Whatever happens in BC Classic, American Pharoah should be Horse of the Year

TwinSpires Staff

October 27th, 2015


American racing fans are a fickle bunch, and the newest instance shows that in spades. For over three decades America hoped and prayed for a horse that wasn’t just good, or even great, but worthy of immortality. For over three decades America hoped and prayed for a Triple Crown Champion, and in 2015 it got one.

American Pharoah spent all Spring dominating his peers. He began his journey in the grade two Rebel Stakes, then decimated his foes in the grade one Arkansas Derby before becoming the first horse since Smarty Jones (2004) to win the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby. After the hard fought victory in the Kentucky Derby, he splashed his way to a tour de force in the Preakness Stakes and then defied all odds by conquering the Test of Champions in the Belmont Stakes.

American Pharoah has had a historic, near perfect season. He has had a season that should make him a slam dunk for divisional honors and Horse of the Year; however, there have been those that disagree. Some hold the opinion that if Beholder or Honor Code were to win the Breeders Cup Classic they would have accomplished enough to overtake American Pharoah.

Racing fans Chad McDermott and Wesley White, fans of Beholder and Honor Code respectively, had plenty to say on the issue. “Don’t get me wrong, American Pharoah was awesome for horse racing, however, if he loses the last two races of the year, Beholder will be Horse of the Year,” said Mr. McDermott. Mr. White responded, “He lost to Keen Ice and hasn’t taken on older (horses) yet. Two losses in a row and a win by Honor Code?”

The problem for those who support Honor Code and Beholder over their younger counterpart is that neither mare nor older male has had the season that American Pharoah has had. A Classic win for Beholder would be a historic feather in her cap, but it is hard for anyone to suggest that her season as a whole could hold a candle to that of American Pharoah.

Eclipse Award winning writer John Scheinman addresses the difficulty of the situation, “We haven't had a Triple Crown winner since 1978, before you were born. It is much harder to accomplish than it used to be because more horses run in the Triple Crown races than ever before. Count how many runners American Pharoah beat compared to the other Triple Crown winners. Beholder winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic would be unprecedented, and she ran arguably the best race of any horse this year in beating boys in the Pacific Classic.”

A win by Beholder in the Classic, coupled with her Pacific Classic win, would be unprecedented. The last filly to have multiple wins against the opposite sex was the three year old Rachel Alexandra. She defeated not just her peers, but her elders, when she defeated Macho Again to take the Woodward Stake in 2009. She would go on to become that year’s Horse of the Year. However, becoming the first Triple Crown winner is also unprecedented and to some even more important.

“Triple Crown winners don't come around that often anymore. American Pharoah broke a 37-year drought and accomplished something only 11 others had previously managed to do. The historical significance of the Triple Crown far outweighs that of the Breeders Cup Classic, and winning that should be rewarded,” said Ashley Tamulonis, author of Horse Racing Nation’s blog, From Coast to Coast.

The question now is, how do you decide who to crown in a year that contains two brilliant horses? There are no rules or guidelines for the voters or even the fans, but many times it comes down to who has accomplished more during the year.

If Beholder were to win the Classic, many of her supporters will point to her impressive unbeaten record that will include four grade one wins, two against males, one coming against one of the deepest Breeders Cup Classics since the race’s inception. In most years, if this becomes the case, it would be a no brainer for Beholder to be elected Horse of the Year, but 2015 is far from most cases.

If American Pharoah were to lose the Breeders Cup Classic, there are those like racing fan John Sigerson who will say, “But it (American Pharoah’s season) was all against three year olds.” Or like Stephen Andrusieczko who argues that American Pharoah has been racing the same tired competition all year long, “He (American Pharoah) just keeps racing against Frosted and Keen Ice all year long. He keeps beating them--almost."

The problem with those arguments is they neglect to mention that he has faced and beaten the very best in his division and has done so with dominance. Over a 24-week period, American Pharoah raced at six different tracks and in five different states. All but one of those races was rated a grade one, and only one of those races came at a distance less than nine furlongs. By the same token, Beholder only raced five times over a 25-week period, with all of her races coming within the same state with only three grade ones, and only one coming at a distance longer than 8 ½ furlongs. She may be perfect, but her season has made it much easier for her to stay that way.

All of this speculation could turn out to simply be talk. American Pharoah could dominate this field to cap an already historic season in which he would receive the Horse of the Year Trophy without debate. That is not the point, however. The point is even if he does fail to deliver a victory, he still will be the most accomplished horse. Like Mrs. Tamulonis said, American Pharoah is the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. That accomplishment should be rewarded and celebrated….not forgotten.