We went 37 years without a Triple Crown winner. Some were beginning to think that it would never happen again, that the three races in such a short timeframe were too hard. Then, American Pharoah came along. He raced his way into the history books and the hearts of all who watched his historic journey to the Triple Crown in the spring of 2015.
Sometimes, one horse can change the course of history. That’s exactly what American Pharoah did in 2015 when he became the 12th Triple Crown Winner and the first after a 37-year drought. He also won the Breeder’s Cup Classic that fall, further cementing his place in the history books.
These four races – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Classic – are referred to as the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing. The Breeders’ Cup Classic is a newer race, started in 1984. Winning all four made American Pharoah the first Grand Slam winner.
In His Blood
He is a Thoroughbred racehorse foaled on February 2, 2012, in Lexington, Kentucky. American Pharoah is sired by Pioneerof the Nile and his dam is a mare called Littleprincessemma, whose pedigree includes Secretariat. Pioneerof the Nile finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. He’s a well-bred horse and was bred, born, and raised to race.
American Pharoah is a bay with a faint star – his only white marking. He stands 16.2 hands tall. His good temperament and excellent conformation set him apart from other horses from the time he was a weanling.
He was bred and owned by Ahmed Zayat and Zayat Stables LLC. They sent the colt to a yearling auction, but he bumped his leg prior to the auction. When he wasn’t selling near their minimum of $1 million, an agent bought the colt back for Zayat Stables.
American Pharoah – Two-Year-Old Races
American Pharoah was sent to the hall of fame trainer Bob Baffert when he started training. He remained a sweet colt, much friendlier than racehorses normally are. But he was riddled with anxiety during his first race.
They worked with him, removed his blinker hood for subsequent races, and also put cotton in his ears. After the training sessions and tack changes, his calm demeanor came back in the saddling paddock, starting gates, and on the track too.
Victor Espinoza rode him in his second race, seven furlongs at Del Mar, where they won. He and Espinoza raced again at Santa Anita, again going straight to the front and staying there until they won. A hoof bruise kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race. He had to have a special shoe on that hoof throughout his three-year-old year and Triple Crown run.
The Triple Crown
American Pharoah used the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby as warm-ups for the Triple Crown races of 2015. He was gaining quite the reputation for his power and speed and was called a superhorse by another trainer after the Arkansas Derby. Espinoza was his jockey throughout his three-year-old season.
The Kentucky Derby was held on May 2, 2015, and there were 18 horses in the field. American Pharoah as the favorite. After they broke from the starting gate, he settled into the third position behind Dortmund and Firing Line. The three separated from the other horses. American Pharoah passed on the outside in the last furlong and won the race by a length.
Next came the Preakness Stakes. He was the favorite again, even though he drew the first post position, which isn’t a good place to race from. The skies opened up before the race, turning the track into a muddy mess. None of these disadvantages bothered American Pharoah, and he won the race by seven lengths.
Finally, came the Belmont Stakes and all the pressure of heading into the race with a chance at the Triple Crown. The field included horses that American Pharoah had already beat. On June 6, 2015, he handily won the Belmont Stakes by five and a half lengths. It was the fourth largest lead during the Belmont for a Triple Crown winner.
The day after the Belmont, American Pharoah greeted well-wishers at the stables, who pet and kissed him. Then he appeared on The Today Show with Baffert and Espinoza, again, living up to his kind and friendly reputation.
A Loss at the Travers Stakes
American Pharoah continued racing after winning the Triple Crown. His next race was the Haskell Stakes on August 2nd, where he again won. Then, he headed to the Travers’ Stakes in Saratoga, New York, a race on August 29th in New York that has the nickname, the “Graveyard of Champions.”
Baffert didn’t really want to race the horse there; it was a lot of cross-country travel in the month of August since the horse was based in California. American Pharoah led for much of the race, but lacked his usual fire and drive, and was second to Frosted at the finish.
He rested and recovered after the race. Then they decided to enter him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in Kentucky on October 31st. This was the first time that American Pharoah had to face older horses. He broke the track record by five seconds and won the race.
American Pharoah Today
The Breeders’ Cup Classic was American Pharoah’s last race. Zayat Stables had sold his breeding rights to Ashford Stud, a division of Coolmore Stud, back in May. The agreement stated that he wouldn’t race again after his three-year-old season, and instead begin breeding.
American Pharoah joined the herd at Ashland Stud on November 2, 2015, and started breeding in the 2016 season. His foals have since won races including the February Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes, and Criterium International.
Today, he continues standing with Coolmore Stud. He’s traveled between the Australia and Kentucky facilities since they have opposite breeding seasons. American Pharoah reinvigorated the Triple Crown and Thoroughbred racing and he’s just a really nice horse. Sometimes, the good guy does finish first and change history.