After American Pharoah swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in the spring to win the first Triple Crown since 1978, his owner, Ahmed Zayat, could easily have decided to send the horse into retirement. After all, the three-year-old had cemented his place in history, and a lucrative career as a stud awaited.
However, Zayat, along with legendary trainer Bob Baffert, decided to give horse racing fans what they wanted and let American Pharoah finish out the season. All parties were richly rewarded Saturday, when the horse won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and completed the sport’s first-ever Grand Slam.
The 3-5 favorite at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., American Pharoah led wire-to wire and won the $5 million mega-race in a track-record time of 2 minutes 0.07 seconds (the previous record was more than five seconds slower, at 2:05.36). He started to pull away at the top of the stretch and eventually finished 6.5 lengths ahead of second-place Effinex, a 33-1 shot; Honor Code came in third.
The Breeders’ Cup began in 1984, so it was not in existence 37 years ago, when Affirmed won the most recent Triple Crown before this year. Thus American Pharoah had the first shot at a relatively newfangled Grand Slam, and he did not fail.
It was one thing to defeat his fellow three-year-olds this spring, but on Saturday, American Pharoah routed a field that included several more veteran horses, although the race was diminished when the champion mare Beholder was withdrawn earlier in the week. Nevertheless, Pharoah impressively burnished his legacy, and he gained a measure of redemption after finishing second in August’s Travers Stakes.
With a final triumph to his name, American Pharoah will now settle into what presumably will be a very pleasant retirement, after earning Zayat a total of $8,650,300.
“The kindest, friendliest, happiest, easiest, most brilliant horse I’ve ever seen in my life,” Zayat said Saturday (via the Associated Press). “He connected with people. He loves people. I knew he got it.”