One thing that American Pharoah (AP) and Secretariat do have in common (other than being Triple Crown winners) was that they both underwent a change of ownership between their two- and three-year-old campaigns. I think it is interesting to see how these ownership changes affected their respective careers.
Secretariat was syndicated for $6,080,000 (then a record), with the stipulation that he not race beyond the age of three. The breeding rights to AP were sold, with Ahmed Zayat retaining ownership through the end of AP’s three-year-old season.
The buyer of the breeding rights to AP was Coolmore Stud, and that is where the trouble begins. As one wag put it, if Coolmore had its druthers, AP would have been on a plane to the Southern Hemisphere the day after the Belmont to commence his breeding career.
In other words, Coolmore does not GIVE ONE SHIT about the SPORT of Thoroughbred racing. ALL they care about is making $$$$$$$$$$$$$ out of it.
So while Zayat theoretically retained control of the racing career of AP through the end of his three-year-old season, the reality is that he had Coolmore looking over his shoulder the whole time. And after the Triple Crown Coolmore was whispering to Zayat, “If you MUST race him some more, do so VERY CAREFULLY. Pick the softest spots possible. Don’t venture out of the three-year-old division, at least not until the BC Classic. Everyone already thinks he is the GREATEST HORSE THAT EVER LOOKED THROUGH A BRIDLE. That is pure idiocy of course, but let the fools believe it, and don’t do anything to jeopardize it.”
The fact of the matter is that once you have sold the breeding rights to a stallion prospect such as AP, especially to a group as pernicious as Coolmore, they (Coolmore) are going to be looking over your shoulder for the rest of that horse’s career, trying to influence your decisions, trying to minimize their own risks.
I am not saying that Zayat is totally without blame in this matter. Maybe he would have raced AP a little more adventurously after the Belmont if not for the Coolmore influence. Maybe, maybe not. Having Coolmore looking over your shoulder is not a good position to be in. It is the price you pay for taking their $$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
The Secretariat situation was vastly different. The people who bought into the Secretariat syndicate were businessman of course, but they were also SPORTSMEN (which Coolmore is NOT). They stipulated that Secretariat had to be retired at the end of his three year-old season, but they allowed him to continue to race in the Chenery colors. They were not calling the shots. They were not ATTEMPTING to call the shots or to INLFLUENCE the shots being called. The Chenery family was calling the shots (along with trainer Lucien Laurin).
So Secretariat raced six times after his Belmont romp, the last five against older horses (and twice on turf). He lost two of those races, to Onion in the Whitney and to Prove Out in the Woodward. Those losses did little (if anything) to tarnish his overall reputation. The reality is that even the greatest horses get beat occasionally. But you don’t become a great horse by staying in the barn or by running only against inferior competition.
People understood these realities back then, in the 1970s. I am afraid that people do not understand them anymore. They prefer to live in a FANTASY WORLD.
One of the best races Secretariat ever ran was the 1973 Marlboro Cup Handicap, which he won in 1:45 2/5 for nine furlongs (a world record). It was certainly the BEST field he ever ran against, including his stablemate Riva Ridge (second), Cougar II (third), and Key to the Mint (last of the seven).
On his best day, Riva Ridge was at least as good a racehorse as AP on his best day. On his best day, Cougar II was at least as good a racehorse as AP on his best day. On his best day, Key to the Mint was at least as good a racehorse as AP on his best day.
Perhaps it might seem to you that I am burying my head in the sand and trying to live in the past. Alas, I know full well that “The times, they are a changin’.” The world is much different now than it was 40 years ago.
Just do not try to pretend to me that the world is “a better place now.” I mean that with regard to both racing in particular and life in general.
Forty or 50 years ago racehorses were still racehorses. They put their reputations on the line. If they got beat, they came back and ran a better race the next time. They took risks. They sought out the best competition. They ventured out of their own divisions. Which is one reason I like Beholder. More power to her!!!!! I hope she runs in the BC Classic, though the competition there should be much tougher than it was in the Pacific Classic.
Competition is what it is all about. Or what it SHOULD be all about. In the case of AP after the Triple Crown, it was all about protecting his reputation and avoiding the sternest competition. His connections should not be congratulated for their “sportsmanship.” They should be excoriated precisely for their lack thereof.