In the Suburbs: No reining in enthusiasm for racing’s crowning achievement
Published 6:30 am, Sunday, June 14, 2015
“As American Pharaoh came out of the far turn and squared his shoulders to let his rider Victor Espinoza stare down the long stretch of Belmont Park, a sense of inevitability surged through this mammoth old grandstand. The fans in a capacity crowd strained on the tips of their toes and unleashed a roar from deep in their souls. It was going to end, finally — this 37-year search for a great racehorse.”
As I read further, I learned that only 11 other horses in history had captured the sterling silver crown and now it was going home to Kentucky with the Zayat family, the proud owners of American Pharaoh. And I honestly have to say that in the picture I saw on the front page of Sunday Sports Section of the Times the horse literally looked like he was grinning from ear-to-ear.
I wasn’t at Belmont to see the Triple Crown moment last weekend, but seeing the photos actually choked me up. These days I get emotional very easily on happy occasions, and this was absolutely one of them. It was especially thrilling to see the owner of 1973 Triple Crown winner, Secretariat, Penney Chenery, now 93, in the stands Saturday.
Aside from the thrill of victory for American Pharaoh, I found it interesting to read that the Triple Crown trophy has three sides that are engraved with information from each leg of the race, according to Bill Pennington, another New York Times reporter. He explained that the trophy will now return to Kentucky to be engraved and sent to the owners of American Pharaoh. Darren Rogers, the Kentucky Derby communications executive who escorts the trophy explained that 13 times before this race, he has had to remove the trophy immediately from its trackside display table if no winner is crowned.
The first trophy was awarded to Citation in 1948 and, according to Pennington, “Each year thereafter, new trophies were given to the eight Triple Crown winners to that point — in reverse order of their accomplishment — until the owners or heirs of the owners of Sir Barton, the 1919 winner, received a trophy in 1957. He explained that new trophies were crafted, but not awarded until 1973 when Secretariat won the Triple Crown. Seattle Slew and Affirmed came shortly after in 1977 and 1978.
I was fortunate enough to have seen the trophy when my wife and I visited Louisville several years ago. While she participated in a quilting seminar, I took a ride to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. The trophy had been on display at the museum since 1985.
It was like visiting a shrine to walk through the museum and see the the section devoted to Triple Crown winners. I saw the trophy, but never really asked for details about it.
My biggest thrill that drizzly morning was walking through a passage and standing right at the fence on the Churchill Downs track. That made me wish I could come back on the first Saturday in May for the Derby. But it wasn’t in the cards.
I did walk around the open stables and a couple of folks pointed out former Derby-winning horses who were there for a short stay.
As I recall from my visit, I read things like Triple Crown-winner Seattle Slew always came out of the starting gate sideways, but recovered quickly and went on to victory three times. I was also amazed at the photos of the Triple Crown winners. In some cases, the size of the horses was amazing.
Fast forwarding to the present, American Pharaoh is one of those rare horses that loves the limelight — cameras and all, according to reports. His owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert have assured adoring fans that they will be seeing plenty of this winner.
And early stud fee bids were already coming in at $20 million, or higher. I’m sure the Zayat family never dreamed that a Triple Crown victory could taste so sweet as they saw the fruits of success from a horse they decided to buy back for $300,000 after originally planning to sell him.
I think that New York Times reporter Joe Drape said it best about this horse in the last part of his piece: “No one doubted that American Pharaoh was about to enter the history books. He was bouncing down the lane as if jumping from one trampoline to another, and no one was going to catch him.”
Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.