American Pharoah; Equine Superstar

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This year our favourite sport has been blessed, in North America, with a genuine superstar. American Pharoah has brought a positive light to racing with his heroic Triple Crown achievement. Not since the great Zenyatta has there been a Thoroughbred that could truly be called “Superstar”.

Before I go on here, I know that there are many of you out there that will say “hey what about California Chrome?”  Well Chrome is a nice horse who won some big races, but he is not on the same level as a bona fide superstar horse. More on Chrome later.

American Pharoah not only captured the Triple Crown, in impressive fashion I might add, but has also proven his superior ability in the Haskell and is now set to take a shot at the midsummer classic known as the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. This is a gutsy call by his connections. Saratoga is notorious for being known as the graveyard of champions, with the Travers being one of the biggest culprits toward this justified reputation. There have been many budding star horses taste defeat in the Travers, which is why this year’s edition has so such much intrigue.

Racing has been shuffled to the back pages of sports reporting for decades now. Only when a bona fide superstar comes along does the general public become aware of the sport. When Zenyatta was in her historic career to fame and glory, her fan following gathered momentum and increased her profile with each successive victory. Her popularity transcended to her retirement. She was a true superstar. Zenyatta has a fan following to this day that would rival any rock or movie star for sheer numbers and devotion.

American Pharoah by capturing the first Triple Crown in thirty-seven years, after so many near misses by many very good three year olds during the drought, has become the darling of the media and fans. He wins with authority and class.  AP has brought casual fans, hard core fans, and a new generation of fans to racing. He has created a buzz with the media, which transcends to the public and brings them to the track and TV sets. That is what a superstar does.

The bandwagon, for lack of a better term, is very crowded right now. Social media is full of American Pharoah this and American Pharoah that. I am thrilled by all of this positive attention to racing. American Pharoah has been the shot in the arm needed to get racing back in the spotlight. He is also helping in diverting all of the negative issues away from the public consciousness, which has plagued our wonderful sport.

Sports superstars bring in the fans. Everybody loves a winner. All fans of sports are drawn to witness greatness unfolding right before their eyes. We are riveted to watch the Olympics, especially when such superstars as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are competing. We are drawn to the highlights of team sport superstars such as Lionel Messi, Sydney Crosby and Mike Trout. We pay good money to go to see these athletes perform live. We all talk about them.

Superstar athletes rise to the demanding challenges and succeed. Equine superstars are no different. American Pharoah is to be challenged in the Travers Stakes this weekend by a very strong field of competitors, and everyone will watch because it is in our nature. Saratoga will likely be jammed to the rafters for the Travers, and the TV audience will be glued to the screen in anticipation. Everyone who is following AP is talking about him.

Secretariat was such a superstar that the mere mention of his name to people who are not racing fans, know who he is. Granted Secretariat was a once in a lifetime equine marvel that is so rare, but he was a superstar. Most superstars are. We can never forget the brilliance of their athleticism. If I were to mention Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana, Jack Nicholas, Derek Jeter etc, you would know exactly who I am referring to. Superstars become the great attractions to all sports.

If American Pharoah is to suffer defeat at Saratoga will he be removed from his lofty perch? I don’t think so. He will have his chance to regain his status later in the year. There are many races coming up within the next two months that hold a high degree of prestige. The Breeder’s Cup is in ten weeks and this “Olympics” of horse racing will be a key target for him. Not all superstar athletes win every event. It is from the disappointing results that the elite athletes rebound from and reassert themselves, which define their superior ability.

The very popular California Chrome could not rebound from his disappointing results to be classed as an elite superstar. He has won only one of five races after his disappointing Belmont Stakes defeat. He is a very good horse and is worthy of the fan devotion he has, but I cannot justifiably consider him as a superstar horse.

Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Personal Ensign, Cigar, Dance Smartly, Sunday Silence, John Henry, Rachel Alexandra and Curlin are also on the same plane of superstardom as Zenyatta and American Pharoah. Sure there have been many other noteworthy and popular champions during the times of these aforementioned stars, but they did not have the supreme records on the track that would vault them from big star to superstar status.

These horses could rebound from disappointing performances. Although Personal Ensign was undefeated and Zenyatta did not lose until her final race, they did have a few races in which they were not at their best. They won due to their class and superior abilities.

Around the world in other top class racing jurisdictions, there have been many wonderful racing superstars in the past two decades. Frankel is an obvious one, as is Black Caviar, Makybe Diva, Deep Impact, Galileo, Treve, Rock Of Gibraltar, Zarkava, Dalakhani, and Dubai Millennium.

These incredible athletes capture our imaginations with their supreme ability and athletic dominance. We become riveted to watching them when they performed. It is wonderful to see Usain Bolt scorch the track in the 100 meter final at the Olympics. We see Lionel Messi score goals that take our breath away. We watch Derek Jeter drive in a game winning run under the most extreme pressure. We thrill at Sydney Crosby when he put the weight of a nation on his back and dominate the game to win the gold medal. To see the equine superstars such as American Pharoah completely dominate the race with his powerful and effortless strides is too tempting to resist. We become in awe of the feats these great superstars achieve.

The one unrelenting fact of disappointment with the current state of affairs in racing is that we have only a fleeting chance to witness greatness. When greatness is attained by an equine superstar, he or she is then whisked off to the breeding shed to cash in and capitalize on the accomplishments. In some ways we cannot chastise the owners of the superstar horse for this. Racing is very dangerous and one slight bobble or misstep could seriously injure, or even cause death, to the champion. This is the dark side of the sport. It has reared its ugly head on occasion.

Another factor is the chance of defeat, which would devalue the champion’s stud fees when he is retired. This aspect is a little harder to take for racing fans. Some of the greatest horses in history have suffered the occasional loss, and then would prove themselves with a rebounding win. Defeat, even for Thoroughbreds, will bring out the competitive nature. Horses are not stupid. They know when they lost. The greats will be pissed off and want to avenge the loss in their next race.

Consequently, owners are hesitant to run their champion unless the race has so much cache, a win will boost the value of the horse. Durability in a Thoroughbred, in my opinion, is a big selling feature when trying to syndicate a champion for stud duty. Durability is also one of the key ingredients in the makeup of a superstar.

I want to see the superstar run as much as his or her physical abilities will allow. This could only help to promote the sport for future generations to adopt racing as a viable sporting interest. Promotion is always the key to attract new fans, and keep existing fans engaged. The best promotion is to keep the superstars in training longer. The big names will always bring in the fans.

Never mind the gimmicky promotions that are only band-aids at best. People are not stupid. They can see through the gimmicks for what they are worth. It gives a sense of desperation. Let the superstars run. The sport would be better for it.

American Pharoah will be retired at the end of the season to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud. With the announcement made, we know that we only have a few more races to watch and admire him. Let us enjoy his final races and cherish a superstar athlete.

Go get ‘em AP, and make us marvel your talent.

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