Catching Up With American Pharoah

American Pharoah after his first breeding season. (Coolmore Stud)

When American Pharoah entered trainer Bob Baffert’s barn in the summer of 2014, he had already cultivated a reputation as a future superstar in his early training. But it’s unlikely anyone realized how big of a superstar he would become.

American Pharoah made his debut in August of 2014 at the prestigious Del Mar meet but he only finished fifth, 9 ¼ lengths behind the winning Om. That maiden would prove to be a good one with each horse in front of American Pharoah having future stakes success. Race winner Om went on to win multiple Grade 2 stakes and placed in a Grade 1 while the three between him and American Pharoah all placed in Grade 1 races as well. Fourth placed Calculator also has a stakes win on his resume.

Though that debut didn’t go the way Baffert and the Zayats expected, it didn’t lessen their confidence in him.

He came back three weeks later in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, a tough test for a maiden but this time he shined. American Pharoah struck the lead early and never looked back, cruising to a 4 ¾-length victory with Victor Espinoza aboard for the first time.


Only a few weeks later, American Pharoah was at it again when he won the Grade 1 FrontRunner by 3 ¼ lengths in gate-to-wire fashion as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup. Unfortunately for American Pharoah, his season was over after that as he suffered an injury in the week leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was scratched from the race.

It was a long wait to see American Pharoah back on the track but in the interim, he was named champion 2-year-old colt off the strength of his two Grade 1 victories as a 2-year-old.

Taking one of Baffert’s favorite routes to the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah was shipped to Oaklawn Park for his return to the races in March. His long layoff didn’t give many people pause with the colt going off at odds of 2-to-5. It was the first time that American Pharoah was able to show he was part duck as he romped in the Rebel in the mud, winning by 6 ¼ lengths against a field of six others.

That convinced bettors to drop him even lower a month later when he returned to Arkansas for his next start in the Arkansas Derby. American Pharoah showed a new dimension to his running style when Espinoza was able to rate him behind the pacesetting Bridget’s Big Luvy. Espinoza was in total control of the colt, who waited for his signal before taking off to win by eight lengths.

American Pharoah at Churchill Downs. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)
Going into the Kentucky Derby, Baffert held quite the hand with the undefeated Dortmund coming into the race after dominating California and American Pharoah after dominating Arkansas. Not surprisingly, those two horses went off as the two top choices in the betting.

California-based horses ruled the 2015 Kentucky Derby with Dortmund setting the pace followed by California’s Firing Line and American Pharoah in third. American Pharoah had to run the race of his life with Firing Line challenging him in the stretch and Dortmund in third. Firing Line grudgingly gave way but ran American Pharoah to the tightest winning margin of his career, with just one length separating them.

While it was the first time he was truly tested in a winning race, American Pharoah seemed to bounce out of it fine when he headed to the Preakness.

In a rainstorm that would have convinced many to build an ark, American Pharoah again showed that he had built-in flippers. In control of the race from the word “go,” Espinoza just had to show his mount the whip for American Pharoah to happily switch into another gear and win by seven lengths over Tale of Verve.

With a win in the Preakness, American Pharoah entered the Belmont as the 14th horse with a chance to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed last won the series in 1978.

Again taking the lead right from the start, American Pharoah never seemed in danger of not winning the Triple Crown. Materiality stayed about a length behind him through the early and middle stages of the race until the field entered the far turn. With other jockeys starting to urge their horses, American Pharoah and Espinoza sat chilly, slowly pulling away from the field. Espinoza started urging American Pharoah with about an eighth of a mile left to go and American Pharoah lengthened his lead to 5 ½ lengths at the wire with race caller Larry Collmus giving a legendary line in “The 37-year wait is over. American Pharoah is finally the one! American Pharoah has won the Triple Crown!”


While it had been announced a few weeks before that American Pharoah would retire to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud at the end of his career, his journey to the farm had to wait a bit longer. American Pharoah spent a few weeks back at his California base preparing for a start in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, the seventh track he’d visit in his career.

Future Ashford Stud stablemate Competitive Edge set the pace in the Haskell but American Pharoah didn’t let him just cruise in front, never dropping more than a length from him. In the far turn it was all over as American Pharoah took over then started to pull away, leading by five lengths with a furlong left to go. Espinoza wrapped up on him and let him cruise home with the gap closing to 2 ¼ lengths in the end as Keen Ice rushed up for second.

American Pharoah returned to New York in late August to take on the Travers Stakes at Saratoga after a six-race campaign that had seen him travel the country. Known as the Graveyard of Favorites, Saratoga had claimed the scalps of Man O’ War, Gallant Fox and Secretariat among others and only six favorites had won the Travers since 2000.

A game changer came on the card a few races before the Travers when jockey Joel Rosario was hurt and had to be replaced on Frosted in the race. Jose Lezcano picked up the mount and changed the complexion of the race when pushing American Pharoah through the race. American Pharoah shook off Frosted in the stretch but like had happened in the Haskell, Keen Ice flew up in the closing stages and ended American Pharoah’s eight-race win streak when he won by three-quarters of a length.

A tired American Pharoah headed back to California after that loss with his connections wondering if they should head for the Breeders’ Cup Classic or retire American Pharoah. In the end, the Classic won.

The Classic was full of current and future Grade 1 winners with Effinex the only non-Grade 1 winner at the time of the Classic (he went on to win a Grade 1 in his next start). But American Pharoah made the race simple from the start. He took the lead and in normal Pharoah fashion, cruised up front. By the mile call, he was 3 ½ lengths in front of second-placed Effinex and just made the margin bigger down the stretch as he won by 6 ½ lengths to tie with 2002 winner Volponi for the largest margin of victory in the race’s history.

The Breeders’ Cup was the final race for American Pharoah, who retired with a record of nine wins and one second in 11 starts for $8,650,300 in earnings. His nine victories were won by a combined margin of 44 ½ lengths and he beat 50 different horses in those winning runs. Of the 50 horses, 25 of them have won a combined of 55 graded stakes races including 24 Grade or Group 1 races as of July 27, 2016.

American Pharoah arriving at Ashford Stud. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

While some horses he ran against are still adding to their resumes on the track, American Pharoah just wrapped up his first season at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky where he stood for $200,000.

“Everything has gone smoothly and he’s been an absolute pleasure to have at the farm,” said Coolmore’s Scott Calder. “He’s taken to the breeding side of things very well and we are expecting plenty of foals on the ground next spring, which will get him off to a great start. A lot of people have asked whether he has changed since he started breeding mares but we haven’t noticed any changes to his demeanor, he is still the same kind-natured horse that everyone admired on the racetrack.”

Mares from around the world visited American Pharoah during his first season at stud with Coolmore sending mares from their Irish base to him. They weren’t the only ones with international interest in him however. While some breeders from abroad shipped mares to Kentucky, others bought mares from winter sales in the state just so they could breed to American Pharoah.

“The level of support he has received is quite unprecedented for a first year stallion,” said Calder. “We’ve supported him with a number of our best mares and so have many other top breeders from all over the world. The book of mares he has bred will give him a great opportunity to prove himself as a stallion, but I guess that is only fair after everything he achieved on the track.”

When American Pharoah and fellow new stallion Competitive Edge first came to the farm before their breeding season, they were “babysat” by 1995 Kentucky Derby Thunder Gulch during turnout, but once they got accustomed to their new routines they moved to different paddocks. Today, American Pharoah is next to Tale of the Cat when he is turned out every day. Since breeding season is done, American Pharoah never visits the breeding shed and gets more time in his paddock during what is a quiet time of year at the farm.

But while he isn’t visited by mares, American Pharoah does still get nearly daily visitors through Horse Country Tours, which runs every weekday.

“We offer farm tours via Horse Country and those tickets are still in hot demand,” Calder said. “I’m sure that when his first foals start arriving next year it will increase interest again and likewise when his first runners hit the track. There is a lot to look forward to from a fan perspective, that is for sure.”

To learn more about visiting American Pharoah and Ashford Stud, you can visit the Horse Country Tours site here.

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