“American Pharoah is finally the one!”

Jun 22nd 2015 11:25 pm |

CaptureI have a feeling I wasn’t the only racing fan who had these thoughts in quick succession when American Pharoah pulled away from Frosted in the stretch at Belmont Park on June 6th: “He’s gonna do it….I can’t believe it.” I still can’t believe it. I was beginning to have my doubts that we would ever see another Triple Crown winner. But, as Larry Collmus exclaimed as American Pharoah crossed the line, we have a colt that is “finally the one.” Fingers crossed we won’t need to wait another thirty-seven years to see it again. And let’s hope we see American Pharoah race a few more times before the owners cash in on his breeding career.

Image: Cover of Sports Illustrated (June 15th 2015). I wrote on Twitter soon after it came out: “Love this! Perfect that they included the crowd and all the cell phones…didn’t look like this in 1978”

I have spent my time since the Belmont Stakes enjoying (for the most part) the reaction to a Triple Crown in thoroughbred racing. Since I was too young to remember the last one, this is all new for me. American Pharoah has inspired great writing and has made a typically jaded fan base (for the most part) exuberant. Of course, there are the opportunists who use the attention to beat the “end horse racing” drum in addition to the less militant sports talking heads who feel the need to chime in with uninformed opinion. (I had a twitter back-and-forth with a local sports talk guy who I like but sounded pretty ignorant in his comments about AP. Here is my initial tweet and some of our “conversation”).

Negativity will find its way into just about anything these days so its best to ignore it and focus on the good stuff. I’ll likely do a more in-depth historical look at #12 sometime this summer. For now, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my favorite post-Belmont Stakes articles this year. It’s no surprise that the best writers in the racing business came up big in their recaps and reaction to the first Triple Crown winner if the century. Below are a few of my favorite quotes interspersed with some comments and thoughts of my own.

Tim Layden, who rarely disappoints when he writes about racing, captured THE moment so well in his cover story for Sports Illustrated:

“Belmont exploded in celebration, the roar growing louder when louder seemed inconceivable, a prayer of thanks delivered in full throat.”

“It was yet another June evening at Belmont Park, yet another horse running for the Triple Crown, yet another reach at history. The rest was so different, a prayer answered in the gloaming1 . Now the horse was right. Now the wait is done.” Read the full piece here…

An online piece — also from SI — by Richard Deitsch provided a brilliant detail about race caller Larry Collmus and his “warm-ups” the week leading up to the race:

If you happened to have one of the adjacent rooms at the Garden City Hotel in Long Island last week, you could hear a man calling the stretch run of Belmont Stakes. The man did this over and over and over again in the event history struck at 6:54 p.m. ET on Saturday night in nearby Elmont, New York.

“‘I wonder how much the people in the next room heard,’ said Larry Collmus, who called American Pharoah’s win for the ages for NBC Sports and Belmont Park. ‘I was practicing calling the stretch run, just trying to get the feel of how I wanted it to sound. You know what you want to say but you want to hear how you want to say it.’  Read the full article here

I loved Larry Collmus call but you have to feel for Tom Durkin. He called so many misses and we finally get one a year after he retires. He seems like the type of guy who would chuckle to himself about the poor timing of his retirement. I had a chance to chat with him while at Gulfstream Park in the spring — he seemed pretty happy about not working so missing his chance at a Triple Crown call this year can’t be bothering him too much.

I’m a huge fan of Jay Privman’s work for the Daily Racing Form. He closed his article for DRF — published soon after the race and one that will be read by future historians for as long as people care about horse racing — with this flourish:

When American Pharoah came back toward the grandstand after pulling up after the race, Espinoza took him all the way up the stretch so that fans seated throughout the grandstand could see him one last time before he headed to the winner’s circle. Just 20 miles from Manhattan, it was racing’s version of a Broadway bow.

“As American Pharoah was brought down Belmont Park’s victory lane toward the winner’s circle, track announcer Larry Collmus introduced him to the crowd as ‘racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner,’ and the fans let out an appreciative roar.

“It had taken 37 years for this moment, and if it took a few more minutes to get a picture taken, American Pharoah was more than happy to oblige. He had done everything else.” Read it in full here

Privman wrote the following in an analysis published two days after the race:

Espinoza always had a ton of horse under him, and American Pharoah clicked off successive quarter-miles in 24 seconds and change, one after another, a pace his rivals could not sustain.

“American Pharoah was always going best, entered the stretch with a two-length lead, extended his margin in upper stretch, and then received a couple of mild backhanders from Espinoza midway through the stretch en route to the finish. He continued to gallop out well after the finish, as if the race – and the prior campaign – hadn’t taken everything out of him. Remarkable.” Read it all here

I am a long-time reader of the Atlantic Magazine and a daily reader of their website so I was thrilled when I clicked over and found this on their website a few hours after the Belmont Stakes:


I find Andy Beyer overly rigid in his outlook on racing but he remains a must-read. In his article about American Pharoah for the Washington Post and DRF he didn’t break character – it was appropriately Beyer-esque:

American Pharoah is not another Secretariat, Affirmed or Seattle Slew. But after his front-running victory Saturday, he deserves an exalted place in racing history. He swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes at a time when the feat has become more difficult than ever.”

The forever curmudgeonly Andy Beyer goes on to call Pharoah’s win in the Belmont a “good effort” only because his eponymous speed figure came back a slightly above average 105 for the race.

Beyer is not the only one “critiquing” the accomplishment. He is one of the few doing it with some semblance of intelligence. It amazes me that the army of online contrarians had already made their voices heard before American Pharaoh cooled out after the Belmont.

On a related topic, before we knock the colt for what will almost certainly be the least number of career starts by a Triple Crown winner by the time he retires, remember no one can reasonably argue that racing hasn’t changed significantly since 1978. One thing we all know that’s different now then the period between 1919 and 1978: Completing the Triple Crown has become far more difficult in the last few decades. We can debate the reasons why this is the case but I don’t think there’s any debate that it’s harder now then in 1978. That simple fact just might make American Pharoah’s feat in 2015 more remarkable than all that preceded. Beyer closed his piece with a similar point:

In view of these trends, Triple Crown winners will be increasingly rare. American Pharoah’s sweep will look even more impressive if nobody duplicates the feat for another 37 years. Read the full piece

I understand Beyer’s perspective and he does concede that Pharoah’s accomplishment stands out among the other eleven because of recent history. However. this horse won’t need to be the only Triple Crown winner in the next three decades to make his feat anymore impressive. We already know how impressive it is today by looking backwards over the last thirty-seven years.

Bob Baffert is a great trainer but I have had moments in the past where I found him arrogant and altogether unlikable. However, he has been so gracious during American Pharoah’s run and avoided the thoughtless (essentially, throwaway) quotes that usually comes with a media spotlight in sports these days. He handled his horse and the circus associated with a Triple Crown run perfectly.

Minutes after winning the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, Baffert told NBC’s Bob Neumeier: “I got to thank Hal Earnhardt and Mike Pegram, they are responsible for getting me into the thoroughbred business and this is for them.” There is something to be said for a man who at the height of his sport remembers he didn’t get there on his own. Gratitude is a beautiful thing.

And, if you haven’t watched it in a few days, here is the 2015 Belmont Stakes again. I have watched it a few dozen times already and plan to watch it a few thousands times more over the years.

Remarkable indeed…

Thanks for reading and good luck!

  1. Gloaming means twilight or dusk…I had to look it up too []

Filed in Belmont Park,Belmont Stakes,Triple Crown

4 Responses to ““American Pharoah is finally the one!””

  1. Ellen Shaw Maceko says:

    I was just a kid when Seattle Slew and then Affirmed won the Triple Crown and I began to wonder if I’d ever see it happen again. I was beside myself after American Pharoah won! He still has a lot to prove in my mind. I’d like to see how he holds up for the rest of the year and quite honestly, I hope he runs in the Travers. That would be a true test. I’d like to see him run in the Breeders Cup Classic as well. I wish he was going to run as a four-year-old as I think that is the year when great horses can truly shine. As usual, money gets in the way and I’m sure he will not run next year. A true shame, if you ask me.

  2. Owen Klein says:

    At my age (70 +) I certainly do remember watching those past winners- and the Affirmed victories over Alydar were as good a set of horse races as I would ever hope to see. Then Secretariat was a virtual walkover and so I naturally thought there would be another 3C in the near future. Wrong, wrong. Was I ever pleased to see this one because I don’t have another 35+ years.

    • Jordan Nichols says:

      I wish I had been around to see the great one of the 70s (Secretariat, Ruffian, Forego, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, Spectacular Bid…the list goes on and on.) Out of curiosity, who would you call the best you’ve ever seen run?

  3. Jordan Nichols says:

    Now that we’ve seen Pharoah beat top-notch older horses (Honor Code, Tonalist) in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, break a track record by over five seconds (Keeneland mile and a quarter) and combat one of the most challenging schedules in recent memory and still win effortlessly, I think we can safely call him one of the greatest of all time. Below: an interesting piece of the puzzle when discussing Pharoah vs. Secretariat.