Three years and a bit ago, a small foal was born on Stockplace Farms on the east side of Lexington. There was a contest to name him, and the winner had picked American Pharoah, yes with the wrong spelling. But that was going to be the only slip up when it came to this horse. Bob Baffert is the only trainer in history to have had four cracks at being the trainer of a Triple Crown winner. But this horse has run in the least races ever for such a winner— only eight races. The race was close in the Kentucky Derby, too close to prevent heart palpitations here in Kentucky, but finally he puts his challengers behind him. The Preakness was a different story. Pharoah likes a sloppy track and loves the rain. He was a runaway winner at the Preakness. Horse racing is a funny sport. You don’t have to have qualified for the Derby to run in the Belmont. It would be like a team skipping the first round or two of the playoffs and then showing up in the finals. That’s what some of the horses running today did, and some took the Preakness off after the Derby. Not Pharoah. He said “Bring it on. I’ll take on all comers.” Horses have personalities. We ought to know, we had Arabians and raised one too. We did our Kentucky thing when our girls Christy and Yuliya loved to ride. I wish they could have been here today to celebrate this. Christy however is probably in the horse part of heaven smiling. Pharoah is a horse with a huge heart, and he likes people. He’s friendly like the best pet ever. He’s not snotty and snippy like some horses. He’s gregarious. I hope someone gives him a mint julep after this race, as he has earned it.
We should have seen this coming. Check out how he obliterated the field coming down the stretch in the Arkansas Derby.
This horse can win from ahead or behind, in good weather or bad, with a huge field of good horses or a small field. It didn’t matter. Now check out what he did in the Kentucky Derby in a gorgeous day here against a huge field and really good competition. Check out the closing speed at the end.
And lest you think it mattered what the track was like or who was the competition, there had been a torrential downpour at the Preakness just before the race, and it was still raining during the race. Here’s what American Pharoah did on that day two weeks ago….
38 years is a long time between Triple Crown winners. Imagine if you went 38 years between NBA championships, or World Series winners, or Super Bowl winners. There is no sport like the Triple Crown.
So how did A.P. do today, when everything was on the line? He was like Michael Jordan in Game Seven of a championship. He was money.
He ran the second fastest Belmont ever for a Triple Crown winner. Only Secretariat was faster, and Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery (see the movie about that horse) was there today at Belmont to congratulate Baffert and the Zayats who own the horse.
America Pharoah came out of the five hole, went straight to the head of pack and never ever relinquished the lead. He won by over five lengths and it was thrilling to watch him. He had never run the mile and a half distance before. Did I mention never? Imagine suddenly adding another quarter mile to a marathon! This race is a quarter mile longer than the Kentucky Derby, never mind the even shorter Preakness. This was not a sprint to the finish line. In case you are wondering, the fastest human being on the planet takes 3.43 just to run a mile. Pharaoh ran the mile and half in much less than that– 2 minutes 26 seconds. He was moving, but it looked effortless. He just glided around the track and never look like he was straining or was challenged with his long elegant stride.
Horse racing is one of the very few sports which involve humans and animals working together to produce something magical. Having stood at the track on the rail and watched the horses gallop to the finish line at Keenland, with the earth shaking and the dirt flying, it is an awesome sight. In a sense this combo of humans and horses provided a little picture of the Kingdom yet to come, and of course horse racing is called the sport of kings.
Well there is only one King today, and actually he’s a Pharaoh! The Burger King guy who was standing behind the Bafferts and Zayats at the race ain’t got nothing on this equine king. I was only 25 and in seminary the last time a horse won the Triple Crown. It was worth the wait!!