By Laura Pugh
On Sunday morning, American Pharoah convinced trainer Bob Baffert of his readiness to make the cross-country trip to compete in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Since that time the question on everyone’s mind has been, will the Graveyard of Champions swallow another victim?
The nickname has been well earned by Saratoga. It has humbled several connections who ventured there, with horses that have looked nearly invincible upon their arrival. One of the most prominent names on Saratoga’s lists of upsets is Man O’War, who lost to the cleverly named Upset in the Sanford Memorial Stakes. Another victim was Secretariat, who finished second in the Whitney. Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox lost to 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy in the Travers. These are examples of why the question has been raised, as to whether American Pharoah will defy tradition and walk away from the Graveyard unscathed.
It is understandable why people are so leery. As stated above, the Graveyard has devastated many horses, including two of the best ones in the history of the sport. This myth, however, is exactly that…a myth. It is true champions have lost their footing at Saratoga, but it is just as true that champions have debunked the alleged curse. Curlin was Horse of the Year and the Champion Three Year Old of 2007 and he managed to win the Woodward in 2008. Bernardini, Rachel Alexandra and Invasor are all tremendous champions who walked into the Graveyard and came out with wins.
Now, none of this is to say American Pharoah will have an easy time of things. He will have to board yet another plane to compete at his sixth track this season. It is well known that travel can wear on a horse, especially this much travel, but after each trip American Pharoah has bounced back with ease. This suggests the travel does not affect him nearly as much as it does your average horse, which is a positive sign going into the Travers.
Another reason people are doubtful is because of the competition. The Travers will have a large field that features Frosted and Texas Red as American Pharoah’s main rivals. What many forget is that American Pharoah has already beaten these two. It is true they have been improving with every start and will probably do so again in the Travers, but so has American Pharoah. While those two have gotten better, they would need to improve by several lengths in order to have a shot to win. That or they better pray that the Triple Crown winner brings his “C” game.
Every reason that can be used to suggest American Pharoah will be dealt his first defeat of the season can be refuted. There is no factual evidence to suggest he will fall in the Travers. None of his competitors have shown to be in his league, the travel simply does not seem to affect this horse like others, and the curse is only a myth that can be contradicted just as easily as supported. The hysteria, while inevitable is completely unwarranted. There is no reason to think that a “curse” will cause the demise of American Pharoah.