Where were you, on June 6, 2015? Were you at a company picnic with your family? At a baseball game? At a local watering hole, enjoying a beer, some peanuts, and a stakes race on the communal television? In truth, it matters not, where you were. It matters not, whether you were an avid racing fan before this day. What matters, is that after this day, Horse Racing would again become a sport which was talked about for more than its ugly side — the only side that seems to be covered by mainstream media. After this day, Horse Racing would become a sport which would once again be discussed at the dinner tables of middle-class families. After this day, one horse would become a household name…
Here is why American Pharoah redefined Horse Racing…
He was more than the first Triple Crown Winner in 37 years…
It had long been debated whether we would live to see another horse win the elusive Triple Crown. Having not been captured since the great Affirmed in 1978, Horse Racing had been absent of a Thoroughbred athlete who possessed all of the necessary attributes to endure such a rigorous 3yo campaign, for what felt like an eternity. It would take more than speed to do what so very few had been capable of doing, for so long.
When American Pharoah stepped on to the racetrack and soared to victory in all three legs of the Triple Crown, he was celebrated in ways which reached beyond the winners circle. He not only became the poster boy for Thoroughbred Racing, he became an overnight sensation, for avid fans and casual fans alike. Though his accomplishments were what initially grasped the attention of people throughout the world, it was his canine-like gentle nature, and the access his connections granted to the public, which made American Pharoah not just a racehorse, not just a Triple Crown Champion, but everyone’s horse.
I feel like the term “America’s Horse” has become rather cliche. I have heard nearly every champion in the past twenty years be referred to as “America’s Horse.” But, American Pharoah truly embodied the very core meaning of this term. He stood for more than an ability to win races. He stood for an impossible dream, and the realization that the dream had not been impossible at all — rather the right horse, the horse destined to join the ranks of immortals of yore, simply hadn’t come along, until the Spring of 2015. Sure, the wait was a long one. But if you ask me, he arrived right on time.
The longer we waited — the more and more impossible it seemed — the sweeter it tasted when American Pharoah not only won the Triple Crown, but did so in such decisive, dominant, and dictating fashion. I will never forget, standing at the paddock fence at Santa Anita, watching American Pharoah parade in front of thousands who drove from all over, myself included, to catch a glimpse of greatness we had only imagined, for thirty-seven years. I met an old man named Gerald, who, with tears in his eyes, turned to me and said…
“I was alive to see Citation in his younger years. I feel like I just saw him again, today.”
In that moment, I realized that Gerald, for an instant, was not the eighty-year-old man he appeared to be. In front of me, was a handsome young man with glittering, starry eyes, gleeful as a child on Christmas morning, at the realization that he was lucky enough to see another Triple Crown in his lifetime — certainly, a dream he had begun to lose sight of after so many near-misses, over so many years.
Gerald and I marveled at the crowd around us which enveloped the paddock where the great racehorse so gallantly strutted. There were horsemen both young and old, taking photographs — simply fans, if only for a moment or two. There were small girls sitting atop the shoulders of their fathers, entirely unaware of how incredibly important the moment they were witnessing — the horse they were witnessing– was. There were people of every age and color, both emotional and proud — entirely tied together in this moment, by the love for one horse.
- You might also like: Memories of a Legend
I realized then, that American Pharoah was so much more than a horse who won the Triple Crown. He was a symbol of what is good in this world. He stood for strength, perseverance, and unity among people who, otherwise, may have had little in common. He stood for an impossible dream, impossible no longer.
While there will, without a doubt, be other Triple Crown Winners, whether in this lifetime or the next, American Pharoah was a horse who inspired a nation. He was a horse who symbolized, perhaps, one final thrill for the old, like my friend Gerald, and will someday be the earliest memory of a champion racehorse, for the young who sat atop their father’s shoulders, that Summer afternoon.
American Pharoah was a horse who set the stage for generations of racing fans to come– the benchmark champion between this lifetime and the next. The horse who reignited the dream inside the hearts of the believers, as well as the horse who reminded us that no feat is unattainable. When the timing is right, and the horse is right, incredible things can happen.