“I’ve read all your statements and I’ve not said a word
But now, Lord God, let my poor voice be heard
Let me die in my footsteps before I go down under the ground.”
Ever since American Pharoah (AP) won the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown 12 weeks ago, I have pretty much refrained from commenting. Yes, I could see that it was a GOOD thing for racing. I heard that national handle was up 11% from June of 2014 to 2015. Good thing. Can’t argue with that.
The thing that totally turned me off though was the BLIND IDOLATRY of AP that followed in the media (both general and within the industry itself). AP was the GREATEST HORSE THAT EVER LOOKED THROUGH A BRIDLE, etc. I tried to temper that with a few observations about OTHER good horses (older horses) AP would have to beat later on this year in order to confirm that claim to GREATNESS. My observations mainly fell upon DEAF ears.
If I owned AP, here is what I would have done. If I had a horse that was supposed to be the GREATEST HORSE THAT EVER LOOKED THROUGH A BRIDLE, I would have been EAGER to demonstrate that to the general public.
Specifically, I would have run him in the Whitney against Honor Code, Liam’s Map, Tonalist, et al. Or I would have run him two weeks later in the Pacific Classic against BEHOLDER, et al. IF he had won either of those two races, then you could have started to compare him with Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, et al.
Of course this is an exercise in PURE FANTASY. AP would have been hard pressed to win the Whitney, much less the Pacific Classic two weeks later. BEHOLDER in particular would have KICKED HIS ASS (though there was not much else behind her in that race).
But I would have done the SPORTING thing, which is seeking to run AP against the best available competition in order to find out just how good he really is. He needed to defeat the likes of Honor Code, Beholder, Liam’s Map, Tonalist, et al. somewhere along the line in order to be considered as anywhere remotely in the same class as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, et al. It now appears crystal clear that AP is NOT remotely in the same class as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, et al.
One of the many things that I got SICK of hearing about AP after the Belmont was how SPORTING his connections were to keep him in training and allowing him to run a couple times again this year. SPORTING!!!! That is the MINIMUM they could have done!!!!! At least if they wanted him to be compared to the likes of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, et al.
Secretariat ran six times after the Belmont as a three-year-old before he retired. The first of those six was the Arlington Invitational against fellow three-year-olds, which he won by nine lengths. His last five races WERE ALL AGAINST OLDER HORSES.
AP and his connections should have taken notice. After you win the TC, it is assumed that you are the best three-year-old. No reason to run against them again. Unless you (like the connections of AP) are seeking to PROTECT your reputation by AVOIDING the best horses in the country and remaining within your own division.
So now AP is probably done racing. His connections are indicating that they are leaning toward retiring him. Probably a wise decision, avoiding further defeats down the line, especially if he were to run in the BC Classic.
So why do I think this is the BEST thing that could have happened to racing? Because the IDOLATRY of AP was based on PURE FANTASY. Fantasy met reality yesterday in the Travers Stakes, and reality was a decisive winner. The triumph of reality over fantasy is always a good thing, both in racing and in life in general.
The only good thing about the IDOLATRY of AP was that it fostered a FANTASY about horse ownership (thus promoting it) and made new fans for the sport. But since it was based on a FANTASY, it was bound to to be exploded sooner or later. Yesterday was sooner. Horse owners and fans are better served by recognizing reality for what it is than by buying into some FANTASY.
Assuming that AP does not race again, let us make some attempt to place him into historical perspective. I think the best way to do so is by comparing him with the other 11 Triple Crown winners.
AP was a better racehorse than Sir Barton. That is not saying much. Sir Barton had an overall record of 31-13-6-5. Very nice, but nowhere near “great.”
AP is about as good a racehorse as Gallant Fox and his son Omaha. Perhaps Assault as well.
AP was nowhere near as good as War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, or Affirmed.
Particularly Citation or Secretariat. The general consensus is that the best North American racehorses of the 20th century were Man o’ War, Secretariat, and Citation. These three are listed in no particular order. Indeed, there has been much discussion as to which one of those three was the best, but not many people would argue that those three were the best of the 20th century in this country.
AP was nowhere even remotely in the same class as Man o’ War, Secretariat, or Citation. To pretend otherwise was PURE FANTASY, as we found out yesterday in the Travers.