American Pharoah Closes Career on High Note With Classic Win


American Pharoah went out on a high note with a Breeders' Cup Classic win. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

LEXINGTON, Ky. – American Pharoah cemented his legacy as one of the all-time greats on Saturday when he added a runaway victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic to his Triple Crown triumphs to achieve racing’s first Grand Slam.

A crowd of 50,155 roaring spectators at Keeneland Race Course gave the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years a rousing ovation when he was saddled in the paddock. By the time his valiant front-running effort for jockey Victor Espinoza was over and he had dusted runner-up Effinex by 6 ½ lengths, the noise was deafening.

What a grand exit!

“I knew it was his last race and I was ready to ride him really hard,” Espinoza said. “I didn’t need to.”

American Pharoah’s run to glory in his only test against older horses provided a fitting end to a season for the ages and to a storybook career in behalf of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Zayat Stables. The bay son of Pioneerof the Nile won for the seventh time in eight starts this season and for the ninth time in 11 career starts.

With the winner’s $2,750,000 share, the dazzling colt will be retired as the fourth-leading earner of all time with $8,650,300 in purse money. He trails only Curlin, Cigar and Skip Away, all of whom were campaigned beyond their 3-year-old seasons.


In another measure of American Pharoah’s stature, he is the first 3-year-old to win two Grade 1 races after he completed the historic Triple Crown sweep, namely the Haskell Invitational and the Classic. Even the mighty Secretariat, the famed 1973 Triple Crown champ, took only one Grade 1 contest at 3 following his machine-like victories in the spring classics. He won the Man o’ War on turf.   

Owner Ahmed Zayat summarized it all when he exclaimed, “Unbelievable! What a thrill! Once in a lifetime!”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert echoed Zayat’s sentiments. “This was for Pharoah,” he said. “I wanted him to go out like the champion he is. I’ll never have another like him.” Zayat said plans will be made to provide racing’s superstar with a fitting sendoff to the breeding shed.

Honor Code, with his patented late kick, never had a shot. He ran third, followed by Keen Ice, Tonalist, Hard Aces, Frosted and Gleneagles.


The only blemishes on Pharoah’s record occurred when his inexperience showed during a fifth-place finish in his debut as a 2-year-old last August at Del Mar. His second cross-country trek in four weeks almost surely contributed to his runner-up finish to Keen Ice in the Travers on Aug. 29 at New York’s Saratoga Race Course, notorious as the “Graveyard of Champions.”

Zayat, hailed for his sportsmanship when he resisted the temptation to retire the colt immediately after his Belmont Stakes romp, was so downcast in defeat he indicated immediately after the Travers that American Pharoah would most likely be retired. An agreement with Coolmore had been in place for months.

Baffert, though, was convinced the 12th Triple Crown champion was not done, that he could tap into the 3-year-old’s innate ability one final time. He trained him up to the Classic with a steady stream of works at Santa Anita Park, as demanding as they were breathtaking.

Espinoza could tell soon after Pharoah spurted to the lead with Effinex straining to keep up in second that the colt that took the Derby, Preakness and Belmont by a combined 13 ½ lengths was back to full strength.

“This time was like the three Triple Crown races. I just let him run,” he said. “The Travers was a different race.” American Pharoah paid $3.40 for a $2 win wager. He completed the mile and a quarter in 2:00.07.


It helped Pharoah that everything fell his way in the days leading to the eagerly-anticipated Classic. The connections of Liam’s Map, who possesses a high cruising speed, opted for the Dirt Mile, a race he won on Friday. The tremendous mare Beholder was withdrawn from the Classic on Thursday due to illness. Stewards scratched Smooth Roller on the morning of the race after veterinarians discovered an issue with a tendon in his left foreleg. Both loomed as potential factors in the early pace.

“When it came up with an eight-horse field, when two horses who looked like they had speed, Beholder and Smooth Roller scratched, everybody was riding to be safe. They were riding to be second,” said Shug McGaughey, the Hall of Fame trainer of Honor Code.

Pharoah seized his opportunity the way legends do. He provided a moment that those who jammed into this idyllic track to watch the first Breeders’ Cup here, that those who watched around the globe, will never forget.

“This was for America,” said Zayat. “This was for the sport.”


Video courtesy of Breeders' Cup World Championships

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