A glass of Gin for a Pharaoh

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published June 22, 2015

American Pharoah with Jockey Victor Espinoza onboard gallops to Triple Crown glory at the 2015 Belmont Stakes

American Pharoah with Jockey Victor Espinoza onboard gallops to Triple Crown glory at the 2015 Belmont Stakes. © NewsDay

As the commentator’s voice heaved desperately for air, he yelled with passion and stark excitement, “And down the stretch they come! It’s Go For Gin digging in and holding on! He is going to win the Kentucky Derby!”

I recall it vividly as if only a second has passed. I was sitting before my telly on the first Saturday in May 1994. A few months before, my parents had moved into their own home. It was no Hollywood Hills’ mansion, but it was theirs and they were proud. This was my first Kentucky Derby race live, and the commentator’s words in the closing furlong got me hooked to horse racing like white on rice.

Go For Gin and jockey Chris McCarron win the 1994 Kentucky Derby before a packed house at Churchill Downs

Go For Gin and jockey Chris McCarron win the 1994 Kentucky Derby before a packed house at Churchill Downs. © Getty Images

The mere words repeated above are an injustice to the moment. Goosebumps like the Rocky Mountains appeared on the back of my neck. The once curly hairs on my hands stood like soldiers at attention before the Queen. My body seemingly filled and overcome with endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine. Wooo!

The Kentucky Derby is “the most exciting two minutes in sports” for the fans, jockeys, owners, and trainers alike. Even so, winning the American Triple Crown (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes) is the aspiration they all share.

After 21 years and editions of hope and despair, I finally witnessed my first Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. The goosebumps and straightened hairs returned. The body under the bibulous influence of elated hormones was ever-present. Wooo!

Super horse Secretariat has all the track records for the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes & the Belmont Stakes.

1973 Triple Crown winner and super horse Secretariat has all the track records for the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes & the Belmont Stakes.

For others, as much as 37 years has passed since they have relived such a euphoric moment. Like Affirmed in the 1978 Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah drew the fifth post, and similar to another Triple Crown legend, Secretariat, he led from start to finish (wire-to-wire). American Pharoah produced a fulgurous run and one of the fastest Belmont’s ever.

Statisticians will tell you, of the 12 Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah’s final half-mile and quarter-mile times are outrageous. No horse has finished the race with such vitriolic speed. As the gods will remind us, before we become intoxicated in the present, Secretariat of the 12 has run the entire Belmont faster: only Secretariat.

Trainer Bob Baffert finally getsbhsnhand on the Triple Crown trophy that has eluded him for so long.

Trainer Bob Baffert finally gets his hand on the Triple Crown trophy that has eluded him for so long. (Courier Journal Photo)

I’m overjoyed for trainer Bob Baffert, who o’er the years had his fair share of Triple Crown near misses. Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998) are the first that spring to mind from my early fixated years. Real Quiet lost the Triple Crown by the smallest margin in history, four inches, or a nose. Another notable mention is War Emblem (2002) who foiled out of the gates at the Belmont and dashed his run to immortality. Likewise, there was Hall of Fame horse Point Given (2001) who faltered in the Derby, but annihilated the fields in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. This time, though, it all came together for Bob.

BELMONT, NY - JUNE 6:  Kent Desmoreaux aboard Real Quiet (in back) and Gary Stevens aboard Victory Gallop approach the finish line of the Belmont Stakes 06 June.  Victory Gallup won the race in a photo finish denying favorite Real Quiet the Triple Crown by the narrowest of margins. Victory Gallup had finished runner-up to Real Quiet at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.  (Photo credit should read HENNY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

ELMONT, NY – JUNE 6: Kent Desmoreaux aboard Real Quiet (in back) and Gary Stevens aboard Victory Gallop approach the finish line of the Belmont Stakes 06 June. Victory Gallup won the race in a photo finish denying favorite Real Quiet the Triple Crown by the narrowest of margins. Victory Gallup had finished runner-up to Real Quiet at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. (Photo credit should read HENNY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

Jockey Victor Espinoza, another important cog in this Triple Crown expedition, also had his fair share of near misses. In 2002, he was War Emblem’s jockey when Baffert missed his third attempt at conquering the Belmont Stakes, and with it, the Triple Crown. Similarly, last year, Espinoza rode California Chrome to Kentucky and Preakness victories before succumbing to “The Test of the Champion”, the indomitable mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes. However, Espinoza can now say, the third time is the balm.

After winning the Triple Crown, American Pharoah’s owner, Ahmed Zayat was quick to remind everyone, “It’s not about any of us. I can sit here for hours and praise the brilliant job that Bob, Victor and the team have done, but at this juncture, it’s really about defining the greatness of American Pharoah.”

Owner Ahmed Zayat pets his favourite son American Pharoah

Owner Ahmed Zayat pets his favourite son American Pharoah (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Bob concurred similar sentiments when he said, “He’s the one that did it. We were basically just passengers.”

13 ill-fated horses since Affirmed in 1978 dotted their opportunity to be preserved in Memoriam forever. Yet, lucky number 14, American Pharoah shattered the generational curse.

His sire (father’s) lineage traces directly back to the prestigious Darley Arabian, one of the three progenitors of most modern day thoroughbreds. The other two, the majestic Godolphin Arabian and the prepotent Byerley Turk also feature prominently in his pedigree. Godolphin, like Darley, features on his sire side while Byerley Turk features on his dam (mother’s) side.

Mr. Prospector descendants have won 43 legs of the American Triple Crown.

Mr. Prospector’s descendants have won 43 legs of the American Triple Crown. Mr. Prospector who died in 1999 was buried alongside Secretariat.

American Pharoah’s great-great-great-grandfathers include super horse and 1973 Triple Crown winner, Secretariat; 1964 Kentucky and Preakness winner, Northern Dancer; and the sire king of them all, Mr Prospector.

Fascinatingly, the 1970 foaled Mr Prospector has produced descendants who have won 43 legs of the American Triple Crown. Interestingly, the 2015 Belmont Stakes winner was never in doubt, with all eight starters coming from Mr Prospector’s stock.

American Pharoah #5, ridden by Victor Espinoza, leads the field out of the fourth turn during the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

American Pharoah #5, ridden by Victor Espinoza, leads the field (of Mr. Prospector’s descendants) out of the final turn during the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. (Elsa Garrison/Getty Images)

The three thoroughbred progenitors; speedsters like Mr Prospector; distance super horses like Secretariat and Man O’ War, the greatest American thoroughbreds of all-time, and many others, feature vociferously in American Pharoah’s bloodline. With this infallible genetic blend, unsurprisingly, American Pharoah was the one who compelled a generation to exhale a 37-year held breath for a Triple Crown Champion.

That evening after he won, I found myself simulating the commentary moment when Go For Gin won the 1994 Kentucky Derby. My 3-year-old daughter sat beside me on the floor around the coffee table. We watched the replay on my smartphone, with the sound muted. I supplied the commentary as she watched attentively, absorbing the moment with curious anticipation of the end.

Jockey Espinoza celebrates after winning the Triple Crown onboard American Pharoah

Jockey Espinoza celebrates after winning the Triple Crown onboard American Pharoah. American Pharoah is the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed won it in 1978. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

In the last furlong, I hollered, “And down the stretch they come! It’s American Pharoah digging in and pulling away strong! He’s going to win the Triple Crown!” As jockey Espinoza punched the air, I added my little twist, and yelled in true Ric Flair fashion, “What a way to win it. Wooo!”

My daughter looked at me with her full bright brown eyes, amazed at the moment and the history we just shared. She then broke my exhilarated silence and uttered, “Wow Daddy that’s (horse) racing. It’s exciting.”

It seems someone else is now hooked. Cheers American Pharoah!

Until next time…

Advertisements

One thought on “A glass of Gin for a Pharaoh

  1. Pingback: Therapy! We Have A Problem | Zaheer's "Facts, Lies & Statistics"

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s