Lady and The Track | December 8, 2022

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Meeting the Drought-Quenching American Pharoah

Meeting the Drought-Quenching American Pharoah: Meeting American Pharoah felt like cheating on Dortmund. After all, it was Dortmund whom I followed religiously since December in hopes that he would ultimately be the long-awaited Triple Crown champion. I more or less wrote off American Pharoah as over-hyped, a colt who had already peaked as a juvenile and would fall out of the spotlight with a flop in the Kentucky Derby. Oh, how sweet it is that the colt has proved me wrong!

American Pharoah Triple Crown 2015

“As soon as I turned the corner in American Pharoah’s barn, I saw him, and he saw me. The way he locked eyes with me was quite eerie, honestly, but it immediately connected me to him in a way I refused to embrace until his Preakness victory.” Photo: Jessica Smith

I started working with Lady and the Track in February, and by March I was taking advantage of the newly attainable media perks in getting a press pass to Oaklawn Park, the closest racetrack to me in my home state of Arkansas. After navigating for two hours through the winding, hilly roads of the Ouachita National Forest in the early hours of the morning, I finally arrived at the track to witness American Pharoah’s three-year-old debut in the Rebel Stakes. His resulting easy victory gave me chills, but I thought little of it as open-length wins typically evoke that awestruck feeling from me.

One Saturday at Oaklawn was not enough; I returned a month later for the Arkansas Derby, a race I had always heard about as an Arkansas native and knew was a major, successful prep for the Kentucky Derby but had never actually attended. This time making the early drive in rain and blinding fog, I arrived early enough to visit around the backside.

Surreal is the only word that I think appropriately captures the feeling of seeing highly touted equine athletes in the flesh. Far Right was the first stop I made, a little chestnut colt who suckered me into loving him due to his Arkansan connections. Then, I visited with Untapable to shower her with well-deserved mints for her victory in the previous day’s Apple Blossom Handicap before heading over for a selfie with the beloved Mr. Z. It was impossible to not visit with less notable horses as well; wherever the stakes winners were stabled, their neighbors received attention. I especially made it a point to visit with Storm Devil, a claimer whom my husband and I have claimed as our favorite since Mufaajah’s retirement.

American Pharoah was last on my list to visit. In fact, I had considered foregoing a stop by his stall because it was hot, I was tired from walking around, and I was hungry. Maybe it was the fact that it would be special to meet a juvenile champion, or perhaps it was because I wanted to personally see the embodiment of the racing world’s hype, but I ignored my discomfort to make the quick stop by his stall.

As soon as I turned the corner in American Pharoah’s barn, I saw him, and he saw me. The way he locked eyes with me was quite eerie, honestly, but it immediately connected me to him in a way I refused to embrace until his Preakness victory. The bay colt obviously knew I had mints, and he pushed his braided forelock and little semblance of a star into me in request. It didn’t take long at all to discover that he was indeed a kind horse as he nuzzled and relished being pet and patted. When I tried to leave, he followed me with his gaze and stuck his tongue out, an image I now have preserved forever in a photo and one that will bring me joy every time I see it.

Of course, later that day I witnessed American Pharoah’s romp in the slop of the Arkansas Derby, and while it impressed me enough to add him to my list of top Kentucky Derby contenders, I still had others ranked far ahead of him. The way I saw it, he was too untested, too hyped, too good to be true. It seems that the overarching consensus of horse racing folks is that one must be incredibly critical, especially if there is no sense of attachment or obsession with a particular horse that drives the need to see that horse succeed. I felt I was somewhere in the middle at that point; I loved American Pharoah, but there were others I wanted to see win.

On Derby day, I wore my Dortmund shirt, fully aware that the big chestnut would have a fight ahead of him but quite certain that he would overcome all challengers like he had always done before. When it was American Pharoah who was decorated with the blanket of roses, my despair at Dortmund’s loss was rather replaced with an indescribable notion of hope. Each year there is a chance for the Kentucky Derby winner to win the Triple Crown, but this time it felt different, like American Pharoah had already passed the most difficult test and would simply run away with the elusive title.

Run away he did, repeating his Arkansas Derby victory in the slop with a claim to the Preakness in a monsoon and laying waste to the field of the Belmont in as easy of a win as we’ve seen in a long time. In taking the Triple Crown, American Pharoah acted as both a rainstorm sent from the heavens to revive the world after a 37-year drought and a ray of sunshine and hope for the racing world. While I may have been cheating on Dortmund in falling for American Pharoah, I’m pretty sure it all worked out perfectly.

Watch the Replay:
American Pharoah Captures Triple Crown