BALTIMORE — American Pharoah answered the question that had hung over every Preakness and Belmont Stakes for 37 years: Which horse would finally end the Triple Crown drought?
Now that American Pharoah is out to stud on a farm in Kentucky, a new question has dominated the run-up to today's 141st Preakness at Pimlico Race Course: Could we see two Triple Crown winners in a row?
Nyquist, the undefeated Kentucky Derby champion and 3-5 Preakness favorite, is good enough to make that speculation far from ridiculous.
American Pharoah proved last year that a great horse can still capture the public's imagination. He drew crowds in the thousands just for his workouts, attracted millions to watch races normally ignored by casual fans and inspired debates about whether a non-human could be the best athlete of 2015.
What's less clear is how great an impact he had on a sport that had craved a signature hero for decades. For example, Nyquist's Kentucky Derby win May 7 averaged 15.5 million TV viewers, down 3.1 percent from last year's race. Attendance and betting handle have been up at some tracks but not at others. And industry analysts say it's hard to connect any of those changes directly to American Pharoah.
"If people see that as a disappointment, I think it's because they set their expectations too high," said Tim Capps, director of the equine industry program at the University of Louisville. "If we look back at history, I don't know that we've ever seen a Triple Crown winner change the face of the sport. Perhaps Secretariat."
Debates have begun about whether Nyquist can escape American Pharoah's shadow and whether it would be good if he pulled off a repeat Triple Crown, as Affirmed did in 1978, a year after Seattle Slew won it.
"You can't dangle that 37-year carrot anymore," NBC analyst Laffit Pincay III said. "As incredible as it was to watch American Pharoah win and watch Belmont just shake — with several minutes of a standing ovation and complete strangers hugging each other — in this society, with a shorter attention span, that same trick ain't going to work twice. Not with the same intrigue."
Pincay, whose father rode Sham against Triple Crown winner Secretariat in 1973, said that's no knock on Nyquist. "No matter who came around this year — and we're talking about a special horse in Nyquist — there was going to be that specter of American Pharoah looming over the Triple Crown," he said.
Nyquist's trainer, Doug O'Neill, and owner, Paul Reddam, have side-stepped questions about the Triple Crown and living up to American Pharoah's legacy.
"All of the energy now is just positive, and I think we're all just fired up to be back here with a Derby winner and with the hopes of winning the Preakness," O'Neill said Thursday.
"That's where all the energy is."
The field for today's 141st Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore:
PP/Horse Jockey Morning-line odds
1. Cherry Wine Corey Lanerie 20-1
2. Uncle Lino Fernando Perez 20-1
3. Nyquist Mario Gutierrez 3-5
4. Awesome Speed Jevian Toledo 30-1
5. Exaggerator Kent Desormeaux 3-1
6. Lani Yukata Take 30-1
7. Collected Javier Castellano 10-1
8. Laoban Florent Geroux 30-1
9. Abiding Star J.D. Acosta 30-1
10. Fellowship Jose Lezcano 30-1
11. Stradivari John Velazquez 8-1
TV: Undercard, 2:30, NBCSN; Preakness, 5 (6:45 post time), Ch. 8