“Super horse” American Pharoah only needs to turn up the Belmont Park fit and healthy on June the 6th for the Belmont Stakes, to etch his name into racing immortality as the 12th horse to complete the American Triple Crown and first since Affirmed did it 37 long years ago.
American Pharoah, the son of Pioneerof The Nile out of Littleprincess , had shown super star qualities prior to his racetrack debut, but the bubble burst in his first race track appearance when American Pharoah making his 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 top of the straight, he faded to finish fifth behind Om, Iron Fist, One Lucky Dane, and Calculator, more than nine lengths behind the winner.
He ran in blinkers that day, which appeared to unnerve him, as did the commotion in the saddling paddock. But master trainer Bob Baffert isn’t one of Americas best trainers for nothing and he proceeded to put his genius to full work.
Just like “grandma’s home remedy” cotton wool was used by Baffert to rectify American Pharoah’s issues. The colt who gets very anxious and unsettled in front of crowds and around other horses was settled by Baffert placing cotton wool in his ears around crowds & horses to block out the noise & since Baffert has done that the juggernaut that is American Pharoah has been unstoppable winning all subsequent 6 race starts.
Despite his debut 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.
In the Eclipse Awards for 2014, American Pharoah was voted American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse, beating Texas Red by 126 votes to 111.
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 [also trained by Baffert] 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”.
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, creating worry amongst his connections 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.”
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 start 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 won under similar conditions, having triumphed at 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. 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. Espinoza did not even pull his whip at all in the Preakness Stakes. For trainer Baffert, it was the fourth time in 19 years that he won the first two Triple Crown races.
After the Preakness Stakes win it was announced that global breeding giant Coolmore had bought the rights to stand American Pharoah at their Ashford Park stud. They paid a fee which is unknown, but reportedly it was a minimum $20million deal.
American Pharoah is a horse of a lifetime and I’m very confident he will become the 12th American Triple Crown winner and the first in nearly 4 decades. The 2400m shouldn’t be any concern and Baffert after 4 misses in the Belmont when looking for a triple crown would have learnt from the past and have him cherry-ripe to win the crown.
A win would not only be huge for American racing but also International racing.
GO THE PHAROAH!
(He’s currently a $2.14 race favourite on Betfair to complete the Triple Crown)