American Pharoah blew away the field in the Preakness, and so today’s question is whether he’ll win the Belmont Stakes and horse racing’s elusive Triple Crown. The gentle dark bay colt has given us reason to hope.

On Saturday, American Pharoah showed himself to be tougher than a torrential downpour and seven other three-year-olds. He led the pack from gate to wire, and galloped in the slop to a seven length victory.  Unlike his Kentucky Derby win, American Pharoah’s Preakness triumph was visually impressive. When American Pharoah crossed the finish, no one was near him.

If American Pharoah wins the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes in 19 days from now, he will be one of only a dozen horses to do so after having won the Derby and the Preakness.  And that would also end of racing’s 37-year drought. Since 1978, when Affirmed won the Triple Crown, no horse has swept all three races.

So why so long? First, there is distance. The Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races. Indeed, few horse races are run at that distance.  But it’s not simply about getting through 12 furlongs. It is also a matter of so much having been packed into such a short period of time.

To capture the Triple Crown, a horse must win three races of varying distances – 1 ¼ miles, 1 13/16 miles, and 1 1/2 miles -- in a span of five short tension filled weeks. A schedule like that can tax any competitor in any sport. Few teams sweep their way through the playoffs, but that’s what winning the Triple Crown is actually about. 

So can American Pharoah do it? Well, he’s lightly raced, having run only seven times, but also winning six of his starts. How that cuts is unclear. To his credit, American Pharoah, like Secretariat, was racing’s top two-year-old, and has the benefit of a top trainer and jockey in his corner – Bob Baffert and Victor Espinoza, respectively.

Looking back, thirteen other horses since Affirmed have won the first two jewels in the crown, but in the end each fell short of glory. Last year, California Chrome gave it a shot, but managed to only finish fourth. In 2012, I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before the Belmont. Herculean is the only way to describe the task ahead.

And it’s not just the schedule. Actually, it is also about racing itself, which has changed since the 1970s. Now, speed is more markedly prized above all else, and that has taken a toll on the game and on the horses.

As legendary racing writer Joe Drape wrote in The New York Times seven years ago, “horsemen are getting what they pay for: pedigrees that produce, fast and fragile runners.” Missing from Drape’s equation are distance, endurance, and stamina. They don’t make horses like they used to.

To put things in perspective, by the time Secretariat had won the Triple Crown in June 1973, he had raced a total of 15 times, had lost only once. He had set records in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. “Big Red”, as Secretariat was known, was both durable and lightning fast, covering Belmont’s 1.5 miles in a blazing 2 minutes and 24 seconds, and winning by 31 lengths -- records unmatched to this day.

No horse since has come close. The nearest any horse has gotten to Secretariat’s Belmont record was Easy Goer in 1989, who ran the race in 2:26, two full ticks slower.

So can American Pharoah do it? Well, he’s lightly raced, having run only seven times, but also winning six of his starts. How that cuts is unclear. To his credit, American Pharoah, like Secretariat, was racing’s top two-year-old, and has the benefit of a top trainer and jockey in his corner – Bob Baffert and Victor Espinoza, respectively.

American Pharoah has promise that remains to be proven. Amidst the expected adulation, it is worth remembering that American Pharoah ran the Derby in 2:03.02, more than 3 seconds slower than Secretariat, and the Preakness in 1:58.46 on a sloppy track, the slowest Preakness since 1956, and more than 5 seconds off Secretariat’s mark. Also, American Pharoah received a Beyers rating of 102 for the Preakness, down from 105 in the Derby.

Right now, there is no clear challenger to American Pharoah pulling off a badly needed three-peat. Still, there’s racing luck, and the possibility that a lightly raced three-year old will enter the Belmont and muck things up.  But for the moment, who cares. American Pharoah, we’re pulling for you.

Attorney Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988, and served in the Department of Justice between 1990 and 1992.