Sir Barton. Gallant Fox. Omaha. War Admiral. Whirlaway. Count Fleet. Assault. Citation. Secretariat. Seattle Slew. Affirmed. 11 horses stand in immortality after winning the Triple Crown. Spectacular Bid. Pleasant Colony. Alysheba. Sunday Silence. Silver Charm. Real Quiet. Charismatic. War Emblem. Funny Cide. Smarty Jones. Big Brown. I’ll Have Another. California Chrome. 13 horses have failed to gain the same immortality as their predecessors since the last Triple Crown. American Pharoah goes for a Triple Crown at Belmont Park on June 6th. But American Pharoah holds so much more than just a Triple Crown and the hopes of many Americans who want to see a Triple Crown in the teal and yellow he will where Saturday. American Pharoah holds the hopes, dreams, and stories of all the horses that wore the teal and yellow before him.
One of the first horses I picked to win a Kentucky Derby was in 2009, American Pharoah’s sire Pioneerof the Nile. However, Mind That Bird would run past to capture the Derby. That was the first look I had at the Zayat Silks. The next year, Ahmed Zayat tried to win the Derby again, and had the Kentucky Derby favorite. But just a week away, the descendant of Giant’s Causeway and Seattle Slew, Eskendereya was out of the Derby with a leg injury. Once again, the teal and yellow wouldn’t grace the winners circle. Another year went by, and Nehro would try and get Zayat his win in the American Classic. Nehro was a horse I loved in the race… only to finish second to longshot Animal Kingdom. A year later, Bodemeister would would finish 2nd twice to I’ll Have Another in the Derby and the Preakness. And to make matters worse, Paynter would finish 2nd in the Belmont to Union Rags. So many close defeats for Ahmed Zayat made the Triple Crown races more elusive for him… but also made this year’s wins mean even more.
But besides just carrying the close beats of Zayat’s horses, he is also carrying with him an emotional story of one little horse that made a miraculous comeback. Paynter was well in-line for the 3-Year-Old Horse of the Year Award after a nice win in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. However, just days after the race, Paynter got sick. As the month passed and he missed the Travers, his condition worsened, to the point where his illness was life threatening. However, Zayat continued to put his faith in the horse and decided to try and save his life. Even if he recovered, most thought his racing days were over. However, the faith that the Zayat family had in Paynter and the doctors around him helped him recover. This amazing comeback from life threatening illness led to the Vox Populi Award. But the comeback wasn’t over. In June of 2013, Paynter raced at Hollywood Park, winning a 7-furlong allowance. Paynter would race 4 more times, culminating in racing in the Breeders Cup Classic.
American Pharoah holds the thoughts of Paynter in those silks, as well as the near misses of Bodemeister in the first two legs, the Derby runner ups of Pioneerof the Nile and Nehro, and of course the Derby that never was for Eskendereya. What a better owner for a Triple Crown chance than Ahmed Zayat. Not only is he an active lover of the sport, he is there for the fans, always active on Twitter and interacting with fans of all ages. Ahmed Zayat is all about family, with horses Point Ashley and Justin Philip both named for his kids Ashley and Justin, but perhaps the most important of the horses named for his daughters is Littleprincessemma, named after his daughter Emma and is the dam of American Pharoah. A home bred, with two Zayat parents, half a tail, a misspelled name, one of America’s greatest trainers, one of the winningest Triple Crown race jockeys, and a rich pedigree that goes back to Northern Dancer, Man O’War, Tom Fool, Empire Maker, and Triple Crown winners War Admiral and Secretariat, American Pharoah would fit right next to the 11 that did what he hopes to accomplish come Saturday evening.
My heart will be with American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza, Bob Baffert, and Ahmed Zayat as they hope to become part of the elusive list of 11 and become number 12, not become number 14th and just become another tough failed bid at the Triple Crown. Good Luck!