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TrackNotes: The Problem With American Pharoah

Time out! Stop the movie!

Take a deep breath and contemplate this: The considered opinion in this corner is that the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of America's Triple Crown for Thoroughbred race horses, will be the last race in the career of this year's Crown hopeful, American Pharoah.

The once-defeated colt's future has already been romance-arranged with the sale of his breeding rights to Coolmore Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky.

So, caveat emptor. Check your emotional investment at the door. Resist the hype run-up to the June 6 Test of Champions. Don't take the plunge and fall in love, even if he does sweep the classic races.

When his connections announce a minor injury and retire him "for the good of the horse," you'll be left disappointed, at the very least, without answers.

What's the Over/Under on the audacity? Before Independence Day? Around Labor Day? Early October, when "getting him ready for the Breeders' Cup would be impossible, so we're going to retire him?"

Owner Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian-born transplant to the U.S. who was instrumental in privatizing the Egyptian beer business - and making the bottles it goes in - is rumored to have accepted somewhere around $20 million for the baby-making franchise.

"I will continue to own 100 percent of the colt until he retires," Zayat said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "I will make all of the racing decisions. If he runs in the Belmont, and God willing wins, and we're still fortunate, he will continue to race. This is not an issue whatsoever."

I'll just say I don't believe a word of it.

Belmont win or lose, the business side of the game dictates that Pharoah, whose name really is misspelled, will be retired for insurance reasons and to avoid injury.

From the standpoint of the horseflesh trade, this is nothing new. The well-bred son of Pioneerof the Nile (another goof by the spelling-challenged Zayat Stables?), with Empire Maker and Unbridled lineage, brought top dollar at a time when he hasn't completed the Crown but hasn't lost the Belmont either.

The next time I see or hear the old "his love of horses and the game itself," I'll gag.

But maybe Zayat has a good excuse for grabbing the moolah.

These days Zayat is being sued for allegedly not paying debts on wagers reportedly made for him in Costa Rica and Curacao.

Money problems are not new for Zayat. He emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 after defaulting on a bank loan and horse auction debts.

But what of the horse and, firstly, the fans?

The economic structure of horse racing is skewed by breeding stud fees. There is almost always more money there than on the track. It cheats the fans of the enjoyment of a horse establishing his greatness. It forces the question: Are there any truly great horses anymore?

I believe American Pharoah outlasted a nice Kentucky Derby field with a nice run where some of the better horses, like Materiality, had the usual Derby traffic troubles.

He got lucky in the Preakness when a thunderstorm blew in just minutes before the race and turned Pimlico into slop. A good mudder and the only runner with experience on a wet track, Pharoah relished the conditions and romped.

With the assumption that he will be retired after the Belmont, what of his legacy?

If he loses the Belmont, gone, not particularly remembered. If he wins it and captures the Triple Crown, which is against the odds, nice, but his greatness will always be questioned. No epic rivalries, no Saratoga, no Breeders' Cup.

Horses change, a lot, from their two-year-old years and even within their three-year-old year. At four, true greatness can be achieved.

But with American Pharoah, we'll probably never know.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.


1. From DeAnn Smith ‏(via Twitter):

Mr. Z had considerable experience in the slop thanks to wintering at Oaklawn. Ran in Southwest Stakes in slop.

Editor: True. To your point.

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