Eight years ago today, a colt was born at Tom Vanmeter’s farm in Lexington, Kentucky. He was a beautiful, bay color with no markings other than a faint star shining between his eyes -- perhaps a hint at what this colt would turn out to be. His dam, Littleprincessemma, hadn't earned any more than $172 on the racetrack. His sire, Pioneerof The Nile, was a promising but still new sire.
Despite his beauty, no one really knew that this colt would become one of the biggest names in the sport. In fact, no one was even willing to pay the $300,000 reserve for the colt when he went the ring at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sale. The colt spent his young years in the warmth and sunshine of McKathan Brothers Farm in Ocala, Florida. It was there that people finally began to recognize the colt’s athleticism and talent. He blew away everyone who watched him at a private breeze show at the McKathan Brothers Farm in March of 2014. He was named American Pharoah, fitting considering that he would one day become royalty. Under the careful guidance of trainer Bob Baffert, American Pharoah blossomed. It wasn’t without problems, though. His first race was plagued by anxiety; Baffert had to spend a lot of time afterwards schooling the colt in the paddock and teaching him to remain calm during the walkover. He also had to put cotton balls in the horse’s ears to keep him calm.
As soon as American Pharoah’s nerves were soothed and he won the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and Frontrunner Stakes (G1), more problems set in. The colt had developed a deep bruise on his left, front hoof. He couldn’t race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or for the rest of his two-year old season at all! Nevertheless, he was still considered the best of his generation and was named Champion Two-Year Old Colt.
There have been plenty of promising two-year old colts who simply didn’t turn out the way many hoped they would as a three-year olds. A lot can change from January to the First Saturday in May. But, American Pharoah was different. When he returned to the racetrack in March of 2015, he was even more impressive than he was as a two-year old.
He turned any and all doubters into believers with easy victories in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1). Unsurprisingly, he was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby was the first time American Pharoah had truly been tested. Firing Line and Dortmund were refusing to give in as the colts pounded down the stretch. Victor Espinoza was calling upon American Pharoah for everything he had and the colt was digging down deep, bringing all the heart and guts he had to the surface. With pinned ears and determination, American Pharoah won the Kentucky Derby.
The Preakness Stakes in Baltimore brought forth another challenge for American Pharoah: it was raining so hard that it was almost impossible to see. The track was sloppy and everyone, crowd and competitors alike, were soaked to the bone.
When American Pharoah came around the final turn, it was clear that he was the best horse in the race. He glided over the track effortlessly, crossing the wire seven lengths ahead of the field.
Many, many horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes only to falter in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. In fact, California Chrome had failed just one year earlier. No horse had been able to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
But, there was simply something about American Pharoah that made people believe. They dressed up in the blue and yellow colors of his silks and made signs and posters to help cheer him on. Belmont Park was full and racetracks across the country drew fans who couldn’t get to Belmont to watch the race.
When American Pharoah came into Belmont’s stretch on June 6th, 2015, it seemed that the whole country began to rumble. The cheers and screams from Belmont Park were echoed in living rooms and racetracks all around the world. American Pharoah pricked his ears and seemingly sprouted wings; he increased the distance between him and his competitors with every stride.
Tears began to fall down the faces of even the toughest people when they realized what they were witnessing. On June 6th, American Pharoah etched his name alongside some of horse racing’s greats. He had broken the thirty-seven year Triple Crown drought in the most beautiful of ways. While doing so, he captured the hearts of millions of people. Even people who didn’t follow horse racing were talking about him.
American Pharoah changed horse racing that day. He was the first Triple Crown winner that many people had ever witnessed. Because of him, horse racing was on the news and all over social media for the best possible reason. He generated new fans for the sport and truly stirred up excitement in people who had been following the sport for some time.
He drew huge crowds for everything he did from that moment on. Fans packed racetracks like Saratoga and Keeneland in the early mornings for his workouts. The media followed him around like paparazzi, snapping pictures and recording everything he did. He was so admired that even his loss in the Travers Stakes (G1) couldn’t sway people away from him.
American Pharoah was - is - larger than life. He represents what every breeder, trainer, owner, jockey, exercise rider, and groom dreams of being a part of. American Pharoah has heart and tenacity. He is overflowing with raw talent, both as a racehorse and now as a sire.
Each year as these important dates pass -- his birthday, his important victories and milestones -- the horse racing community will reflect on how he made us feel. We will remember what he meant to us and what we witnessed because of him. Larry Collmus got it so right when he called him, “a horse of a lifetime”.
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