CRAWFORD | Get to know American Pharoah all over again -- a doze - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Get to know American Pharoah all over again -- a dozen fun facts

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American Pharoah, shown here looking into a cell phone for a photo, appears ready for his Belmont close-up. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford). American Pharoah, shown here looking into a cell phone for a photo, appears ready for his Belmont close-up. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford).
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Horse racing fans, by now, know everything there is to know about American Pharoah. But this week, with his Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes coming on Saturday, the public in general will be taking a closer look at the Bob Baffert-trained colt.

Just over 20 million people watched California Chrome run the Belmont Stakes a year ago. And American Pharoah, the 14th to come to Belmont with a shot at the Triple Crown since Affirmed last won it in 1978, became the toast of New York City when he arrived Tuesday on “Air Horse One.”

So for some this will undoubtedly be a review. For others, here's an introduction to American Pharoah.

1. His sire was Pioneerof the Nile, who won the Santa Anita Derby and finished second in the Kentucky Derby in 2009. Pioneerof the Nile was sired by Empire Maker, who won the Belmont Stakes in 2003. Empire Maker's sire was Unbridled, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1990. Baffert said much of his speed, however, comes from his dam's side. Little Princessmama raced only twice before suffering an injury, but both of her foals went on to win races, and after American Pharoah finished as the 2-year-old champion, she was sold at auction (while carrying a full brother to American Pharoah) for $2.1 million.

2. He is a bay colt, with a faint white star on his forehead and no other white markings. He weighs 1,178 pounds. He has a shorter tail than most thoroughbreds. His connections say they think a stablemate — Mr. Z, who ran against American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and who is known for being a character — chewed part of it off. Baffert gave the New York tabloid Newsday another theory a while back: “I think he was in the pasture one day and there was a mountain lion chasing him —that was the closest he could get.” If he were to win the Triple Crown, he would be just the third bay colt to do it (not counting Seattle Slew, who was listed as dark bay, but in reality was black).

3. Yes, his name is misspelled. Nobody really knows why or how. The Jockey Club, which registers names, said it was submitted that way. His owners, who named the colt after letting fans submit suggestions, say they submitted the winner, “American Pharoah” as it came to them. The woman who came up with the name, Marsha Baumgartner of Barnett, Mo., told The New York Times she checked the spelling before submitting her entry, but shrugged it off, saying, “Horses can't spell, anyway.” Read the New York Times' story here.

4. American Pharoah originally was listed as a “ridgling,” in his official description by The Jockey Club, a designation given to animals that have an undescended testicle. He was referred to in this manner through much of his 2-year-old season, even though he was designated a colt when his owner, Ahmed Zayat, consigned him for sale at the Fasig-Tipton August 2013 Saratoga auction. Before his 3-year-old season, American Pharoah was being referred to as a colt. A spokesperson for the jockey club told WDRB that “we have no additional information on the topic and can only refer you to his connections.” Zayat said that the original designation (like the name misspelling, one must suppose) “was a mistake. He was always a colt.”

5. American Pharoah is owned and was bred by Ahmed Zayat, an Egyptian businessman who got into the sport full-time after selling the largest privatized beverage distributorship in Egypt to Heineken. Zayat came to the U.S. when he was 18 and attended Boston University. He endured a string of near-misses in the Kentucky Derby, beaten favorite Pioneerof the Nile, a race-week career-ending injury to expected favorite Eskendereya, runner-up finish for Bodemeister. Then came American Pharoah.

Zayat is fighting off a lawsuit by a man from Florida (with his own felony conviction) for allegedly not paying gambling debts. His attorney has called the allegations “absolute fiction.” Zayat also filed for Bankruptcy protection in 2010 after Fifth Third Bank called in its loans on $34 million his stable had borrowed. Zayat countered that the bank wasn't living up to the terms it set for the loans. The parties came to a settlement in 2010, and Zayat has completed the repayments set forth in the reorganization plan.

Asked about Zayat last week, Baffert called him “a wonderful family man” and said that stories about the colt's connections should not reflect on the animal or the accomplishments.

“The gambling world can be a little bit, you know, I won't say seedy, but it's such a beautiful moment and that somebody would go out of their way just to tear the man down . . .  I haven't talked to him about it, but I know it's one of those things where . . . it's basically jealousy,” Baffert said. “They're trying to take away from the man's passion, happiness, and it's not fair to do something like that because it's hard to raise a horse, to go through all this, and he's been great with everybody. But it's a shame that every business there's always a couple of bad apples trying to stir something up that's really not there. It's too bad it's happened.”

6. As a yearling, American Pharoah was put up for auction at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale, but Zayat purchased him back for $300,000, when no one met his reserve price of $1 million. He said he had no intention of selling his prize colt, but wanted to help the Saratoga sale.

7. By all accounts, American Pharoah is a gentle horse who enjoys being around people — though he has shown a tendency to get a bit fractious in loud situations. The day after winning the Derby, the colt walked around a large gathering of media and fans and let several rub his nose. Baffert told the crowd that had his other Derby horse, Dortmund, won the race, “you wouldn't be getting this close.”

“He is the sweetest horse of this caliber that I've ever been around,” Baffert said. “I mean, you feed him carrots, and he's like a pet.  But he's just so -- usually they're like athletes.  They want to get it on. But he's just the sweetest horse. He's spoiled to death.”

8. American Pharoah doesn't like loud environments. To help him with that, Baffert places cotton in his ears before races.

“He is a very, intelligent, smart horse, but he's a little noise sensitive and that's why we put the cotton earplugs in his ears,” Baffert said. “You know, that's why on the walk-over from the Derby with all the people running next to him, they really set him off; he didn't like that. So he got a little hot on me going to the paddock, he was really, really getting hot.  That's not him . . . even (jockey) Victor (Espinoza) noticed it when he turned for home in the Derby . . . when he heard  170,000 people, the roar, he's the favorite, he wasn't tired, but he was hitting the brakes. So, when he came for home, he said he came off the bridle, but he wasn't tired. That's why he runs with his ears up, he's listening. But during the Preakness with all the rain and stuff, he didn't hear anything. Those earplugs were so wet he couldn't hear a peep, you know. So he was focused the whole way. The noise factor it gets to him just a little bit.”

9. So what makes him so special? If you ask trainers, they're unanimous in praise of his movement. He has great “conformation,” which means that he looks like a great horse is supposed to look. He's of ideal size, weight and musculature. But it's his movement that trainers are most impressed with.

“The first time I saw him run, even on video, just the way he moved, I've not seen many move that way, with that ease of stride, and I've seen a lot of them,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

John Hall, yearling manager at Vinery Farm near Lexington, where American Pharoah was raised for a time as a yearling, told The Daily Racing Form, “He was that much better-looking. He was a really good individual. Very forward, always very athletic, he had a great neck and shoulder and was always correct. . . . He was made to run. He's what you picture in your mind growing up and being around horses, what you think you want to go out and find.”

View a video of American Pharoah as a yearling here.

10. His jockey, Victor Espinoza, has ridden him in all six of his career wins (American Pharoah has lost only once, his first time out, with Martin Garcia aboard). Espinoza will be riding for a Triple Crown for the third time. In the first, aboard War Emblem in 2002, his colt stumbled at the start and never had a chance. He finished eighth. Last year, California Chrome suffered a cut to his hoof early in the race and ran hard but finished fourth.

Espinoza was born on a dairy farm in Hidalgo, Mexico, the 11th of 12 children. He moved to Mexico City to ride horses as a teenager, and at age 17 paid for jockey school by driving a bus in Mexico City, annually ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world for drivers.

He's built Hall of Fame credentials in the past decade, and donates 10 percent of his winnings to City of Hope, to support pediatric cancer research.

11. American Pharoah's Kentucky Derby-winning time of 2:03.02 was the fourth-slowest since 2000. All three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s ran faster races in the Derby -- two of them (Secretariat and Affirmed) substantially faster. But if American Pharoah were to win the Triple Crown, his Derby-winning time actually would tie for fifth among the 12. Of the 10 Triple Crown winners who have run the three races at their current distances, American Pharoah's combined time for the Preakness and Derby of 4:01.66 would rank seventh fastest — though it's a virtual tie with War Admiral (4:01.60, clockers only measured in fifths of a second in those days). Only one Triple Crown winner faced an off track in the Preakness — Citation ran it in 2:02.4 seconds in 1948 on a track designated "heavy." American Pharoah, in the midst of a thunderstorm, finished the Preakness in 1:58.46 seconds on a track designated "sloppy."

12. A few more quick things. He was foaled on Feb. 2, 2012. His career race winnings are $3.73 million. His six victories have come by a combined 30 1/4 lengths. The Kentucky Derby was his only win in which any competitor finished within three lengths of him. He wears a special shoe with a protective plate over the sole of his left front hoof. After winning the Preakness, Zayat announced that his breeding rights have been sold to Coolmore Ashford Stud near Lexington, Ky. Sale price wasn't disclosed, but it's expected to be above $20 million — more if American Pharoah wins the Triple Crown. But first, Zayat and Baffert expect to race him through the end of the year, after a brief return to Churchill Downs after the Belmont, and then some much-needed rest in California.

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