Triple Crown profile: American Pharoah

April 23rd, 2020

The Kentucky Derby has been postponed until September, but Churchill Downs will still celebrate the first Saturday in May with a nationwide virtual "Kentucky Derby at Home" party. This special, day-long event will aim to raise $2 million for COVID-19 emergency relief efforts and will feature a thrilling simulated race that includes the 13 Triple Crown winners.

To get you ready for the virtual race, BetAmerica is publishing a profile on each Triple Crown winner leading up to the big day. Get ready to travel back in time to some of the greatest moments in Thoroughbred racing history.

American Pharoah (2015)

Owner: Zayat Stables

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Before the Derby

American Pharoah broke from the gate as the Kentucky Derby favorite for good reason.

The champion 2-year-old male of 2014, the son of Pioneerof the Nile broke his maiden in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), won the FrontRunner (G1), and was favored for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) until a foot bruise knocked him out of the race.

The Bob Bafffert-trained bay colt came back full of run as a 3-year-old, when he romped through the slop to take the Rebel (G2) and absolutely crushed his rivals in the Arkansas Derby (G1), without any asking from jockey Victor Espinoza.

The Derby

Unlike his races in Arkansas, American Pharoah's journey through the stretch run at Churchill Downs was no easy gallop.

After the perfect modern Derby trip — a tracking spot just off the leader, Baffert-trained stablemate Dortmund, with Firing Line in between — American Pharoah got the first eyeball-to-eyeball test of his career. Firing Line got the jump and got past Dortmund first, but it only lasted a moment, and American Pharoah pounced.

But Firing Line never quit. The two began to visibly tire in the final sixteenth, and started to wearily alter from their straight paths nearing the wire, but it was American Pharoah who crossed first, a length ahead of his rival.

How taxing was the Derby stretch run? Firing Line was never the same. He ran a non-competitive seventh in the Preakness (G1), then didn't return to racing until July of 2016, when he ran fifth in an optional-claiming allowance, the final race of his career.

Completing the Triple Crown

As soon as it started to pour in Baltimore, the Preakness was all but over. American Pharoah was hard enough to beat over a fast track. On a wet surface, it seemed impossible.

A tricky rail draw and a slow start didn't hurt him in the slightest. Espinoza asked him to go to the front, and the colt responded. By the time American Pharoah got to the first turn, he was already in his cruising gear and skipped over the sloppy Pimlico track with ease, even though the fractions were blazing.

It seemed like he was toying with Mr. Z, Dortmund, and Divining Rod — who all advanced into striking position — but American Pharoah burst away to win by seven lengths.

He went right to the lead again in the the Belmont (G1) and unleashed that same pure, cruising stride. Again he took on three challenges — first from Materiality early in the second turn, then from Mubtaahij midway through the final bend, and finally from Frosted at the top of the lane — but none could keep up. From the quarter pole to the wire he widened his margin at every point of call and won by 5 1/2 lengths.

In the 37th year since Affirmed swept the Triple Crown in 1978, the drought was finally over.

After the Triple Crown

American Pharoah cruised in the Haskell (G1), his first start after the Triple Crown series, but Frosted got revenge (well, kinda) in the Travers (G1).

American Pharoah once again went to the lead at Saratoga, but the dappled gray colt went after the Triple Crown winner early in the second turn. It didn't work out for Frosted — he tired to finish third — but the move took just enough out of American Pharoah that he could not hold off the hard-charging Keen Ice (the Haskell runner-up late).

Keen Ice won, but it might have been the best race (or at least the most courageous) of American Pharoah's career. He took all he could handle from Frosted, put that challenger away, and kept on trying late, even though he was exhausted.

But who doesn't love a happy ending? The racing got its sendoff just two months later in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).

Although the pace scenario was compromised by the scratches of Smooth Roller and Beholder, American Pharoah was untouchable on the lead again. When he got into that stride again in the backstretch, it became clear nobody would catch him.