At some point, a good horse crosses over. You know the drill. He or she starts out belonging to the owner, the trainer, the jockey, the people in the barn. Then everybody gets on board.
And everybody’s all in with American Pharoah.
There’s no more thinking he can lose, no more trying to find a handicapping principle to beat him, no more skepticism about owner Zayat Stable or trainer Bob Baffert, no more hard feelings. No more anything.
People, racing people and non-racing people alike, just want to see the horse run. They think he will win. They think he should win. They think it’s all a magical ride. And they’re right so far.
It all makes me think of the glory days of boxing, when Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight champion and everybody knew it. There were Joe Frazier fans, but even they marveled at Ali. They wanted to see The Greatest box, train, compete, talk. Could he win again? Could he do it with even more style and ease and aplomb?
I think of Jack Nicklaus moving on to another major tournament, all swagger and swing and golf shoes. People cheered for Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Gary Player, all the others but they watched Nicklaus.
I think of Martina Navratilova smacking another winner in a grand-slam tennis match in Australia, France, England, New York, somewhere. She mixed power and tactics better than anyone in the game. As with Nicklaus and Ali, some people rooted for Chris Evert but they had to see Navratilova.
I think of Seabiscuit–OK, I think of listening to people talk about Seabiscuit–who traveled around the country to perform at sold-out racetracks as the people’s horse. He ran 89 times–Hialeah to Havre de Grace, Rockingham to River Downs, Suffolk Downs to Santa Anita. People probably bet against him, but they didn’t miss a race, in person or on the radio.
American Pharoah is not Ali, not Seabiscuit, not Nicklaus or Navratilova, but is about as close as today’s world will let anyone or anything get. The bay colt, in a world of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, Pinterest, Tumblr and things you have yet to hear of, stands above the chaos.
People just want to see him, to know where he’s going to run next. Can he keep winning? Can he keep delivering?
The Triple Crown winner came back to the Mid-Atlantic for Monmouth Park’s Haskell Invitational in August, and captivated.
Fans showed up to watch him train, bought every seat at the historic track and reveled in the glory of another Grade 1 triumph. His Haskell win turned out to be little more than a public workout as he fired that magical stride from the start, mocked a would-be challenge from early leader Competitive Edge and sauntered through the stretch while winning by 21?4 lengths. It seems funny now that people actually thought some of the others in the race had a chance beforehand.
Sorry Keen Ice, Upstart, Competitive Edge, Top Clearance, Dontbetwithbruno and Mr. Jordan, you were born in the wrong year.
Surely American Pharoah was sweating, but you couldn’t really tell.
Victor Espinoza geared down so much there was an instant where people feared American Pharoah might break into a trot. He didn’t, but a 5-length lead was merely halved in the final sixteenth of a mile. Regardless, the time–which doesn’t matter–was about a second off the track record. Horses don’t do that. Well, they didn’t do that. Not until this one.
Like most things in racing these days, his impact will be fleeting. American Pharoah will run twice (three times maybe) more this year, then become a stallion. That’s the way this business works. Racehorses make stallions, drive revenue, employ people, fuel an industry. The Seabiscuit days, like the Ali days, are long gone.
But the American Pharoah days aren’t half bad.