“You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” ~ Dr. Seuss
American Pharoah couldn’t be any closer to the top of his mountain. The Zayat home bred has not only fought his way to a Kentucky Derby victory but he also rolled away in the mud to capture the Preakness. Only the Test of Champions stands in his way from the peak. Come June 6th at Belmont Park, the world will be watching and waiting to see if we’re finally going to have a 13th Triple Crown winner and the first in 37 years.
If you had told Ahmed Zayat, immediately after American Pharoah’s maiden race, that he would be in the position to sweep the Triple Crown, you would have ended up being escorted off the grounds by security under the suspicion of being a Loony Tune. Not much about the maiden race was spectacular, but as for many great horses, the maiden race never is anything to write home about. However, that claim only got better and better the more the horse progressed and the closer you got to the First Saturday in May of 2015. He collected fans and detractors alike on his way to the top, and he left his opponents heart broken in his wake.
Firing Line, bridesmaid to Dortmund, turned the tables on the big chestnut son of Big Brown only to end up bridesmaid once again, only this time to American Pharoah, in the Derby. Dortmund ran his best but could only manage to scrape in third over Frosted. It just wasn’t Carpe Diem’s day as he finished well in the back. Materiality tasted defeat for the first time and Mr. Z never got to run his race (again). Many others just didn’t fire at all.
There is something to be said and admired about a horse that can fire every single time and win; even on an off-day. Zenyatta, despite the complaints about her campaign, fired her best effort. every. single. time. Rapid Redux, though not undefeated throughout his career, managed to fire 22 times in a row and meet his connections in the winner’s circle. American Pharoah has managed to do just that since his maiden race: he’s fired. every. single. time. Even in the Derby, where he didn’t even bring his “A++” game, as stated by Bob Baffert. He brought his “A game” and he carried that “A game” every step of the Kentucky Derby journey until he got to that wire first. He didn’t hit the top of the stretch and turn down to a “B game” because he didn’t all like the surface and Firing Line was putting in a relentless bid for the front. He didn’t get to the Preakness and drop his “A game” because Mr. Z decided to challenge him down the stretch for the first time and for most of the trip around. American Pharoah brings the “game” he knows will win the race and he’ll maintain it every step of the way, and THAT, my friends, is something to be admired.
Now, we all know that fresh horses are waiting for him in the Belmont. We know that he’s never gone a mile and a half. We know that the field will most likely be larger than it was in the Preakness, and it most likely won’t rain. We know that stamina primed horses like Frosted and Mubtaahij will be waiting for Pharoah. Still, that doesn’t stop anyone from dreaming the impossible dream. That doesn’t damper the excitement or the anticipation of what could be.
The Belmont Stakes has often shown the greatest that a horse could accomplish and it has also shown the worst heart-break we will ever experience. We experienced the jubilation of Secretariat roaring down that long stretch to a 31 length victory in world-record time. We saw Affirmed become the last Triple Crown winner in almost four decades. We cheered on Seattle Slew as he became the first undefeated Triple Crown winner. We also felt the agony of the Belmont as Real Quiet missed by a mere nose. We saw Charismatic break down right before the wire. We saw California Chrome finish fourth and War Emblem’s face touch the ground right as the gates opened. We were left wondering what could have been after I’ll Have Another was injured and never even entered into the race.
Will June 6th provide jubilation or agony? Will we be partying in the streets in celebration or dragging our feet home at the heart break of yet another loss? Only time will tell, but if the racing gods remain kind, it could well be the former. I, for one, despite all the near misses before, remain optimistic. So, come June 6th, I will be at home in front of my TV, cheering on a win for American Pharoah. I won’t get to experience it in person, but maybe one day, I will.
I will one day witness a horse reach the peak of his mountain, just as those in attendance June 6th at Belmont Park will get to do this year.