06/02/2015 2:08PM

Fornatale: Wolfson hopes ‘D-Day’ looms for American Pharoah


During Belmont Week last year, I wrote a piece about contest legend Steve Wolfson Sr. Wolfson’s claims to fame in the contest world are numerous. In 1991, he created the Thoroughbred Challenge at the Mirage in Las Vegas. He has played on the NHC Tour since its inception and has qualified for the National Handicapping Championship 10 times. He is also the father of 2003 NHC champ Steve Wolfson Jr.

The piece recalled the tradition of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins – how they pop a bottle of champagne each year when the last unbeaten NFL team loses its first game. Wolfson related to this. His father owned Affirmed, and he was rooting against California Chrome’s bid for history.

“For my dad’s sake, I’d rather Affirmed be the last Triple Crown winner,” Wolfson said last year. “My dad had such an amazing life, and Affirmed’s Triple Crown might have been the high point. I don’t ever want it to happen for that reason.”

I thought this year might be a little different. Not only has American Pharoah appeared to be a more worthy potential Triple Crown winner than California Chrome – a champion 2-year-old in a well-regarded crop – but Wolfson’s family has a personal connection to this horse on both sides of his pedigree via Raise a Native, the horse who put Harbor View Farm, owned by Wolfson’s father, on the map back in 1963.

Moreover, the sire of American Pharoah’s second dam, Exclusive Rosette, is Ecliptical. “That’s a horse my brothers and I ran 30 years ago,” Wolfson said. “He was trained by Shug McGaughey, and Shug rarely used to call me – to the point where I thought he might have broken his fingers. But one afternoon that spring, I got a call from Shug at Churchill Downs. ‘Your horse just won by the length of the stretch,’ he told me, ‘and if Randy [Romero] hadda clucked to him, he would’ve broken the track record, and I’d likely be investigated.”

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Ecliptical never lived up to that early promise – he lost his next six races and became a mediocre sire. But he was kin to some good ones, including Eminency, who won $705,009 back when that meant something, and Ecliptical, through his daughter Exclusive Rosette, has in Wolfson’s view passed on some of the family brilliance to her grandson American Pharoah.

So, where does Wolfson stand with American Pharoah? As ever, he’s a contrarian – and he is not buying the idea that a Triple Crown win will be a panacea, or even merely good, for the sport.

“For the sake of racing, I hope he loses,” Wolfson said. “We talked last year about how I root for all of these old streaks in sports to never be equaled – DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, John Wooden’s great run of victories, Rod Laver’s Grand Slams – I believe that the fact it’s been so long since we’ve seen a Triple Crown is why all these people care.”

Wolfson has been impressed with what he’s seen from American Pharoah on the track, and he made money betting on him in the Derby. “I didn’t think he could lose,” Wolfson said. “I’d heard all the talk about how he was a super-freak, but his Derby gave me pause.”

He noted the margin of victory and the number of times Victor Espinoza hit American Pharoah as the causes of concern. Still, Wolfson doesn’t dispute that American Pharoah has the best form coming into the Belmont Stakes. “On paper, the only things his competition has over him are longer tails and correctly spelled names.”

In the contest world, Wolfson is known as a breeding expert, partially because of his time working with both Harbor View Farm and Happy Valley Racing. He is not convinced that American Pharoah will be able to stay the Belmont’s 1 1/2 miles.

“I wouldn’t put him in the top three in the race in terms of his ability to get the distance,” he said.

The more we talked, the less sold on the Pharoah he sounded. “I wonder how much the mud at Oaklawn and Pimlico moved him up and how much it hurt the other runners,” he said. “I’m not rooting for him. I think my first instinct if he won would be disappointment. That could change over time if he stayed in training and proved that he really was a great horse and worthy successor to the great Triple Crown champions of the past.”

He doesn’t expect that will happen. The more likely scenario if American Pharoah wins is that we won’t see him race again. “I think things will be okay for six months, but I worry that the people who get excited and buy American Pharoah T-shirts will be unhappy when they realize they have to wait three years to see his babies run and the pursuit of the Triple Crown will give way to ho-hum.”

Saturday, in addition to being Belmont Stakes Day, is also the 71st anniversary of D-Day. “This might be D-Day for American Phraoah,” Wolfson said, “and the D stands for ‘defeat.’ ”

Who does Wolfson think will win? “I think he could get a cold shoulder. Frosted will win, and Keen Ice will get a piece.”

But his main rooting interest will be in keeping American Pharoah from the sweep – and ensuring that Affirmed’s legacy as the last Triple Crown winner remains intact. “The best thing will be if he loses and then somebody’s going for the Triple Crown next year, and I get a call from you again.”

Sharon Aitken More than 1 year ago
out of curiosity I was going to bet $10,000 on American Pharoah...anybody do the math on it what my winnings would have been?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
5,000 x 3.50 so 17,500 gross for a net of $7,500 I believe
Penguin ymous More than 1 year ago
That's funny, I was going to bet $100,000 but changed my mind and bet to show in the first race instead.
furlongdrive More than 1 year ago
Sounds like a bitter person who never wants to see ANY horse come near his beloved Affirmed. Or maybe he's just bitter because his brother Marty's horses always got beat by Rachel Alexandra.
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
i agree with mr wolfson frosted.,the only 3 horses who impressed in the derby were am pharoah,materiality and frosted. switch trips and a different outcome, great betting opportunity with overbet pharoah.nice article pete
Pat Lyons More than 1 year ago
I dont even need to read all these words ... ive stated in writing prior to #kentuckyDerby #AmericanPharoah will win #tripleCrown #patsRightDontFightIt #2pairPoker #Boom #imCoolLikeThat
Carson Horton More than 1 year ago
I wonder if Wolfson felt the same way about not seeing a horse win the Triple Crown during Affirmed's 3 year-old campaign? Frankly, I think the guy is a selfish boor who only cares about himself and his own success. A Triple Crown winner would not only do racing good it would do a lot of good for a lot of people who are connected with the horse and perhaps most importantly it would cement his trainer's status as arguably the best thoroughbred trainer of the last 50 years. Unfortunately one of the people it would also benefit is his owner, who appears to be another selfish boor, but you can't have everything!
Jd Cunningham More than 1 year ago
I liked the article written here but I really liked Wolfsons' bravado even more. Well, not exactly, but I do in a strange way echo his sentiments. I was a young lad growing up in Miami in those memorable years of football yore and I agree with Wolfson in that you do not want to see anyone besting your pinnacle of history. Some records are meant to be broken though or at least equaled. Would I like to see AP do it, yes, but will I be wagering on it happen, no. Past history belies me to go against the "feel good hype and anticipation" of this happening. In all the years that I have been 'capping, I always look at dosage and AWD for The Belmont. AP does come up a little short for the distance. It would do wonders for the sport if it were to occur but let's face it, our own NTRA can't even effectively promote this once regaled sport of kings. I do believe AP is probably the best three year old now but might have trouble with the threesome of Pletchers' and distance issues. Last of all, my mom thought that IHA in 2013 was the one until that Friday morning. I hadn't seen a TV until I got to my moms that day and the way she broke it to me, I thought someone had died in our family. If anything, I would like to see it for her generation, she's 88 now and her and my father owned horses before I was even born. On an aside, I was born on the day of the Kentucky Derby 1964, yes her derby baby. If only for her, I would once like to see the record "tied" but I will let her know in the days to come that I will not be wagering on it to be so. JD in SD
Troy Crowell More than 1 year ago
I disagree with Mr. Wolfson, I think a TC winner is way too long overdue and would be an absolute awesome thing for the sport. I bet against AP in the KD, but I'm pulling for him to get the job done. Horse racing needs a TC winner! I get his POV though, I'd likely be the same way. I can't argue Mr. Wolfson's take about the off track moving AP up at Oaklawn and Pimlico, he may very well be right. Also, don't disagree with the most likely upsetters, Frosted and Keen Ice. I had my money on Frosted in the KD, the extra rest couldn't hurt, could it? I don't think it illogical for the fresher horse to make up the 3 1/4 length margin between the two from the KD.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
Rooting against, is bad karma. I was at Belmont when Affirmed beat Alydar and again at Belmont when Affirmed defeated "Bid" who I was rooting for. I can understand Steve's feelings with respect to having Affirmed's T.C. being the last of all time. However, records were made to be broken. Maybe not in my lifetime, but some time down the road. I will be rooting for A.P. on Saturday, but I don't believe he'll win for a number of reasons.
Jerry Mann More than 1 year ago
I'm for AP.....
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
Your all assuming AP runs again. If he is retired after the Belmont Stakes his accomplishments will do very little to increase interest in the sport. The average person gets into racing and then they witness a breakdown and they lose the interest they gained in an instant. Breeders are the biggest problem the sport faces. Cheap speed that creates too many sprint races that don't start in front of the fans. The average person has no idea what the heck is going on at a racetrack. At least with football they can convince themselves they actually know something about the sport.
Jake Phillips More than 1 year ago
I wouldn't go so far as to question the guy to the extent of some of these comments, but it is a very interesting stance he's taking. It seems like it's the stance of a person that's "made it" already in the world of horse racing and basically has nothing to lose at this point. For guys like myself, that scratch and claw every day to try and get people to join my stable for 5% of a $10,000 claimer, having a Triple Crown winner would be a huge shot in the arm for the popularity of the sport. I can tell you one thing, if we don't do something muy pronto to get young people interested in this sport, it will soon be even more a thing of the past than it is now.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I believe we've seen a handful of steps in the right direction but I agree -- the more we can do to market the game, the better. And personally I think a TC will drive a fair amount of interest and some of those folks will stay. I still think it's fascinating to hear the POV of a guy like Steve though and am happy that he -- and you -- chose to share your thoughts in this space.
wayne haehner More than 1 year ago
I do not agree with the notion that a TC winner will be a "huge shot in the arm"--there are plenty of cheerleaders and pom pom wavers living in their "rainbows and unicorns" world. If he wins, so be it--but racing is slowly dying and having a TC winner isn't going to suddenly pump life into the fans, who don't attend racing anymore. I wish AP a clean trip and let the racings gods decide if he is worthy.
Shibbley More than 1 year ago
I think it is easy to understand. He wants the legacy to last forever, can't blame him.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I do think that's a big part of it -- that's where my initial 72 Dolphins angle for last year's piece came from. I thougt this year might be different for the reasons outlined but nosiree!
Rip Steakface More than 1 year ago
Oh look, it's this article again.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I thought it was an important wrinkle that despite having family connections to both sides of the pedigree he still felt the same way, essentially.
Rip Steakface More than 1 year ago
He's entitled to his personal hold to Affirmed being the last winner, but I strongly disagree with his point of view that if our dual classic winners continue to lose the TC it's the best thing for the sport. To me a horse not being that good any more reflects on the decline of the sport. See what he says when that story changes, if he steel feels it's bad for the sport. I would love to be given hope by another Triple Crown winner that we can believe our Thoroughbreds today can be as strong as they once were. Cheers.
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
Can a person be described as the equivalent of a cheap claimer?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I know Steve Sr, and he is Grade 1 all the way. Just because we don't agree with people -- and I don't agree with Steve Sr on this one -- doesn't mean we have to castigate their character, does it? A symptom of the modern world I guess . . .
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
J.K.L. Ross would not possibly have taken the same selfish position as Mr. Wolfson. A symptom of the modern world I guess. I grant that in other circumstances Mr. Wolfsom may indeed be of stakes calibre, but he has lost the designation "Grade 1 all the way".