American Pharoah Rank with a Classic Win?

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D.S. Williamson

September 14th, 2015

My brother just told me yesterday that Keen Ice's owners are claiming that they have the best three-year-old in the country.

I didn't look it up because it made no sense to me how you could claim that after beating American Pharoah once over a track that he obviously didn't appreciate. Perhaps, the difference in thinking has to do with horseplayers and thoroughbred owners. Owners don't always live in the realm of reality. For a horseplayer, there's nothing but reality.

With or without a loss in the BC Classic, American Pharoah is the top three-year-old on the planet. He's going to retire as the top three-year-old in years because he broke a seemingly insurmountable 37 year Triple Crown drought. Not only did Pharoah win the Triple Crown, but he also won the $1 million Haskell Invitational, a race where he dusted Keen Ice. As I wrote in a blog a couple of weeks ago, horses losing after winning the Crown is no shocker. It happened to Secretariat. It happened to Seattle Slew. It even happened to Affirmed although there is some debate about how legitimate of a loss it was. It happened in the 1978 Travers Stakes.

Losing after winning the Triple Crown often happens because horses get tired. American Pharoah is going to run at least one more time in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Classic. Where would a win place Pharoah?  What if he loses?  Is Pharoah one of the greatest Triple Crown winners ever?

If American Pharoah were to lose the Breeders' Cup Classic, he'd end up seventh on the list of Triple Crown winners. The horses in front of him would be:

1. Secretariat - An obvious first choice, but can anybody argue with it? Big Red owns the record for the fastest Belmont Stakes and fastest Kentucky Derby. He should have the record for the fastest Preakness but there was something wrong with the clock when he won it.

2. Affirmed - He finished his career by winning his final 7 races. He stared into the eyes of another great horse, Alydar, and beat his rival in 7  out of 10 races.

3. Citation - Citation won  16 races in a row.

4. Seattle Slew - Slew was undefeated until he ran into J.O. Tobin in the Swaps Stakes. He won 5 out of his final 7 races including taking home the Woodward as a four-year-old in 1978 

5. Whirlaway - He ran in 58 races from 1940 to 1942. He ran everywhere. His final race was a win in the Louisiana Handicap.

6. War Admiral - Save for the loss to Seabiscuit in the match race, War Admiral more than held his own during his time. From 1937 to 1938, he won 17 out of 19.

But if American Pharoah wins the BC Classic on Oct. 31, he'll definitely leapfrog War Admiral and Whirlaway. I'd have to consider putting him ahead of Seattle Slew, maybe Citation, maybe Affirmed. The reason why American Pharoah would leapfrog his way to the Top 3 or maybe even the Top 2 is because unlike all of the others on this list, Pharoah will be going up against the best of the best in the Classic.

There was no comparable race to the Breeders' Cup Classic when Seattle Slew, Citation and Affirmed ran. American Pharoah, should he win the Classic, will have to beat the best front-runner he's ever faced in Liam's Map if Liam's connections decide to go into the Classic. He'll also beat the best closer he's ever faced if Honor Code runs in the Classic. He also beat one of the greatest mares to ever run in Beholder if she decides to run in the Classic.

What would happen if American Pharoah beat only Keen Ice and a handful of second-tier older horses? I'd still have to place him ahead of War Admiral and Whirlaway.  Times have changed and Pharoah broke a 37 year Triple Crown drought. Adding a Classic victory puts him into the Top 5 of Triple Crown winners of all time no matter who he ends up beating.

You don't have to agree with me. Let me know what you think in the comments section.