American Pharoah: He’s “Pharoah” good. But where does he rank among the all-time great thoroughbreds?

American Pharoah (left) Secretariat (right)

With American Pharoah’s Triple Crown championship this year–the first in 37 years–it has generated a lot of discussion on where he ranks on the all-time greatest American thoroughbred lists. I decided to research this and give you my opinion. At first glance, he ranks somewhere between Secretariat and Seabiscuit–two horses who have had movies made about their careers.

Although Man o’War tops many lists, Secretariat, in my opinion, was the greatest thoroughbred of all-time. Both of these horses are usually 1-2 on most greatest thoroughbred lists. I give the nod to Secretariat because he was Triple Crown winner who still holds the track records for all three Triple Crown races (Kentucky Derby 1:59.4, Preakness Stakes 1:53 and Belmont Stakes 2:24). I personally don’t think any one horse will ever break two of these track records let alone all three. Secretariat was a total freak of nature.

In 1999, Blood-Horse magazine compiled a Top 100 Greatest U.S. Racehorses of All-Time which you can see by clicking HERE. The list generated a lot of controversy as Man o’War and Secretariat were virtually tied but a one voter ranked Secretariat 14th which gave the #1 spot to Man o’War. Seabiscuit, a horse known to many casual fans due to his Hollywood fame from several movies, ranked 25th in the poll.

Overall, I believe that American Pharoah is definitely one of the Top 20 racehorses of all-time because he is one of only 12 Triple Crown winners–the benchmark for great thoroughbreds. But not every great horse competed in all three Triple Crown races–most notably Man o’War because his owner didn’t think 3-year-olds should race 1 1/4 mile in May so he wasn’t entered into the Kentucky Derby. A few horses were late bloomers or had minor injuries that prevented them from a chance at a Triple Crown. So American Pharoah has to rank somewhere between Secretariat and Seabiscuit. But how close to the greatest horse of all-time?

I will state up front it is hard to compare horses from different eras. Advances in training and veterinary medicine along with air travel vs long hauls for a horse across the country in a trailer or train–have given the advantage to modern horses. However, there are also more thoroughbred foals today than the first part of the century, so that means more competition. And great horses in the modern era typically have shorter careers than horses of the first part of the 20th Century because owners don’t want to jeopardize injury and potential loss of lucrative stud-fees.

So with all of this in mind, below is how I would rank American Pharoah right now and his career is not over. On pure talent alone, I think has a chance to move up into the top 5. Note that his combined times in all three Triple Crown races ranks as the fourth best of all twelve Triple Crown Champions: 1) Secretariat (6:16.4), 2) Affirmed (6:22.4), 3) Seattle Slew (6:26.2) and 4) American Pharoah (6:28.13). And his Preakness Stakes win was on a sloppy wet track that hurt his time and cost him at least 2 seconds and maybe even as much 4 seconds. If he had run on a dry, fast track, I am convinced that his combined times would rank third.

My Top 10 Greatest American Thoroughbreds:

1) Secretariat – 1973 Triple Crown Champion, 16 wins in 21 career starts. Holds the track record for all 3 Triple Crown races. Also was 1973 American Male Turf Champion. ESPN’s Greatest Horse of the 20th Century. His 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes ranks as the most impressive performance by a horse of all time.

2) Man o’War –  Won 20 of 21 starts, finished 2nd in his only non-win. Associated Press #1 horse of the Century. Sports Illustrated #1 greatest horse in racing history.

3) Citation – 1948 Triple Crown Champion, 32 wins in 45 career starts.

4) Kelso – His 3-Year-Old season started after the Triple Crown races. He won the US Horse of the Year a record five times (1960-1964). 39 wins in 63 career starts.

5) Seattle Slew – 1977 Triple Crown Champion, 14 wins in 17 career starts. The only Triple Crown winner to finish the series undefeated. He beat Affirmed head-to-head in the 1978 Marlboro Cup Invitational and finished ahead of him in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

6) Affirmed – 1978 Triple Crown Champion, 22 wins in 29 career starts. Finished in the Top 3 in all but one start.

7) Count Fleet – 1943 Triple Crown Champion, 16 wins in 21 career starts. Never finished below third.

8) Native Dancer –  The first thoroughbred television star. 20 wins in 21 career starts. Won 1953 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. His only non-win was a 2nd place finish in the 1953 Kentucky Derby where he was bumped twice and lost by a head to Dark Star.

9) American Pharoah – 2015 Triple Crown Champion, 7 wins in 8 career starts. American Champion 2-Year-Old Male (2014) and he will undoubtedly will win 2015 Horse of the Year.

10) Dr Fagar – 18 wins in 21 career starts. Finished in the top 3 in every start except one where he was DQ’d but finished 1st. He is the only horse to ever hold four titles in one year (1968) when he was named the Horse of the Year, champion handicap horse, champion sprinter and co-champion grass horse.

In conclusion, I can say that we are truly blessed to see such a talent like American Pharoah. With movies having been made on Secretariat and Seabiscuit, we are watching the plot on the next big horse racing movie unfold. You’ve gotta love that!

–Michael

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