10/29/2015 12:27PM

American Pharoah connections reflect on Triple Crown winner's career


American Pharoah was bred and is owned by Ahmed Zayat, whose son Justin, manages the family’s stable. His trainer is Bob Baffert, who is assisted by Jim Barnes. His regular jockey is Victor Espinoza. Jockey Martin Garcia, who rode American Pharoah in his first start, has been his regular rider for workouts. Jorge Alvarez is his exercise rider, and Eduardo “Lalo” Luna is his groom.

They are the people who have been closest to American Pharoah, who will make his final start Saturday at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before he goes off to stud at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky. All were asked what the Triple Crown winner has meant to them.

Ahmed Zayat: “The joy and sheer happiness he’s given myself and my family is beyond description – so much emotion, so much pride. It’s been an honor, a privilege. We’re so proud of him, so blessed it’s us this happened to. It’s an incredible feeling. You feel so humbled. You say, ‘Why us?’ We’re beyond grateful.”

Justin Zayat: “I’ll never forget the Belmont. I’m standing next to my brother Benjamin. The horses are on the far turn. Victor is sitting on the horse. Pharoah looks possessed. Victor looks like he’s just holding on. I remember everyone yelling. I looked up at the sky and thought, ‘No way this is real.’ I’ll visit him every time I go to Kentucky. Coolmore likes to joke that they’re going to build a house on the farm for me.”

Baffert: “Him winning the Triple Crown, that was the one thing missing from my career, and I never thought I’d get another chance. I never rooted in the Belmont. I just watched in amazement. I get a totally different vibe watching him run. That’s why we were so shocked and disappointed when he got beat in the Travers. He always gives you so much. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

Barnes: “What stands out to me is – for as difficult an accomplishment as winning the Triple Crown is – how easy he made it for us. From the time we left for the Rebel, I was with him every day he was on the road, and I never had to give Bob a call to tell him I didn’t like something I saw – anything. Usually, there’s something. He just made it easy for us.”

:: American Pharoah's storybook career comes to an end

Espinoza: “He allowed me to do so many amazing things and meet so many amazing people. I did two shows with Jimmy Fallon, which I’ll never forget. It was so much fun. I got to go to the Country Music Awards. I always wanted to get a picture with Carrie Underwood, and it turned out she was looking for me. And then ‘Dancing with the Stars’ – I had to work out really hard for that! That’s a serious job. Everywhere I went, people wanted to know so much about racing. I never knew how many people outside of racing were interested in the races. It made me feel great that so many people wanted to know about racing and American Pharoah.”

Garcia: “I used to say Lookin At Lucky was the best horse I rode, but now it’s him. It’s an amazing feeling riding him. People line up to take his picture, but they can’t get real close to him. And look at me, I get to get on him and get him ready for his races.”

Alvarez: “When he won the Belmont, I got very emotional. He gave me a lot of satisfaction. I’ve ridden a lot of really good horses for Baffert and, before that, for Bobby Frankel, but this is a special horse. Coming back home without him after the Breeders’ Cup is going to be a little sad, but when we take him to the farm, I’ll feel like we got the job done. But we’re really going to miss him.”

Luna: “Because of him, for the first time, I got to be around the biggest races. It’s sad he’s not going to come home with us from Kentucky. Everybody is going to be sad.”