American Pharoah – My Greatest Sports Memory and The Real 2015 Athlete of the Year


I have seen the some of greatest in sports play in person. In 1975 at Royals Stadium, I saw Hank Aaron–the first to break Babe Ruth’s career home run record and still MLB’s all-time RBI leader–drive in a run what ended up being the game winning run for the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1976, I saw Major League Baseball’s first African-American manager–Hall of Famer Frank Robinson– manage and also pinch-hit in the same game for the Cleveland Indians. I saw a Nolan Ryan–MLB’s all-time leader in No-Hitters–throw a 100 mph fastball with the Texas Rangers in his mid-40s, just like I saw him do in his mid-20s with the California Angels.

In the early 1990s, I saw the NHL’s all-time leading scorer–Wayne Gretzky–score a goal on a breakaway with the Los Angeles Kings in St. Louis. In 1972, I saw Johnny Unitas in uniform with the Baltimore Colts. I have seen Joe Montana do his 4th quarter magic in Arrowhead. I have seen Peyton Manning–the NFL’s all-time passing leader–play in person in a playoff game. I have seen Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and the NBA’s all-time scoring leader–Kareem Abdul-Jabbar–play in person at Kemper Arena. I have seen “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt Sr race on the high banks at Daytona International Speedway.

I have seen many other great athletes and I have seen enough great things in sports to write a book. But nothing will top being camped out at the finish line at Keeneland this past October with my 13-year old son Anthony and both of us witnessing this historic shot below–American Pharoah ridden by Victor Espinoza–crossing the finish line and becoming the first Grand Slam winner of Thoroughbred Horse Racing.

The moment was almost surreal. Everybody wanted American Pharoah to win. As he came out of the last turn, the feeling wasn’t as much excitement as it was tension and nervous anticipation from the crowd for what was ahead. When American Pharoah started widening his lead, the crowd began to whoop and holler as he got closer and closer to the finish line but you could still sense a bit nervousness that some horse would kick it into high gear a clip him at the wire. Noticeably absent was the applause you would expect for such a moment but everyone was using one hand to film the finish on a camera or their cellphone. When American Pharoah crossed the finish line first, it was a triple crown of feelings: disbelief, relief and joy. It was truly an experience I will never forget and one that I feel extremely grateful to witness firsthand.

Announced this past Monday, American Pharoah is one of three finalists for Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. I have seen a number of AP Male Athlete’s of the Year play in person over my lifetime.

To put everything into perspective, it took Wayne Gretzky less than 10 years to break Gordie Howe’s all-time NHL scoring record. For Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it took about 11 years to surpass Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s  all-time leading scorer. It took Hank Aaron about 39 years to surpass Babe Ruth’s all-time home run mark. Then it took Barry Bonds 31 years (and presumably steriods) to surpass Aaron’s record. And the NFL passing records have been broken multiple times the past 20 years and are still being written.

American Pharoah is quite simply–the greatest thoroughbred race horse since Secretariat. Secretariat last raced 42 years ago. Secreatariat was the greatest thoroughbred race horse since Man o’War 53 years earlier. That works out to be a truly great horse every 47 1/2 years.

The “Horse of a Lifetime” would not only be my Associated Press ‘Athlete of the Year’ regardless of gender but he would also be my Athlete of the 21st Century thus far. American Pharoah helped put horse racing back into mainstream American Culture.


American Pharoah Etches His Name Among The Greatest of The Greats

Monday November 2, 2015

In 1999, Blood-Horse magazine compiled a list of Top 100 Greatest U.S. Racehorses of All-Time which you can see by clicking HERE. These rankings 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.

So where should American Pharoah fall on this list of greats?

There is little doubt in my mind that he now deserves to be ranked in the Top 3 racehorses of all-time. He is one of only 12 Triple Crown winners–the benchmark for great thoroughbreds. And now he is the very first winner of the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing (Triple Crown plus Breeders’ Cup Classic).

This past Saturday in The Classic, with the competition the best American Pharoah’s has ever seen, he needed to run the best race of his career. And that is exactly what he did, wiring the field and winning by 6 1/2 lengths. He produced a career best 120 Beyer Speed Figure–the top Beyer recorded this year and the highest ever recorded for a 3 year-old at a distance 1 1/4 mile or greater since Beyer Speed Figures were first recorded in 1993. The previous best Beyer at this distance for a 3 year-old was the 119 Beyer Speed Figure Curlin recorded in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic. American Pharoah ran the last 1/2 mile in 48.86–unbelievable and I think he could have ran it faster if pressed. He would have beaten Beholder and Tonalist even if he ran as well as he did in the Jockey Club Gold Cup race.

A truly amazing horse–a once in a lifetime horse.

I, like many, are sad that he is now retired but I feel extremely grateful that my son and I got to see his Kentucky Derby win as well as seeing him complete the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing in person. It may take another 40 to 50 years for another horse to accomplish this feat and any horse that wins the Triple Crown will probably only get one shot like Pharoah did to win the Classic before being retired and studded out.

American Pharoah deserves to be ranked in the Top 3 but 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.

American Pharoah’s 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.

So here is who I feel are the three 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) American Pharoah – 2015 Triple Crown Champion, Breeders’ Cup Classic champion and the first winner of the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing. 9 wins in 11 career starts. American Champion 2-Year-Old Male (2014) and he will undoubtedly will win 2015 Horse of the Year. And he is without a doubt the Greatest Horse of the 21st Century.



2015 Breeders’ Cup World Championships Preview

UPDATED 10/31/2015 4PM CST – Biggest news Beholder will be scratched from the Classic

Below are what I feel are the really key “starpower” races during the Breeders’ Cup World Championships this coming weekend at Keeneland. I will be there in attendance both days and will provide updates as time permits. I will also edit this blog with more detail and insight later. And remember that if any of these races are a wet races, you can throw most of this advice out the window.

Friday October 30th – All races televised on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) 2 to 5 PM CST

Race #5 – Hagyard Fayette – 1 1/8 Mile – $200,000 – 1:47 PM CST
This is not a Breeders’ Cup race but a good race to open the day since it has some decent horses like Hoppertunity, Commissioner, V.E. Day, Protonico, Race Day and Departing.

My Projected Winner: I like Hoppertunity but would only make a Show or Place bet here. He has never finished below 4th in a Graded Stakes race in 11 career starts. I see no reason why he would finish below 3rd in this field.

Race #7 – Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile – 1 Mile – $1,000,000 – 3:10 PM CST
A race for the fastest 3 year-olds and up through One Mile.

My Projected Winner: #3 Liam’s Map. I think Liam’s Map wires this field. He is 1/1 Morning Line Odds. Red Vine is 6/1 Morning Line odds and Wicked Strong is 5/1 Morning Line odds. I like a Straight Exacta (#3 Liam’s Map-#1 Red Vine) in this one. I like Wicked Strong but not at this short of distance.  Tapiture is another good horse. So consider both for rounding out your Trifectas and Superfectas. I am not sure how much a Trifecta would pay out in this scenario with Liam’s Map on top as I expect his odds to lower from 1/1, so you may have to key him to win in a Superfecta over Red Vine, Wicked Strong and Tapiture. I think I am going to key Liam’s Map to win #3 over 1,5,8,9 (Red Vine, Lea, Wicked Strong and Tapiture). This $1 Superfecta would cost $24. I may place $50 on Liam’s Map to win.

Race #9 – Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff –  1 1/8 Mile – $2,000,000 4:35 PM CST
Formerly known as the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, this is the top race for fillies and mares.

My Projected Winner:  #7 Wedding Toast. She is best horse in the field. Last year’s Champion, Untapable, has already been scratched due to spiking a fever. Sheer Drama, Got Lucky, Stopchargingmaria and I’m a Chatterbox are all really good horses. So I am going to place $50 on Wedding Toast to Place. if I have done well in the other races, I may change this to a Win bet.

Saturday October 31st – NBC will televise from 3-5 PM CST. NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will televise from Noon to 3 PM CST

Race #3 – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies – 1 1/16 Mile – $2,000,000 11:05 AM CST
The top race for 2-year-old fillies. Points are awarded for entry into the 2016 Kentucky Oaks. This is a great crop of fillies this year.

My Projected Winner:  I am a fan of #9 Rachel’s Valentina (7/2 Morning Line odds) and hopes she wins. But #10 Songbird (7/5 Morning Line odds) is the better horse right now. I may place a 10-9-2 (Songbird, Rachel’s Valentina and Tap to It) Straight Exacta.

Race #7 – Twinspires Breeders’ Cup Sprint – Six Furlongs – $1,500,000 – 1:50 PM CST

My Projected Winner: #5 Runhappy. He is 3/1 Morning Line odds while Morning Line race favorite Private Zone is 5/2. I think Runhappy is on a roll and like his post position better than Private Zone.

Race #9 – Breeders’ Cup Sentient Jet Juvenile – 1 1/16 Mile – $2,000,000 3:10 PM CST
The top race for 2 year-old colts and geldings. These horses are a part of the Kentucky Derby Trail and will earn points for entry into the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Points awarded to this year’s top four finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile have been doubled and will be 20-8-4-2.

My Projected Winner:  Nyquist, who is undefeated in four starts and my early 2016 Kentucky Derby favorite, will probably be the live race favorite. Brody’s Cause is the Morning Line Favorite at 7/2 odds. However, I like Greenpointcrusader at 4/1 Morning Line odds in this race. I generally feel that Greenpointcrusader is the fastest horse in the field but Brody’s Cause is a tremendous closer. If this pace is fast, this will play right into Brody’s Cause strength. If you want to play this one safe, place a Boxed Exacta with 3 horses (#3 Greenpointcrusader, #7 Brody’s Cause and #13 Nyquist). But remember my personal rule, never bet more than $50 on a race for 2 year-olds.

Race #10 – Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf – 1 ½ Mile – $3,000,000 3:50 PM CST
The best turf race in North America, that carries a $3 Million Dollar purse. It routinely draws some of the top turf horses from Europe.

My Projected Winner: The British-bred Golden Horn will probably be the race favorite. #10 The Pizza Man is a tremendous closer and I think this distance (1 1/2 mile) suits his running style the best. He has 15-1 Morning Line odds so I may make a big Place bet on him. The turf should be softer than normal due to the rain and this works against the European horses who like firmer surfaces.

Race #11 – Breeders’ Cup Classic – 1 ¼ mile = $5,000,000 4:35 PM CST
The Super Bowl of Thoroughbred Racing as this race draws the very best horse 3 years-old and older.

Breeders’ Cup Classic 2015 Post Positions & Morning Line Odds

1. Tonalist – Jockey John Velazquez – 6/1
2. Keen Ice – Jockey Irad Ortiz 12/1
3. Frosted Jockey Joel Rosario – 15/1
4. American Pharoah – Jockey Victor Espinoza – 6/5
5. Gleneagles – Jockey Ryan Moore – 20/1
6. Effinex – Jockey Mike Smith – 30/1
7. Smooth Roller – Jockey Tyler Baze – 15/1
8. Hard Aces Jockey Joe Talamo – 50/1
9. Honor Code – Jockey Javier Castellano – 6/1
10. Beholder 3-1 – Jockey Gary Stevens -3/1 SCRATCHED

My Projected Winner:  I correctly predicted Bayern would win last year’s Classic but I feel less confident about the outcome of this one. Now that Beholder has been scratched, I think this race comes down to Tonalist and American Pharoah but Honor Code and Keen Ice all have the ability to win this race. If Tonalist runs like he did in the Jockey Club Gold Cup race, and he is pressed up on the pace, I think he wins this one. So I am leaning towards Tonalist but my question is: will he be tired and be able to repeat his last performance? He will have to be pressed up on the pace as opposed to his normal closing style or he won’t win. Will drawing the dreaded rail hurt his trip? I don’t think this is a race sets up well for closers like #9 Honor Code. As far as betting, I am liking a big Boxed Exacta of  (#1 Tonalist and #4 American Pharoah). I also like a $10 Boxed Trifecta of (1,4,9) that would cost $60.