Saratoga Race Course is known as the graveyard of favorites. Man O War and Secretariat both lost at the famed racetrack. The year has been a special year for thoroughbred racing as we saw the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years in American Pharoah. Saturday was a special day at the Spa. American Pharoah became just the 4th Triple Crown winner to run in the Travers Stakes.
Up until Saturday, the only Triple Crown winner to also win the Mid-Summer Derby was Whirlaway in 1941. American Pharoah is certainly a special horse and his place in history is forever cemented. As well over 50-thousand people packed Saratoga Race Course on Saturday afternoon, we all waited for a special performance.
After all, American Pharoah left us slack-jawed in the spring and his performance in the Haskell at Monmouth Park was off the charts. Two Sundays ago, American Pharoah had a workout at Del Mar in California where he went 6F in 1:10 and change and galloped out 7F in 1:23 and change.
As Bob Baffert has said before, American Pharoah is a ‘special horse.’ There is no doubt about that and for an industry that needs it. There have been too many negative story lines that has marred the sport and taken the conversation away from the true stars of the sport and that is the equine athlete. Give credit to American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat for continuing to run his talented 3-year-old when other might have already taken him to the breeding shed.
Now to be perfectly honest, money is coming their way on the track as we speak. NYRA raised the Travers purse to $1.6 million if Pharoah raced. There have been rumors of appearance fees and stud bonuses should American Pharoah win the Travers or the Breeders Cup Classic. Zayat has talked about the legacy of American Pharoah and the importance of running at Saratoga. It is the most popular and storied race meeting in the country.
When you head to Saratoga, you certainly feel like you take a step back in time to an age when thoroughbred racing was thriving in this country. On Saturday, it felt like the biggest event in the country because one of the biggest sports storylines this year has been a 3-year-old colt named American Pharoah. It was a year that racing fans hoped they would be able to witness and we all witnessed his continued brilliance on Saturday even in defeat. His narrow loss to Keen Ice in the Travers did nothing to take away from his brilliance.
He was challenged by Frosted the entire way and it was probably the third quarter mile that proved to be his undoing in the final 100 yards as his stride began to shorten. All the greats have lost. As a deafening silence casted over the famed race course Saturday evening, people were in stunned disbelief that American Pharoah had lost. That is horse racing and that is why I love this sport. He still showed the heart and grit of a champion in defeat. After the race, Ahmed Zayat spoke of retiring the horse. That would be the wrong move. The goal was always the Breeders Cup Classic in the Fall and that should still be the goal, even after the loss in the Travers.
Give credit to the connections of Frosted for challenging Pharoah. That is why we watch. American Pharoah is a champion and his legacy is etched in stone. He now joins the likes of Secretariat and there is certainly no disgrace there. It was certainly disappointing to see him lose but in the same breath it was great to see an awesome race and that is why we watch. Thank you American Pharoah, I hope to see you back on the track again.