This year on Halloween, Taylor Swift and One Direction wrapped up two of the hottest tours of 2015, which caused loads of nostalgia in hearts of fangirls all over the world. But in the sports world, fans said goodbye to one of the greatest racehorses of all time, but not before he crossed the finish line of the Breeders Cup Classic and accomplished something that had never been done before …
“The Triple Crown of horse racing consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The series starts on the first Saturday in May with the Kentucky Derby, then followed two weeks later by the Preakness with the Belmont three weeks later.” (Wikipedia)
I guess you could say that I really was raised in a barn; a horseracing barn that is. For my whole life, I’ve drank out of Kentucky Derby glasses with only eleven Triple Crown winners on them. Born in 1995, I was sixteen years and ten months too late to see Affirmed cross the finish line at Belmont Park and claim his Triple Crown victory. As a kid growing up in the thoroughbred racing industry, I would spend nine different years crying on Belmont Day as a prospective Triple Crown winner crossed the finish line without a victory. My older brother had never seen one, and only one of my eleven first cousins had been alive in 1978. People said that after 37 years it couldn’t be done, that horseracing had changed, and the quest for greatness should be centered on something else.
But American Pharoah thought otherwise.
Born and bred in in 2012, the 3-year old colt broke out of the starting gate at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May with only one loss to his name. Up against the best and brightest in thoroughbred horseracing, he crossed the finish line first in the 2015 Kentucky Derby, and again two weeks later in the Preakness, making him the tenth horse since 1978 to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and the pressure was on. All eyes were on the three-year old, his owners, trainer, and jockey, as the party set their sights on the Belmont, the longest of the three races, which occurs only three weeks after the strenuous run in the Preakness. The race, held at Belmont Park, only a short train ride outside of New York City, is called “the test of the champion”, and is also the place where Triple Crown prospects go to die.
American Pharoah was not one of them.
On June 6, 2015, American Pharoah became the 12th winner of the Triple Crown, proving the naysayers wrong. The 37-year drought was over, and our generation got the first taste of victory, and oh, did it taste good. But for American Pharoah’s camp, the ride wasn’t over yet. They set their eyes on the first ever “Grand Slam” of horse racing, which included the Triple Crown and the most-expensive race in the industry, the $5 million Breeders Cup Classic, held during the last weekend of October. All eyes turned to Lexington, Kentucky, as the champion three-year-old arrived at Keeneland Race Course to finish off his unprecedented career on October 31st, 2015.
“This race isn’t for me, it isn’t for his jockey, and it isn’t for his owner, this race is for Pharoah”, trainer Bob Baffert told NBC on Saturday prior to the colts quest for the Grand Slam, “I wanted him to go out the champion that he is, and I’ll never have another horse like him”. And that he did. American Pharoah crossed the finish line for the final time on October 31st as the first ever racehorse to complete the Grand Slam of horse racing, and he did it flawlessly.
His racing career might be over, but his days of making history are not. After his victory on Saturday, American Pharoah will be moved about ten miles down the road from Keeneland to his new home, Ashford Stud Farm in Versailles, KY, where he will become the sire of hopefully, many more champions. I am honored to have been able to witness his grasp of greatness, and I am excited to be able to share my city with him. And on the first Saturday in May next year, for the first time in my life I will drink a mint julep out of a Kentucky Derby glass that has twelve Triple Crown winners engraved on it. Cheers to you, American Pharaoh.