next door, or take a pull and hope he can sit on the leader’s heels.

Whichever way Espinoza slices it, he will almost certainly have Dortmund either for company for much of the trip, or worse, have to pass him.

Over a race 100 metres shorter than Churchill Downs, that will be a particularly difficult task and Dortmund could well snatch Baffert’s Triple Crown hopes.

If the draw, or Dortmund, does not beat American Pharaoh, then perhaps Firing Line will.

Jockey Gary Stevens has the luxury of being able to ride the race whichever way he chooses from the widest gate in stall eight.

Firing Line’s English trainer Simon Callaghan said that his charge has come out of the Kentucky Derby fresh and hopes that the draw, and the slightly shorter distance, will prove the difference.

“He’s got a very good cruising speed during his races and I think that should lend itself to a slight cutback in distance,” Callaghan said. “I think this could be an absolutely perfect distance for him.”

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