|American Pharoah winning the Breeders Cup Classic with ease |
(Photo by Taylor Pence, kykernel.com)
Over the last week, I've struggled to find the right words to sum up Pharoah's incredible performance and career for this blog, and I have been struck all over again by how different this horse has been from others who have gone before him in the quest for racing immortality. In the years leading up to Pharoah's Triple Crown victory, as the wait grew longer and longer, I opined on more than one occasion that it wouldn't necessarily take a great horse to win the Triple Crown, just a lucky one. All we needed was one horse who was a stand-out in a crop of mediocre three year-olds, one who had just enough extra talent to get the job done. But I was wrong. It does take a great horse to win the Triple Crown, and American Pharoah has driven home this point emphatically all year long. It takes luck, yes, but it also takes soundness of body and mind, stamina, incredible fitness, great heart, a willing spirit, and that little something extra that sets a great horse apart from his contemporaries.
American Pharoah possesses all of these qualities. Looking back now on his exploits of the last fifteen months, it is awe-inspiring to see how he seemed to thrive despite his grueling schedule. He improved with nearly every start, winning regularly by daylight even though Espinoza usually wrapped up on him in the last sixteenth of a mile. His times got faster with every race, culminating in his scintillating Breeders Cup performance. He also displayed remarkable physical resilience all year long. He crossed the country 14 times, traveled more than 28,000 miles, raced at 7 different tracks, and never once put a foot wrong. He has a beautiful, fluid, ground-eating stride that allows him to effortlessly glide over the ground and that supposedly measures two feet longer than Secretariat's. It may be the secret of his ability to run on any surface at any track, from dirt to polytrack to a sea of mud.
|(Photo by sportingnews.com)|
One of Pharoah's greatest strengths I think is his good mind, easy-going demeanor, and kindness of spirit. Pharoah by all accounts is a smart, friendly horse who thrives on attention. He has been utterly unfazed by the throngs of press and fans who have come to visit him, something few racehorses have the temperament to handle. Baffert has allowed unprecedented access to the horse because of his good nature, and Pharoah has taken it all in stride as if it were his due. Which it is.
|(Photo by courier-journal.com)|
He won 6 G1 races all told as a three year-old, including 5 races with purses of a million dollars or more consecutively, something no other horse his age has done. Of the four Triple Crown winners since races became graded in the early 1970s, he is the only one to win more than one G1 race after the Belmont. He retired as the fourth richest American horse in history with earnings of $8,650,300. Had Visa not cancelled their $5 million Triple Crown bonus several years ago, he would have retired as the richest American racehorse of all time.
But all numbers aside, even as impressive as the statistics are, there are more ephemeral qualities that some great horses possess. Like so many Thoroughbreds, Pharoah ran for the sheer exhilaration of running. In nearly every race, his ears were pricked observantly, listening to the roar of the crowd and the rush of the wind as he sliced through it. I have never seen anything quite like it in my 30+ years following the sport. As I've mentioned in the past, I learned to read from C. W. Anderson's horse stories, and I think he would agree that American Pharoah has the "look of eagles," that quality in great horses of heightened awareness and of seeing something in the distance just beyond the sight of mere mortals.
As Bob Baffert so aptly put it in the latest issue of the Blood-Horse, Pharoah is a throwback to the hickory-tough horses of bygone ages. He proved himself to be fast, determined, versatile, sound, and above all, worthy of that elite company he joined at Belmont Park. He is the horse of a lifetime.