Half a mile into the Kentucky Derby, anyone who bet on Frosted knew he had virtually no chance to win. Not only was he 14th, 11 lengths behind a leisurely pace, but also very wide.
The rangy gray colt kept grinding away and finished strongest of all, falling a neck short of catching Dortmund for third. Frosted's backers had the bittersweet satisfaction of knowing they were undone by circumstances, not bad handicapping.
No one was more disappointed than trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who thought he had a realistic chance of getting his first Derby trophy. "We ran our race, but we didn't win," he said Thursday. "We were second best but we finished fourth. We ran a huge race on all figures. We ran farther than anyone except the winner."
That winner dominated the Preakness, and American Pharoah will be odds-on in next Saturday's Belmont Stakes to earn the first Triple Crown since 1978. Frosted, like fellow Derby also-rans Materiality, Carpe Diem, Mubtaahij, Keen Ice and Frammento, will benefit from five weeks off as they try to prevent history.
Horses who skipped the Preakness have won the past nine Belmonts, starting in 2006 with Jazil, whom McLaughlin trained. Only American Pharoah is trying to run in all three races. "The Triple Crown is tough," McLaughlin said, "and the most difficult thing is the three races in five weeks. In this day and age we run less and space our races more."
Pharoah's opponents hope fatigue softens him up. "It looks like he will take a lot of beating," McLaughlin said. "We have to hope our horse runs an A-plus race and he runs a 'B' race."
Unlike Jazil, Frosted is not a deep closer. He showed good tactical speed last year and earned his first win by leading almost all the way. His Derby bettors were upset and puzzled that Joel Rosario let Frosted lag so far behind and gave him way too much to do in the stretch.
Expect more aggressive tactics from Rosario. "I think we'll be a lot closer [to the pace] than in the Derby," McLaughlin said. "And hopefully not so wide, and we work out a better trip."
In other words, everything that didn't happen at Churchill Downs.
Staying 12 furlongs is the supreme challenge, but based on pedigree, Frosted stands a better chance than most. He's by top sire Tapit out of a mare by Deputy Minister, whose son Awesome Again won a Breeders' Cup Classic. McLaughlin also loves how his horse has been training. Daily Racing Form clocker Mike Welsch called Friday's 5-furlong breeze in 1:00.25 "the best I've seen of Frosted either prior to or since the Derby."
McLaughlin was asked his thoughts about finally seeing a Triple Crown after 13 consecutive failed attempts. "It would be nice," he said. "If I can't win the Belmont, I hope he wins it."
Notes & quotes: Trainer Todd Pletcher's trio breezed at Belmont. Carpe Diem (5 furlongs, 1:00.23) went together with Madefromlucky (1:00.64). Materiality did 4 furlongs in 47.68 ... American Pharoah galloped 1 1/8 miles at Churchill and schooled in the starting gate.