American Pharoah wins final race, claiming Breeders’ Cup Classic and Grand Slam

4 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Triple Crown champion American Pharoah took charge out of the gate, winning the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by 6 1/2 lengths Saturday in his final race before retirement.

The 3-year-old colt ran 1 1/4 miles in a track-record 2:00.07 as the sentimental 3-5 favorite among the crowd of 50,155 at Keeneland. Fans stood 20-deep all along the rail, cheering and snapping cellphone photos of the superstar horse and jockey Victor Espinoza.

Except American Pharoah didn’t hear them. He wears ear plugs to muffle any sounds that might startle him.

“This was for Pharoah,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “We wanted him to go out the champion he is.”

He paid $3.40, $3 and $2.40.

Effinex, a 33-1 shot, returned $14.20 and $6.60. Honor Code was another 4 1/2 lengths back in third and paid $3.40 to show.

American Pharoah took on seven rivals after Smooth Roller and champion mare Beholder dropped out. Beholder had the speed and the class to potentially make the race a contest, but a lung ailment sidelined her on Thursday.

It probably didn’t matter how many faced American Pharoah on a cloudy, cool day in the cradle of American horse country.

He smashed the old track record of 2:05.36 by more than five seconds.

It was a feel-good moment for a sport that has been battered and bruised – all the troubles of declining attendance and drug controversies were wiped away in two magical minutes.

“It’s a horse racing fairy tale and I just happen to be in it,” Baffert said.

After easing across the finish line, Espinoza took the colt far up the first turn before slowly walking past the grandstand to the winner’s circle, accompanied by raucous cheers all the way. The champion even had his own military escort walk him back to his barn.

The fans knew they had just witnessed history, the final chapter in a story that may never be repeated.

American Pharoah put an exclamation point on a brilliant career in which he lost just twice – in his debut and again in the Travers on Aug. 29.

Keen Ice, who vanquished him at Saratoga, finished fourth in the Classic. Tonalist, the 2014 Belmont winner, was fifth, followed by Hard Aces, Frosted and Ireland-bred Gleneagles.

Frosted unexpectedly pressed American Pharoah on the lead in the Travers, leaving him vulnerable to the rally by Keen Ice.

This time, no one could keep up with the champ.

“It’s a lot of pressure to train a horse like this because I didn’t want to let the horse down and I didn’t want to let the fans down,” Baffert said. “I’m just so proud of him; it’s like watching my child out there.”

American Pharoah won nine of his 11 career starts, including the first sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years this spring. He earned a total of $8,650,300 for Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian-born owner who chose to keep his popular horse in training so fans could see him run.

“We wanted him to go out as a winner,” Zayat said. “He is a winner.”

Next up for American Pharoah is a new career as a breeding stallion at a farm in Kentucky bluegrass country near Keeneland.

The colt became the first horse to win the Triple Crown and the Classic in the same year, and the only one to have such a chance since the Breeders’ Cup didn’t begin until 1984.

Stewart Elliott wins George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award

170224-horses
Getty Images
Leave a comment

ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Stewart Elliott, who rode Smarty Jones to victories in the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, has been named winner of the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.

He was chosen in a nationwide vote of his fellow jockeys for the award that honors riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and sport. Elliott beat out finalists Kerwin Clark, Julien Leparoux, Glen Murphy and Scott Stevens.

Elliott, who turns 52 on March 11, relocated to Southern California last year after riding in the mid-Atlantic region for many years. He has won over 4,700 races.

The award will be presented in the winner’s circle at Santa Anita next month.

Former Kentucky Derby, Preakness winner Charismatic dies

15 May 1999: Charismatic wins the 124th Preakness and leads Badge #4 across the finish line at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore, Maryland.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Former Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Charismatic has died at a thoroughbred retirement farm in Kentucky.

Old Friends farm says the chestnut horse that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 1999 was found dead in his stall Sunday.

Old Friends President Michael Blowen says everyone at the farm near Georgetown, Kentucky, is “pretty much inconsolable.” He says Charismatic deserved a much longer retirement. Charismatic arrived last December after a long stud career in Japan.

Charismatic’s Triple Crown bid ended when the horse fractured his left foreleg with an eighth of a mile to go. Charismatic finished third.

Doctors said the fracture could have proved fatal, and they praised jockey Chris Antley for dismounting quickly and lifting Charismatic’s injured leg to take weight off it.