I have been going to the racetrack my entire life. I come from a racing family. Going to the track with my Dad, Paul, and my Uncle Pete growing up was a rite of passage.
I have been to the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and have been going to Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga since I can remember. When American Pharoah crossed the finished line in front, shortly before 7 early Saturday evening, it was a great moment for the sport of thoroughbred racing. It was an accomplishment that I never thought I would be able to witness in person. In my bedroom growing up, I had a picture of the previous 11 Triple Crown winners. Names like, Citation, Whirlaway, War Admiral and Secretariat. I had gone to Belmont over the years for the Stakes and watched so many fail, like Smarty Jones and California Chrome. Saturday, finally the sport was able to crown a Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah. He was a daylight winner and ran it in a great time of 2:26.65, which is the sixth fastest mark in Belmont Stakes history. I had questions after his Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories of just how good American Pharoah was, because his race times were slow. The question has now been answered. He is an all-time great. But just how good?
We know that he is the 12thTriple Crown winner in thoroughbred history, which puts him in the history books already. But to truly make his mark, he needs to continue to race. Maybe he runs in the Haskell or the Travers with the eventual goal being the Breeder’s Cup Classic. Ahmed Zayat, the owner of American Pharoah, has said a sport is not a sport without a star.Thoroughbred racing now has a big shiny star in American Pharoah, and Zayat has been on record that he will continue to run American Pharoah as long as he stays healthy.
I hope that is the case because the sport definitely needs its equine stars on the track and not just in the breeding shed. Zayat has already agreed to a deal with Coolmore stud, where American Pharoah will stand when his racing career comes to an end. Terms of the deal were not released but it has been speculated that the deal is worth tens of millions of dollars. As I watched Saturday night and Sunday at the coverage of the victory of American Pharoah, I realized that there is still a place for thoroughbred racing in America. The sport will never be where it once was, but there is a future.
Does this weekend's attention generate any additional racing fans? That is the big question moving forward.
Will Ahmed Zayat stick to his word and continue to run American Pharoah? I hope so. He is a brilliant 3-year-old that has captured the imagination of this country. He needs to continue to run as long as he is healthy. The sport needs American Pharoah more then ever. I hope his owners understand that and don't retire him before his 3-year-old season comes to an end. If he does continue to run, we might be looking at a special summer and fall for the sport. In order to do that, his owners need to turn a blind eye to the millions that wait for them when he hits the breeding shed. I hope they are able to withstand that urge. They have a special athlete, let him continue to be special and show the world just how great he can be. I have been to a lot of Belmonts over the years and Saturday was as good as it gets. The sport needed it, and they need more of it.