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Ears pricked to the heavens all day, Triple Crown hero American Pharoah immediately seized control, smoothly glided over the beautiful Keeneland dirt course and thoroughly thumped seven others in the $5,000,000 Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday, flying into history and retirement, a horse we will remember for the rest of our lives.
'Pharoah covered the 10 furlongs in 2:00.07, smashing the Keeneland track record. His 6-plus lengths victory paid $3.40, $3.00 and $2.40. Effinex placed and Honor Code showed.
"I knew this was going to be his last race, and I let him run," jockey Victor Espinoza said. "On the backside, the path I was in was a little deep, so I decided to move out and he accelerated a little. Turning for home, I knew I was gone."
Trainer Bob Baffert marveled at Pharoah's performance.
"He came back in great shape. He's ready to go around again."He really put on a show. I knew at the half-mile pole (that he would win big) from the way he was running. The way he was going, he just breaks other horses' hearts. The good horses do that, they just break other horses' hearts."
Thankfully, the stereotypically coined term "Grand Slam" did not gain any traction. The Triple Crown is too big for that, so the son of Pioneerof the Nile (typos run in his family) and Littlerprincessemma (Yankee Gentleman) will forever be known as the Triple Crown winner who also hauled down the Breeders' Cup Classic. The first ever, as this festival did not exist for Affirmed.
His stud fee, which will be earned just a few miles from the scene of his BC heroics, at Ashford Stud (Coolmore America), will be enormous, in the neighborhood of $200,000. It's reported Pioneerof the Nile's fee will now crack six figures as well. 'Pharoah will earn much more at stud than the $8,650,300 he cashed out in an 11-9-1-0 track career.
Casual fans and grizzled horseplayers alike will mourn American Pharoah's retirement from the running. We'll always have our memories, but we'll need to get used to the reality of the money side of the Thoroughbred horse racing business. Secretariat did the same thing. I'm going to guess that they'll actually have to train him not to run, although I hope he gets a chance to stretch out his tremendous stride every once in a while.
But 'Pharoah went out in the grandest manner possible, grabbing the lead just a few strides out and never looking back, his version of a tremendous machine. Cool, calm and collected all the way.
Objectively, Ahmed Zayat and his Zayat Stables, and Baffert, who won last year's Classic with Bayern, actually ran a courageous campaign with American Pharoah in 2015. Many, if not most, others would not have.
The champ took the Arkansas Oaklawn (and what a great venue that is!) express route on the Triple Crown trail with March's Rebel Stakes the only Grade II he ran in all year.
Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker said it: "It would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to retire American Pharoah after he completed his historic Triple Crown. Instead, they shared him with us."
'Pharoah truly was was a full participant in a glorious summer of racing. Although I believe Baffert was hesitant, Zayat answered the call of duty by running 'Pharoah in the ultra-prestigious Travers Stakes, aka the "Mid-Summer Derby." He could have easily punked the pedestrian Pennsylvania Derby, as California Chrome did the year before. But they had the guts to go to historic Saratoga, Zayat seemingly knowing that if he didn't, with this horse, he would regret it forever.
It was 'Pharoah's only loss of the year. And I was getting really ticked off all weekend whenever a talking head would mention that second-place finish in funereal tones. Hey, he wasn't 100 percent, and after jabbing and right hooking Frosted the whole way, Keen Ice exploited it for a win, by less than a length.
The connections, and Pharoah, gave us what we wanted, in spades.
Huzzah huzzah American Pharoah!
In the horseshoe stream of consciousness:
* It was a real nice Breeders' Cup weekend, with NBC doing a great job on the telecast. The track had about a day-and-a-half to dry out, but there was some anxiety as there was a light drizzle much of the day Saturday; the weather, though, basically held off. The clumps and clods were flying in the turf races, but the grass course held up pretty well.
* Logically, NBC intro'd and featured American Pharoah on a regular basis. I got goosebumps every single time. It was reported early Saturday afternoon that 'Pharoah's stall was cordoned off. Obviously to get his horserace face on, but also to stop traffic. 'Pharoah is such a nice guy, he's curious about anybody and everybody who might stroll by. Even strike up a conversation. That would be a waste of energy.
* We know how airlines' in America treat their customers like nuisance cattle, but a champion like American Pharoah gets a break with luxury in every mile, and he travels a lot. His skies are friendly, but we can't run as fast.
* Thursday scratch Beholder, whose defection deeply impacted the Classic, looked great in her stall, and trainer Richard Mandella, looking all the wistful, said she was upset that all she could do was walk the shedrow. In the interview, Beholder saw the camera and popped up to the door to see what was happening. "She feels good, so she's not happy." If she were human, she would have played, But these horses are so complicated and so delicate . . . Mandella said she will get a short rest in California and stay in training.
* Jerry Bailey said it Friday: "Javier Castellano and Liam's Map were in more trouble than Whitey Bulger!" 'Map ran great to win the Dirt Mile, all after getting a very bad start, getting into traffic trouble, taking up at one point and then thundering to the wire. NBC's Randy Moss jumped on it immediately: "Running a race like this, he should have been in the Breeders' Cup Classic."
Watchmaker's argument is that the Dirt Mile at two turns cannibalizes the Classic and at one turn cannibalizes the Sprint. "Moreover, the Dirt Mile has failed to generate even a semblance of a coherent yearlong series of noteworthy one-mile stakes events. I think retiring (the Dirt Mile) would be addition by subtraction for the Breeders' Cup," he said.
Liam's Map was so full of run, it only underscored the disappointment, to put it kindly, of his connections, including frosty trainer Todd Pletcher, deciding not to take on 'Pharoah in the Classic. Pletcher is Pletcher. It's the Sabbath, so that's all I'll say.
* We caught a glimpse of former jockey Rosie Napravnik, who won the Breeders' Cup Distaff last year with Untapable (she scratched this year with a fever), and then announced her retirement and pregnancy right then and there in the Winner's Circle, news to the world and her mother, who was standing right there. Her husband, Joe Sharp, trained Sapphire Kitten to fourth place in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Rosie sure looked happy, and imagine having such a great jockey working out your horses. She scotched the idea of riding in a race again, but we can still hope. The baby boy slept through the whole thing.
* Like teenage drama, the fact of trainer Maria Borell's gender and beauty hung sliceable in the air as during a profile before the Breeders' Cup Sprint, in which her insanely speedy three-year-old Runhappy ran quite happily and won the race over many older horses.
Houston "Mattress King" James "Mac" McIngvale needed someone to recuperate the Super Saver colt from a slight fracture. With her veterinary tech experience, now 32-year-old Borell got the job. She's not shy about telling the world how much she likes Sunday Silence, his 1989 Kentucky Derby victory being her first memory in horse racing.
Seems Runhappy loves to sleep, couch potato-style, and the shot of Borell on the deck talking to Runhappy was special. The next shot of his groom jostling the horse trying to wake him up was quite the funny scene.
Her tears in the Winner's Circle, and those of most of the other owners and trainers male and female, for that matter, shows you just how great Breeders' Cup success really is.
UPDATE 11/2: Borell was fired by owner McIngvale and racing manager, and McIngvale's sister-in-law, Laura Wohlers, less than 24 hours after the race.
Just went from the best day of my life to the worst day of my life.— Maria Borell (@IMariaValentine) November 1, 2015
My heart is in a million pieces.— Maria Borell (@IMariaValentine) November 1, 2015
The breaking point apparently came when Wohlers wanted to jog Runhappy on the track Sunday morning and Borell disagreed.
#runhappy had fill and heat in an ankle this morning , laura wanted to send him to the track. Now she tells me I'm gone.— Maria Borell (@IMariaValentine) November 1, 2015
Generally, horses will walk the shedrow the morning after a race, especially one as big as a Breeders' Cup win, in order to stay loose and manage lactic acid. Notably, Runhappy has never raced with Lasix, a diuretic that helps keep a horse's lungs from bleeding during a race.
"We wanted to take him to the track to jog and Maria said she felt some heat. Laura didn't, so it was decided to go ahead and tack-walk him instead. Runhappy went outside to graze in his paddock and had a great day," said Laura McIngvale Brown, McIngvale's daughter. "This is an issue that has actually been going on for quite a while. My dad wants to be very honest with people and if people want to come out and see the horse tomorrow and watch him train, they are more than welcome to."
Wohlers was the horse's trainer of record in his first two races, a maiden win at Turfway Park and a bad fifth-place finish in the Grade III LeComte at Fair Grounds in January. Runhappy was shelved with a hairline fracture until July, when Borell took over training duties and ripped off four straight wins. Runhappy's 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the King's Bishop at Saratoga in August was the fastest for any three-year-old this year coming into the Breeders' Cup. Veteran jockey Edgar Prado was aboard for Runhappy's three biggest scores. Runhappy's 1:08-2/5 Sprint over six furlongs broke the Keeneland track record.
Wohlers put some spin on it: "The decision to move in a different direction was not made today."
I have three wishes: McIngvale had better pay Borell her share of the $1.5 million Sprint purse, upwards of $100,000; Borell gets another shot at training a good horse; and McIngvale and Wohlers don't ruin Runhappy.
Once working with long-gone prominent trainers like Nick Zito and Bob Baffert, McIngvale's horses in his fairly minor-league barn have included Inscrutable and Dontchangetrainers. /UPDATE
* The owners of $33.80 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday really are Mongolian. Jockey Florent Geroux, one of the best on the planet, is French.
*Juvenile winner Nyquist was named after Detroit Red Wings right winger Gustav Nyquist. They didn't say why.
* The feature on the kids painting a banner in homage to 'Pharoah was cool. Sure hope they grow up to be horse racing fans. They seem to have a good start.
* I was truly bummed out, sad, drifting when Beholder was scratched Thursday. She very well could have won the Classic and that would have been a great story itself. Superboy versus Supergirl. We'll see Beholder again.
Sonofagun, American Pharoah pulled me out of it.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.