The past and present of Triple Crown horse racing were on display at the Breeders Cup, the 14-race extravaganza that saw American Pharaoh give us one last memory before he heads into the comfortable life of retirement.
After losing the Travers Stakes at Saratoga this summer, I wondered if American Pharaoh would fade. That seemed to be the opinion of handicappers. While the public bet the Triple Crown winner into a 3-5 favorite by post time, the insiders seemed to be trending toward Tonalist or Keen Ice as the viable alternative.
Part of this was simple betting strategy—no one makes any money betting the favorite, so it’s not uncommon to simply default to the second-best choice. But in listening to pre-race commentary and reading what was being said, it seemed the smart money genuinely believed American Pharaoh would fall, even if the bet were straight-up.
This amazing horse proved the experts wrong and pulled away down the stretch to win the Breeders Cup Classic. American Pharaoh is now the first horse in history to win the BC Classic on top of the Triple Crown. Please note that the Breeders Cup started in 1984 and the last previous Triple Crown winner was 1978, so American Pharaoh is also the first horse to have the chance pull of this feat. What I think is most noteworthy is that yesterday’s victory sets a new benchmark for greatness.
The victory in the Breeders Cup is more impressive than anything that took place at Churchill Downs, Pimlico or Belmont Park this spring and early summer. The Breeders Cup Classic is not limited to three-year olds—for example, Tonalist had won the Belmont Stakes in 2014. And the richness of the purses brings in horses from all over the world.
“A horse for the ages!” I literally shouted at my TV set as he pulled away down the stretch and my words were used in some form by the track announcer at Keeneland Racetrack in Kentucky. Indeed he was. And a new standard for historical greatness has been set.
Shortly before the Classic, the Breeders Cup Juvenile, a race for two-year-olds, was run and the winner of this race emerges as next year’s Kentucky Derby favorite. Have you heard of the hockey player Gustav Nyquist? He scored 27 goals last year for the Detroit Red Wings and is the namesake for the new Derby favorite. The horse Nyquist, owned by hard-core Red Wings fan Paul Reddman, won the Juvenile.
Will Reddman get a Derby win and a Stanley Cup in the same year? It will be a fun story to follow. Nyquist has a great pedigree, sired by Uncle Mo, who was a fantastic horse in 2011 before an injury scratched him from the Triple Crown. I’ve always had a sentimental attachment to the father, because “Mo” was the name of my favorite dog of all time. Here’s hoping his progeny has better luck with physical health next spring.