Is American Pharoah a Gateway Drug to Horse Racing?
Of course, the $1.75-million Haskell Stakes on Sunday at Monmouth Park was never going to be the race that made or broke those distinctions for American Pharoah, but it was a huge step toward that end, as every win enhances his resume—a resume that many (including me) thought would conclude when he won the Triple Crown.
American Pharoah has now won five Grade 1 races this year, and another Grade 1 win would make him the first to bag six (among U.S.-based horses) in a single season since Cigar and Serena's Song both won eight in 1995, and that number isn’t out of the question for American Pharoah this year.
Where that would put him in the pantheon of all-time great seasons would of course be the source of much arguing, consternation, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Even though Secretariat lost as a three-year-old, his Triple Crown season culminating with a world record Belmont Stakes coupled with a Grade 1 turf win to close out his career is likely to keep him on top regardless of what American Pharoah does.
Still, American Pharoah could win big money this year with a season ending with the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic, and he is in a position to be seen live, on track, by more people in a single season than any other horse. Through the Haskell 550,000 people have watched him compete this year for an average of 91,667 per race.
Obviously, he wasn’t the primary draw for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but both events did set records (as did the Haskell), and the Belmont was a sell out.
Record attendance won’t happen at this year’s Breeders’ Cup because of its Keeneland location, but it will be another sell out and could cap what some will try to bill as the greatest season ever. The Triple Crown-Breeders’ Cup Classic double, for instance, is already being called the Grand Slam.
I love comparing horses and discussing the historical significance of horses’ seasons, but when it comes to these other-worldly once-in-a-lifetime seasons it gets hard even for me to draw hard lines in the sand.
So I won’t for now and just acknowledge that every win truly enhances his legend and that being a part of the circus around each race is addicting. We all hound Ahmed Zayat and Bob Baffert about American Pharoah’s next race because we want to score another hit of that sweet adrenaline.
Most people reading this already have racing in their blood. We get excited by the horse and most of their races.
Here’s hoping American Pharoah is a gateway drug for some of that 550,000.