American Pharoah

Named after the winning entry in an online contest, this horse's moniker seemed to be a foreshadowing of his future in Thoroughbred racing. Pharoahs were of course rulers in ancient times, members of royalty. By the time he finished his career on the racetrack, he had become royalty, and had ruled over his sport.

Trained by Bob Baffert, and bred and campaigned by Zayat Stables, American Pharoah's debut came on an August afternoon during the 2014 Del Mar meet. Competing in a seven furlong sprint, the juvenile was in early contention before fading to fifth. That effort was improved upon soon after, with American Pharoah breaking his maiden in the prestigious Grade I Del Mar Futurity. Starting from the rail, American Pharoah wasted no time getting to the lead and taking the field to the finish. The win was a complete rebound and a preview of what was to come: only the runner up in the Futurity, Calculator, was within a couple lengths of American Pharoah.

After an impressive follow up victory in the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita in late September (which also marked his first try at routing), an injury sent the colt to the sidelines. Still, American Pharoah did enough to be voted Top Two Year Old Male at the Eclipse Awards. He returned in the spring of 2015 at Oaklawn Park, where Baffert had had previous success with Kentucky Derby hopefuls. The result was a double, with American Pharoah taking the Grade II Rebel Stakes on an off track. He followed that up with a sweeping pass in the far turn of the Grade II Arkansas Derby on a fast track, winning by eight lengths with no one challenging him in the stretch, and that set him up for the Kentucky Derby.

On the First Saturday in May of 2015, American Pharoah was sent off as the favorite, and he spent a much of the race in good position behind stablemate Dortmund and Firing Line. In the stretch, American Pharoah fought with the latter before surging forward to become the 141st winner of the Kentucky Derby. Up next was the Preakness Stakes, and the son of Pioneerof the Nile went to the lead on an off track while setting a faster time for six furlongs than what had been seen in the Derby two weeks earlier. The advantage grew in the stretch, and American Pharoah was not headed. On full display was his fluid stride as he made it to the wire by daylight, keeping his Triple Crown bid alive as the focus shifted to Belmont Park.

The question was will he or won't he? Many had tried to conquer the track known as Big Sandy to join the list of champions that included Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, but none had been able to do so since the latter swept the classics in 1978. There was hope American Pharoah would win it all, but there was no doubt skepticism as well. Many had been down this road before, seeing a horse with a chance for the Triple Crown only to come up short in his bid to win it all. No one could be faulted whether they believed or did not believe American Pharoah could win the Belmont.

Shortly after the start, the colt took the lead and kept it to the stretch, setting slow fractions along the way. In the race's waning moments, it was evident that American Pharoah came to race. He was not giving up, not fading. Win or lose, he would battle to the wire.

Frosted tried to catch him, but he could not. In the stretch, American Pharoah moved regally, ending nearly four decades of waiting with his triumph in the Belmont to become the twelfth winner of the Triple Crown.

As the sport basked in one of the biggest victories it had seen in nearly four decades, American Pharoah got a much deserved rest, along with parade appearances at Santa Anita and Del Mar. He returned to action in the Grade I Haskell Invitational in early August at Monmouth Park, and he picked up where he left off, getting his eighth straight win.

A hard-fought effort came in the Grade I Travers Stakes, where American Pharaoh finished second after dueling with Frosted for a good part of the race. He tried to get to the wire first, but Keen Ice seized the lead late and pulled off the upset. That led to whether American Pharoah would be retired, but for the time being, he was getting a vacation.

Retirement would wait for one more start: the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland. The bay horse walked into the gate, looking ready to race against the seven horses taking him on in his career finale. And race he did.

Just like in the Belmont, American Pharoah wrested control early and never gave it to anyone in the field. In the stretch, his lead grew, and the Classic became a coronation. American Pharoah had no competition in the stretch, winning easily to become Thoroughbred racing's first Grand Slam winner.

In eleven starts, he won nine races, all of them graded stakes. When it came to career earnings, the total exceeded $8 million. American Pharoah was the best of his class. At the Eclipse Awards, there was no doubt as to who would be Top Three Year Old Male and Horse of the Year, and the son of Pioneerof the Nile captured both of them unanimously.

The amount of races he started was not large, but American Pharoah accomplished a lot in that time frame. He won at eight tracks, captured eight Grade I contests, won from on or near the lead, was successful navigating at six different distances, and achieved the Grand Slam, which no horse has done before him or since.

As of March 2019, American Pharoah is in the midst of a stud career, and the sport will eventually see his first crop debut at the races.

He was determined on the racetrack, and showed he could take on an opponent when the win was on the line. When American Pharoah was in competition, he was something special to watch.

For many, he is a hero. To all, he is a champion.

Entry added March 18, 2019 by AF.