While most eyes were set on Queens to watch the Mets and Royals in the World Series, there was an already crowned king adding another jewel to his crown.
It was not close, not by a long shot, but did you really have any doubt? American Pharoah won the Breeders’ Cup by six and a half lengths in the last race of his career this past Saturday at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. The three-year-old Triple Crown winner ran the one and a quarter mile track in 2:00.07, breaking the track record by over five seconds. The win also earned the horse the Grand Slam for winning the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes, Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ in one year — the only horse to ever achieve that feat.
There has not been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, and while many have come close, American Pharoah was the one to succeed. I remember attending the Kentucky Derby two summers ago with WFUV. Victor Espinoza was wearing the same blue and yellow jockey outfit we have become accustomed to seeing, but he was riding California Chrome, who, at the time, was the latest Triple Crown hopeful. There was anxious anticipation around the track throughout the entire day. Would he pull it off? Would we have to wait yet another year to see a potential Triple Crown winner? The result was disheartening. Chrome came in a dead heat for fourth and was injured in the race after being stepped on at the start.
So racing fans around the country waited again for the chance to see a Triple Crown winner. This past year, Espinoza got back on the horse again (no pun intended) and ran with American Pharoah. The colt won the Derby by a length and the Preakness by seven. Now it was time for the big test — the one-and-a-half mile long Belmont Stakes, where many Triple Crown hopefuls have fallen. Out of the gate, Pharoah did not have the best start, but he was pushed out to the front by Espinoza and was in the lead at the first turn. When Pharaoh and Espinoza were still in the lead at the halfway point, people started to realize that this might be the year. And indeed it was, as Pharoah pulled away down the stretch and won by five-and-a-half lengths in dominating fashion.
Pharoah has only lost twice in his sparkling career, once by just three-quarters of a length, and critics were wondering if he had peaked. Pharoah put them to shame this past weekend, becoming the first ever Grand Slam winner. So now the important question: is he the greatest of all-time?
Well, he is certainly the greatest I have ever seen. I have which plenty of horses try to win the Triple Crown after winning the Derby and Preakness in dramatic fashion, but there was something about the Belmont — the length, the prestige, the pressure — that would make even the most dominant horses look pedestrian. Pharoah was different. Even at the start of the race, I had the feeling that there was no way he could be defeated. The slow start did not matter; he forced himself to the front and looked like he had more left in the tank as he crossed the finish line.
He could certainly be considered better than the now second-to-last Triple Crown winner Affirmed, who fought off Alydar in each race in order to win the Crown back in 1978. Whirlaway (1941) and Assault (1946) had more convincing wins at the Derby, but Assault barely won the Preakness and Whirlaway only won the Belmont by two-and-a-half lengths. Of course I have never seen any of these horses run, but it seems like Pharoah has the advantage on these three examples. However, it will be tough to say he was better than Secretariat. Then again, it is hard to compete with a horse that had a thirty-one-length victory at the Belmont and a heart two times the normal size.
He might not be the greatest ever, but American Pharoah is the only Grand Slam winner in horse racing history. Regardless of what you think about American Pharoah you should appreciate what you have witnessed from this horse this past year, because you never know when you will get the chance to see it again.