Popular Triple Crown colt pulls away from field to end horse racing ‘fairy tale
LEXINGTON, KY.— Triple Crown champion American Pharoah took charge out of the gate, winning the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by 61⁄2
2 lengths Saturday in his final race before retirement. The three-year-old colt ran 11⁄
4 miles in a track-record 2:00.07 as the sentimental 3-5 favourite among the crowd of 50,155 at Keeneland. Fans stood 20-deep all along the rail, cheering and snapping cellphone photos of the superstar horse and jockey Victor Espinoza.
Except American Pharoah didn’t hear them. He wears ear plugs to muffle any sounds that might startle him.
“This was for Pharoah,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “We wanted him to go out the champion he is.” He paid $3.40, $3 and $2.40. Effinex, a 33-1shot, returned $14.20 and $6.60. Honor Code was another 41⁄ lengths back in third and paid
2 $3.40 to show.
There was plenty of Canadian content on the day. Wavell Avenue, a Canadian-bred four-year-old filly, won the Filly & Mare Sprint; Woodbine-based trainer Mark Casse had his second victory in as many days when Tepin took the Mile; and Canadian businessman J. Paul Reddam was already looking to next year after Nyquist won the Juvenile by a halflength.
“When is the Derby?” Reddam said, in reference to the Kentucky Derby after his colt picked his way through the14-horse field to become the early favourite for Churchill Downs.
Saturday, though, was about this year’s Derby winner. American Pharoah smashed the Keenleand track record of 2:05.36 by more than five seconds.
It was a feel-good moment for a sport that has been battered and bruised — all the troubles of declining attendance and drug controversies were wiped away in two magical minutes.
“It’s a horse racing fairy tale and I just happen to be in it,” Baffert said.
After easing across the finish line, Espinoza took the colt far up the first turn before slowly walking past the grandstand to the winner’s circle, accompanied by raucous cheers all the way. The champion even had his own military escort walk him back to his barn.
American Pharoah put an exclamation point on a brilliant career in which he lost just twice — in his debut and again in the Travers on Aug. 29
Keen Ice, who vanquished him at Saratoga, finished fourth in the Classic. Tonalist, the 2014 Belmont winner, was fifth, followed by Hard Aces, Frosted and Ireland-bred Gleneagles.
Frosted unexpectedly pressed American Pharoah on the lead in the Travers, leaving him vulnerable to the rally by Keen Ice.
This time, no one could keep up with the champ.
“It’s a lot of pressure to train a horse like this because I didn’t want to let the horse down and I didn’t want to let the fans down,” Baffert said
American Pharoah won nine of his 11 career starts, including the first sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years this spring. He earned a total of $8,650,300 for Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian-born owner who chose to keep his popular horse in training so fans could see him run.
“We wanted him to go out as a winner,” Zayat said. “He is a winner.”
American Pharoah had already ensured his place in history by ending the Triple Crown drought. He won the Derby by a length, then easily handled a sloppy track in the Preakness to win by seven lengths. In the Belmont, he led all the way en route to a dominating 51⁄ 2- length victory.
Next up for American Pharoah is a new career as a breeding stallion.
“It’s going to be sad to see him go,” Baffert said. “But I think he’s done enough. He’s proved enough.”
Turning to his 10-year-old son Bode, the trainer said: “We’re going to miss him, aren’t we, buddy?”