American Pharoah Wins The Triple Crown
2015 Belmont Stakes – American Pharoah Wins The Triple Crown
2015 Belmont Stakes – American Pharoah Wins The Triple Crown
American Pharoah (foaled February 2, 2012) is an American Thoroughbred racehorse who won the American Triple Crown in 2015. He is bred and owned by Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Stables, LLC, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden in most of his races by Victor Espinoza. He is the first American Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 and only the twelfth in history. The American Triple Crown was won by American Pharoah in a wire-to-wire victory at the Belmont Stakes, following earlier victories at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
After running poorly in his track debut, he was undefeated thereafter. As a two-year-old, he won the Grade I Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner Stakes, each by several lengths. An injury kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but the strength of his two wins nonetheless resulted in him being voted American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse at the 2014 Eclipse Awards.
American Pharoah began his 2015 campaign with wins in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby and went on to win both the 2015 Kentucky Derby and 2015 Preakness Stakes. Prior to the 2015 Belmont Stakes, Zayat announced that he had sold breeding rights to the colt to the Ashford Stud in Kentucky, a division of Ireland’s Coolmore Stud, but retained control over the colt and his racing career and an undisclosed dividend on stud fees. Zayat said he expected American Pharoah to retire from racing at the end of 2015.
American Pharoah is a bay colt with a faint star on his forehead and no other white markings. He was bred in Kentucky by his owner, Ahmed Zayat, CEO of Zayat Stables, LLC, and foaled at 11 p.m. on Groundhog Day, 2012, at Stockplace Farm near Winchester, Kentucky. He has sometimes been described as a ridgling, rather than a colt, meaning that he had an undescended testicle. He is from the second crop of foals sired by Zayat’s stallion Pioneerof the Nile, who finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The stallion’s first crop included Holy Bull Stakes winner Cairo Prince and Social Inclusion, who finished third in the 2014 Preakness Stakes.
American Pharoah’s dam, Littleprincessemma, raced but did not win either of her two starts in 2008. American Pharoah was her second foal, following allowance race winner Xixixi. Another full sibling to American Pharoah, a filly born in Zayat Stables in 2014, is as yet unnamed. Littleprincessemma was purchased by Zayat in 2007 for $250,000 and was sold—again in foal to Pioneerof the Nile—in November 2014 for $2.1 million.
In August 2013, American Pharoah, then a yearling, was consigned by the Taylor Made Sales Agency to the Fasig-Tipton sale and was officially bought for the posted minimum of $300,000 by Ingordo Bloodstock, acting as an agent for Zayat, who in effect bought back his own horse. Zayat had pledged that he would not sell the promising but untested colt for less than $1 million. Zayat similarly bought back Pioneerof the Nile, American Pharoah’s sire, for $290,000 in a 2007 yearling auction. “We felt that he had brilliance in him,” said Zayat, “his demeanor, his aura, his conformation, the way he moved.” Following the auction, American Pharoah was sent into training with Hall of Fame inductee Bob Baffert in the spring of 2014.
American Pharoah is set apart from other race horses by his smooth and distinctively long stride. Baffert has stated, “I’ve never had a horse that moves or travels over the ground like he does.” The most unusual characteristic of American Pharoah during his two- and three-year-old seasons is his short tail. It was apparently chewed off by another horse. It is theorized that Mr. Z, a fellow competitor and Zayat-bred colt, may have been the culprit; the pair were kept together in Florida as younger horses. Trainer Baffert had a more colorful theory: “I think he was in the pasture one day and there was a mountain lion chasing him—that was the closest he could get…”
American Pharoah’s name is inspired by that of his sire, Pioneerof the Nile, and his dam’s sire, Yankee Gentleman. The horse’s name also acknowledges Zayat’s own dual Egyptian-American background. The misspelling of “Pharaoh” is permanent, but inadvertent. Zayat originally claimed that the spelling was the result of an error by The Jockey Club, but the organization’s president stated, “The name request for the 2012 colt American Pharoah was submitted electronically on January 25, 2014, through The Jockey Club’s interactive registration site. Since the name met all of the criteria for naming and was available, it was granted exactly as it was spelled on the digital name application.” Zayat later retracted his statement.
Zayat’s wife, Joanne, offered another explanation for the name’s origins to a local news reporter just before the Preakness. Zayat’s son, Justin, ran a contest on social media in which fans could submit names for the horse. The winning entry had “Pharaoh” misspelled, she said. “Justin cut and pasted the name from [the winner’s] email, and sent it to the Jockey Club.” Marsha Baumgartner of Barnett, Missouri, who submitted the winning entry, told The New York Times, “I don’t want to assign blame,” but “I looked up the spelling before I entered.” Nonetheless, Baumgartner minimized the controversy, stating, “Horses can’t spell, anyway.”
2014: two-year-old season
American Pharoah made his track debut in a maiden race over six and a half furlongs on the Polytrack surface at Del Mar Racetrack on August 9. Ridden by Martin Garcia, he started as the 7–5 favorite against eight opponents. He became unsettled before the race and, after running in second place until the stretch, faded to finish fifth behind Om, Iron Fist, One Lucky Dane, and Calculator, more than nine lengths behind the winner. He ran in a blinker hood, which appeared to unnerve him, as did the commotion in the saddling paddock. Baffert addressed his anxiety issues by removing the hood and stuffing cotton in the horse’s ears for subsequent races.
Despite his defeat, American Pharoah was moved up to Grade I class for the Del Mar Futurity over seven furlongs on September 4. He was ridden by Victor Espinoza for the first time and started as the 3.2–1 second favorite behind Best Pal Stakes winner Skyway, with Calculator and Iron Fist also in the field. American Pharoah took the lead from the start and went clear in the straight to win by four and three quarter lengths from Calculator, with a gap of more than eight lengths back to Iron Fist in third. Commenting on the colt’s improvement, Baffert said, “We took the blinkers off, put cotton in his ears and schooled him a lot. He trained well, we decided he was ready and we put him in there. Today, he behaved himself and showed what he could do. He did what we thought he’d do the first time.”
On September 27, American Pharoah was made the 1–2 favorite for the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes over eight and a half furlongs at Santa Anita Park. As in his previous race, he was immediately sent to the front by Espinoza and stayed there, pulling away from his rivals in the straight to win by three and a quarter lengths over Calculator, with Texas Red a length and a half away in third. After the race, Espinoza said, “All the way he was on a high cruising speed. He has such a long stride. He moves really nice and is light on his feet.” Baffert commented, “I can’t believe his demeanor, how he has changed since his first out. He’s so professional. He’s really mentally there.”
American Pharoah was aimed at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on November 1 but was scratched from the race after sustaining a “deep bruise” to his left front foot in a workout on October 27. Nonetheless, in the Eclipse Awards for 2014, American Pharoah was voted American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse, beating Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red by 126 votes to 111.
2015: Three-Year-Old Season
Five and a half months after his last start, American Pharoah began his second season in the Grade II Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park on March 14. He carried top weight of 119 pounds and started as the 2–5 favorite against six opponents, headed by the Todd Pletcher-trained Madefromlucky. The colt led from the start and drew away in the closing stages to win by six and a quarter lengths. Espinoza called the winner “an amazing horse”, while Baffert was satisfied with the run, especially as the colt returned with a twisted shoe which would have hampered his progress. Four weeks later at the same track, American Pharoah started as the odds-on favorite against seven opponents in the Grade I Arkansas Derby. After racing in second place behind outsider Bridget’s Big Luvy, he took the lead a quarter of a mile from the finish and steadily increased his advantage to win by eight lengths from Southwest Stakes winner Far Right. Baffert commented, “He’s matured substantially. He’s a good horse and he keeps moving forward. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but Dortmund is another one who we don’t yet know how good he is. We’ve got a one-two punch and that’s a good position to be in.” After the race, Ron Moquett, the trainer of runner-up Far Right, described American Pharoah as “a superhorse.”
2015 Kentucky Derby
On May 2, American Pharoah started as the 2.9–1 favorite in an eighteen-runner field for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. His opponents included Dortmund, winner of the Santa Anita Derby; Carpe Diem, who won the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes; Firing Line, winner of the Sunland Derby; Wood Memorial winner Frosted; Florida Derby winner Materiality; international entry Mubtaahij, who earned his way to Kentucky with a win in the UAE Derby; and Upstart, winner of the Holy Bull Stakes. The crowd surrounding the horse during the walk-over from the barns to the paddock upset American Pharoah, and several grooms were required to keep him under control. He continued to misbehave until he was loaded into the starting gate; his connections and supporters worried that he was using up energy he needed for the race.
Espinoza positioned the colt in third place early in the race as Dortmund took the lead, followed closely by Firing Line. The three remained ahead of the pack throughout the race, and broke clear of their rivals entering the straight with American Pharoah making a forward move on the outside. The favorite took the lead entering the final furlong and won by a length from Firing Line and Dortmund, with Frosted finishing strongly in fourth. Espinoza, who won the race for the third time, said, “I feel like the luckiest Mexican on earth. He has been a special horse since the first time I rode him. He has a lot of talent and is an unbelievable horse. Turning for home I started riding a little bit harder. At the eighth pole I just couldn’t put that other horse away, but he got it done.” Espinoza’s performance attracted some scrutiny as he appeared to have struck the winner 32 times with his whip during the race. In post-race analysis, one of the stewards at Churchill Downs said, “we watched [the race replay] many, many times prior to making it official, and that wasn’t anything that got our attention.” Baffert said, “He was hitting him on the saddle towel. He doesn’t hit that hard.” The rider of second-place Firing Line commented that he had used his whip heavily as well, stating that the race was, “as tough a race as I’ve been in in 20 years the last eighth of a mile.” The Blood-Horse writer Steve Haskin, while condemning whip overuse in general, offered analysis that Espinoza “did a lot of waving with the whip” and may not have actually hit the horse as many times as it seemed. Reflecting on the race, Baffert said that the colt did not bring his “super A-game” to the Derby and that it was the first time American Pharoah had really been tested by other aggressive horses.
2015 Preakness Stakes
Two weeks after winning the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah entered the second leg of the Triple Crown, the 2015 Preakness Stakes, run over nine and a half furlongs at Pimlico Race Course. Despite an unfavorable inside draw of the number one post position, he was installed as the morning line favorite ahead of Firing Line and Dortmund. No horse had won the Preakness starting from the rail since 1994. Immediately prior to post time, the weather changed to a heavy downpour with thunder. The last time the Preakness had been run on a sloppy track was in 1983, and American Pharoah was the only horse in the field to have previously faced similar conditions, having won the Rebel Stakes running in rain and mud.
American Pharoah had the lead within the first quarter-mile and was challenged by Mr. Z early on, but held the lead on the inside throughout the race. He was challenged by Dortmund and then Divining Rod, but American Pharoah broke from the pack in the homestretch and won by seven lengths, as Tale of Verve made a strong rally to overtake Divining Rod to place. Firing Line slipped badly at the start and was eased in the stretch. The winning time was 1:58.45. Espinoza did not use his whip at all in the Preakness, and stated, “I couldn’t see how far I was in front because there was so much water in my eyes.” The margin of victory was tied for the sixth-largest in Preakness history. Baffert commented, “When I saw those ears go up [on the backside of the track], I thought, ‘Oh, yeah. Oh yeah.'” The win by American Pharoah set up an attempt for the Triple Crown for the second straight year. It was also the second straight year that Espinoza had won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and the jockey’s third time winning both races. For trainer Baffert, it was the fourth time in 19 years that he won the first two Triple Crown races.
2015 Belmont Stakes
In the week following the Preakness, the Leverage Agency was named as the exclusive marketing, sponsorship and licensing agents for the horse. They had performed similar duties for the 2014 Derby and Preakness winner, California Chrome. The agency secured a deal with Monster Energy, for an undisclosed sum, rumored to be the largest single-horse advertising sponsorship to date. The deal allows the “Monster Girls” to be around the horse, and the product’s logo to be used on the horse’s horse sheets, on Espinoza’s shirt collar, as well as on caps and other gear worn by people around the horse. “The energy and excitement that American Pharoah has generated around the world syncs perfectly with the brand.” On May 20, The New York Times reported that Zayat had sold breeding rights to the colt to the Ashford Stud, a division of Ireland’s Coolmore Stud, but retained control over the colt and his racing career. The newspaper later reported that breeding rights were sold for $9.8 million, with an additional $4 million incentive if American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes. Zayat said he retained an undisclosed percentage. Before the sale, offers for American Pharoah’s breeding rights reportedly exceeded $20 million.
Baffert created some controversy prior to the Belmont by choosing to work the horse at Churchill Downs and ship late to Belmont Park without a timed workout at the New York track. While several prominent trainers questioned his decision, Baffert believed that it was more important to keep American Pharoah “happy” on a track he liked, having used a similar strategy with his 2001 Belmont Stakes winner, Point Given. Rival trainers Kiaran McLaughlin and D. Wayne Lukas backed Baffert’s strategy, with McLaughlin commenting, “I don’t think it matters for American Pharoah. He could probably run down a street over broken glass.” Appearing unperturbed but curious about a small crowd of well-wishers, American Pharoah arrived at Long Island MacArthur Airport on June 2, having traveled from Louisville, Kentucky on a customized Boeing 727 dubbed “Air Horse One.”
American Pharoah’s connections drew the number five post position for the Belmont on June 3. Pundits immediately noted it was the same slot from which Seattle Slew had won the 1977 Belmont and the Triple Crown, and that 14 other Belmont winners had started from the position. American Pharoah was the 3–5 morning line favorite in an eight-horse field that included Tale of Verve, as well as five rivals from the Kentucky Derby who had skipped the Preakness, and one horse, Madefromlucky, who had not run either of the previous Triple Crown races, but, like Tonalist the year prior, had instead won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park. American Pharoah had previously defeated every horse entered, but he was also the only horse to contest all three legs of the Triple Crown and had run four races in the preceding eight weeks. American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes in a wire-to-wire performance on June 6, becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and the 12th overall. Zayat said he expected American Pharoah to retire from racing at the end of 2015.