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"American Pharoah: A Horse of a Lifetime"

Photo by CC Photography

At 11:00 p.m., February 2, 2012, Tom Vanmeter got a call that a mare named Littleprincessemma was going into labor. Littleprincessemma had been bred to Pioneerof the Nile, the runner up in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, by Ahmed Zayat. Eleven months later, she was giving birth to her second foal on Tom’s Lexington, Kentucky farm. Vanmeter delivered the colt at 11:15 p.m. He was almost completely bay except for a faint, white star.

Vanmeter followed normal procedure for the colt and mare, shipping them to Pretty Run Farm in Clark County. Not long after, the pair were shipped to Vinery and the colt was weaned from his mother. In January of 2013, the now-yearling was shipped to Taylor Made Farm to begin prepping for sales.

Taylor Made Farm consigned the colt to the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale. Unfortunately, the worst happened just before the sale; the colt bumped his leg and a small lump formed. Not only did the horse now have a lump on his leg, but his pedigree was nothing superb either. Littleprincessemma’s first colt, Xixixi, hadn’t run yet and Pioneerof The Nile was still an unproven sire.

When he entered the ring as Hip. No. 85, he was overlooked. Though he was big, beautiful, and walked like he knew he was a winner, no one was willing to spend the $300,000 set price for the colt. So, Ahmed Zayat instructed David Ingordo from Ingordo Bloodstock to put up the $300,000 to buy the colt back. Zayat was not willing to take anything less than $1,000,000 for the horse, even if he had an unproven pedigree. He saw something great within the colt.

After the unsuccessful sale, the colt was shipped to McKathan Brothers Training Center in Florida to prepare for his future career as a racehorse. The phosphorus and calcium rich grass and water helped the colt to grow up to what Ahmed Zayat believed he would be. Those who saw this Pioneerof the Nile colt described him as “athletic”. He was quickly able to set himself apart from the other horses in training. His stride, good temperament, and elegant movements made some believe that he was destined to be a champion.

After spending some time training in Florida, Zayat sent his horse to trainer Bob Baffert. American Pharoah made his debut at Del Mar on August 9th, 2014. With Martin Garcia in the irons, Pharoah broke well and made his way to third, running three wide while Om guided the field of nine from the rail. In the stretch, Pharoah grew tired and dropped to fifth place while Om finished with a wire-to-wire win. Trainer Bob Baffert described this first race as “anxiety ridden” and began to work with keeping the horse calm in the paddock and during the walkover to the starting gate. Pharoah was worked with in the track paddock and the colt turned from a “basket-case” to a calm and gentle horse. Baffert also removed the colt’s blinkers and put cotton in his ears.

Pharoah made his next start in the Gr.1 Del Mar Futurity just one month later, making a huge jump in class. This time, Victor Espinoza stood carefully in the irons as they broke from post one. The changes made to Pharoah seemed to have worked well - Espinoza guided Pharoah to the front and the two led from wire to wire, striding away from the field like they were walking. Now all eyes were on Baffert’s two-year old. He was shaping up to be a strong Derby contender. With hopes of earning a guaranteed spot in the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah was entered in the Gr.1 Frontrunner Stakes at Santa Anita. Again, Pharoah led from wire to wire to establish himself as one of the best two-year olds in California.

On October 27th, American Pharoah sustained a deep-bruise on his left, front hoof. This caused him to be scratched from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and wasn’t raced again for many months. Pharoah’s farrier, Wes Champagne, fitted him with a special horseshoe to help his hoof. This horseshoe consisted of a thin, aluminum sheet that was cut to fit his horseshoe and covered his heel and part of his frog. This shoe design was altered depending on the race Pharoah was run in, but the basic concept remained the same. Despite only running three times, Pharoah was named Champion Two Year Old.

On March 14th, 2015, American Pharoah ran in the Gr.2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Despite the slop, a twisted horseshoe, and carrying 119 pounds, American Pharoah romped with an eight length win. One month later, he ran in the Gr.1 Arkansas Derby, sitting in second throughout the race and gliding home to another smashing eight length win.

It was clear that American Pharoah was dominant over every horse he had ever run against. He was big, mature, and improving with every start. He was entered into the Gr.1 Kentucky Derby as the favorite. Derby day did not go as planned for American Pharoah and his connections. The large and loud crowd made Pharoah nervous, causing him to misbehave during the walk-over and requiring multiple people to keep him under control. Those who were rooting for him were worried that he had used all of his energy on his nerves, but Pharoah proved this to be untrue. He broke from gate eighteen and Victor Espinoza pushed him to third, sitting just off of stablemate Dortmund and the talented Firing Line. American Pharoah went extremely wide around the far turn. He aligned himself with Dortmund and Firing Line when they were just two hundred yards from the wire. He ran hard, narrowly passing Firing Line to win the Kentucky Derby by one length.

Victor Espinoza received quite a bit of scrutiny over his use of the whip in the Kentucky Derby. It had seemed that American Pharoah had been hit thirty-two times in the stretch run. Although stewards reviewing the race said it was nothing that really grabbed their attention and Baffert defended Espinoza by saying that he mostly hit him on the saddle towel and never too-hard, some racing fans and writers condemned the strong use of the whip. Gary Stevens, who piloted Firing Line, said he had also used the whip quite a bit because the stretch ride was tough. Baffert agreed, stating that it was the first time Pharoah had been tested against such aggressive horses.

Despite the controversy, Victor Espinoza remained in the irons and American Pharoah was still the favorite as they entered the Preakness Stakes. The track was sloppy and Pharoah had drawn the unfavorable first post. Despite the difficulties of these things, Pharoah was still able to grab the lead. He was pressed by Mr.Z momentarily until he drew clear of him on the backstretch. Pharoah maintained a steady lead and, without much effort, drew away to an easy win, this time without Espinoza using the whip at all.

Excitement built for the Belmont Stakes. Racing fans and industry people buzzed over the possibility of a Triple Crown win. American Pharoah seemed to be the strongest contender racing had seen in years. Luck seemed to be in for Pharoah. He had previously beaten all horses entered in the race and drew post position five, the post that Seattle Slew and 14 other Belmont winners broke from. Pharoah broke from the gates slower than the rest of the horses due to leaning back in the gate. However, he was still able to position himself on the rail and grab the lead. The field remained close to American Pharoah, fearing what would happen if they gave him too much room. At the top of the stretch, it was clear that it wouldn’t have mattered if the rest of the field had been breathing down his neck or twenty lengths away. Pharoah charged down the stretch, causing Belmont Park and homes across the nation to rumble with cheers and excitement. With ease, American Pharoah became the twelfth Triple Crown winner, the first to accomplish the feat in thirty-seven years. Tears and cheers of joy flooded Belmont Park. Shaky hands clapped and fans stood in pride and disbelief. Everyone who had tuned into the race had just witnessed history.

American Pharoah walked off of Belmont’s track a legend. He was tired, but healthy. All had gone well. His first start after his Triple Crown victory was in the Gr.1 Haskell Invitational. Here he put on a show, easing home to a two and a half length victory. Despite Baffert’s concerns of flying across country for the second time in a month, American Pharoah was entered into the Gr.1 Travers Stakes. The race, nicknamed “The Graveyard of Champions”, had only been won by one other Triple Crown winner - Whirlaway. Affirmed and Gallant Fox had both been beaten there. Racing fans watched nervously as American Pharoah broke from gate two. He went straight to the lead and Frosted went right with him, pressing him hard all throughout the backstretch and around the far turn. Frosted and American Pharoah dueled around the turn and down the stretch. Frosted eventually tired and a well-worn American Pharoah took a narrow lead. Espinoza asked for more from Pharoah, but the horse didn’t have enough left in the tank to hold off a strong run from Keen Ice who had sat off the pace throughout the race and now had just enough run to pass the wire ahead of the Triple Crown champ.

Racing fans and Pharoah’s connections were disappointed, but not surprised. The Travers Stakes was a huge gamble for Pharoah and everything had been set up just right for an upset to occur. With hopes still up for the end of the year, American Pharoah was entered into the Breeders' Cup World Championships Classic, looking to be the first Triple Crown winner to complete the “Grand Slam” of horse racing.

At the beautiful Keeneland racetrack, fans watched American Pharoah being loaded into post four. He looked strong and healthy. Memories of the Travers lingered in people’s minds, but did not prevent him from being the favorite in the race. As the gates flew open and Pharoah left them for the final time, cheers erupted. Victor Espinoza guided Pharoah to the lead and the two set an easy pace. Around the far turn, American Pharoah entered his final furlong with an easy lead. Larry Collmus’ scream of, “A Triple Crown Winner, A Breeders’ Cup Winner, a Horse of a Lifetime” and the roar and rumble of fans accompanied Pharoah across the wire.

American Pharoah ended his career with nine wins in eleven starts and earnings of $8,650,300. He shipped to Coolmore Stud/Ashford Stud on November 2nd, 2015. Here he occupies a stall once occupied by Grand Slam, fitting for his achievements. Everyday he was pastured next to Thunder Gulch who was known for his calming presence to Pharoah (until the horse passed away in May of 2018). He stood for $200,000 in 2015 and will now stand for $110,000 in 2019.

Pharoah has been stamping his foals, granting them with the same personalities and athleticism that he himself is known for. His yearlings have sold for up to $2.2 million. We all wait anxiously to see if his progeny can live up to the greatness he has achieved. American Pharoah holds a special place in the hearts of millions of people throughout the world and those lucky enough to meet him will remember it for the rest of their lives. He is undoubtedly a legend, a piece of history, a horse of a lifetime.


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Sources: Equibase Race Replays Sources from American Pharoah Wikipedia

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