The winner of the Kentucky Derby and Americaâ€™s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years became the nationâ€™s darling a while back. But now you can add â€œHorse of the Worldâ€ to his growing resume.
After Sundayâ€™s gallop in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park â€“ a Grade I triumph in which he disposed of good horses with breathtaking ease â€“ owner/breeder Ahmed Zayatâ€™s superstar has been declared the best horse in the world by Britainâ€™s Timeform ratings.
Timeform ranked the American star at 136, pushing him closer to the highly-regarded European star Golden Horn, winner of this yearâ€™s Epsom Derby, and closer, also, to American Hall of Famer Cigar, whose rating of 138 was the highest for a North American horse since the company launched its global Thoroughbred rankings. He is the highest-rated North American horse since 2004 Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper, whose top rating was 137.
American Pharoah is clearly that good and, with as many as three races remaining in his career, still has room to grow.
Trainer Bob Baffert remarked after the Kentucky Derby winnerâ€™s final pre-Haskell work that his star was â€œgetting faster.â€ That was neither a glib quip nor idle thought but rather a fact borne out in Sundayâ€™s romp on the Jersey Shore.
American Pharoah is, without question, getting faster and better despite the rigors of the Triple Crown â€“ a feat that many now-silent critics has complained was too difficult a hurdle for horses bred in the 21st century. He is so good now that, with even modest improvement, it is difficult to imagine anything other than miserable luck beating him in the remainder of a career that is scheduled to continue through the $5 million Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic at Keeneland on October 31.
There is, of course, a reason we run our races.Â There are no pre-ordained results, and there are no guarantees or certainties when the starting gate opens.
The late Hall of Fame training legend H.A. â€œAllenâ€ Jerkens provided an unforgettable reminder that there are no â€œsure thingsâ€ when he defeated the mighty Secretariat twice in the months following Big Redâ€™s mythic Triple Crown tour de force in 1973. Jerkens beat the legend with former claiming horse Onion in Saratogaâ€™s Whitney and again with Prove Out in the Woodward at Belmont Park.
While American Pharoah has proven to be light years beyond all others in his age group, let me suggest it would be a mistake to think he is toying with weak competition. I continue to believe this is a strong and talented crop of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds and the horses at the top end of his age group will win major races this year and in the near-future.
But their best chances will come when American Pharoah is running somewhere else.
â€œThe others canâ€™t keep up with the high speed he has,â€ said jockey Victor Espinoza after the Haskell, his eighth victory without a defeat aboard American Pharoah. â€œTurning for home, the others were struggling. He was having fun. Me too. We both were having fun.â€
The three horses that finished behind American Pharoah â€“ Keen Ice, Upstart and Competitive Edge â€“ are all good, talented and still very promising runners. But they donâ€™t want any more of American Pharoah, although they could face him again.
Normally, it would be a chore to find other horses to run against a foe as dominant as Baffertâ€™s Triple Crown winner. But the money that American Pharoah and his opponents will be running for during the next three months should ensure the competition will be solid.
Monmouth Park officials announced upon American Pharoahâ€™s arrival at their track that the Haskellâ€™s purse was being raised by $750,000 from its scheduled value of $1 million. While the winner earned $1.1 million and the owner and trainer also benefited from incentives for choosing the Haskell, the presence of American Pharoah also boosted the bankrolls of those who finished behind him.
Donegal Racingâ€™s Keen Ice, who has steadily improved through the year after running a sneaky-good race in the Kentucky Derby, closed well for trainer Dale Romans to be the Haskell runner-up. His second place check, thanks to the purse hike, was worth $330,000.Â Saratoga has already announced that the purse for its $1 million Travers will rise to $1.6 million if American Pharoah shows up in that race later this month.
The Pennsylvania Derby, another possible pre-Breedersâ€™ Cup stop, is also working on incentives to lure Zayatâ€™s horse to Philadelphiaâ€™s Parx Racing next month, so there should be plenty of money to attract some solid competitors to that race, as well.
The late Daily Racing Form legend Joe Hirsch would often remind us that â€œGood racing is good business.â€ American Pharoah validated Hirschâ€™s adage on Sunday as his presence helped attract a record crowd of nearly 61,000 to Monmouth Park, and the trackâ€™s wagering records tumbled. Officials at Saratoga and Parx are hoping for similar success if and when the Big Show stops in their towns.
Wherever Zayat and Baffert decide to run American Pharoah, my only advice would be that we all savor the fleeting moments of his spectacular career. Even if weâ€™re not lucky enough to be on the grounds whenever and wherever American Pharoah is running, letâ€™s be sure to carve out some time to enjoy this remarkable horse as he does what he does best.
â€œThis horse, he just keeps bringing it,â€ Baffert told NBC Sports after the Haskell.Â â€œHeâ€™s just a great horse.
â€œAs long as heâ€™s still at the top level, Iâ€™ll lead him up there. As long as heâ€™s at the top of his game, thatâ€™s my main concern. We have something really special. We owe it to him.â€ VT