11/04/2015 1:46PM

Jerardi: American Pharoah’s 120 erases any doubts

Barbara D. Livingston
American Pharoah ends his career by earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 120 in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Numbers can’t define greatness, but they can confirm it. I didn’t really need to see American Pharoah run a giant Beyer Speed Figure to be convinced of what I had been watching all year, but I admit to being pleased with the 120 he earned in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It was, more than anything, a validation.

I listened to the workout experts who were spot on from start to finish, was around Bob Baffert and Jimmy Barnes enough to read them, and watched the races. I knew what was about to happen after the Kentucky Derby, when the colt was still playing catch-up from his missed training, was far from his best, and won anyway.

Let’s all agree to put a line through American Pharoah’s first race (blinkers on, but no earplugs, unraveled in the paddock, a disaster having nothing to do with the horse’s ability) and judge his career on the next 10 races.

The colt was brilliant as a 2-year-old, with Beyers of 101 and 101 in a pair of Grade 1 runaways. Then came the injury and the questions. Was Pharoah ever going to get back to training? Was he going to be too late to the races to make the Derby?

The wins in Arkansas were nothing but paid workouts, with Beyers of 100 and 105. The 105 Derby Beyer was nothing special. I liked what I saw and heard prior to the Derby but am always skeptical of hype on a horse who has not run fast.

Pharoah got racing fit in the Derby. He blew up in the Preakness. We at Beyer Central explained at the time how much confidence we had in the Preakness Beyer – not much. The one-race monsoon made comparisons with other races impossible, so it was a one-race variant, never how you want to make numbers. Randy Moss and I thought it could have been a 112. We had our reasons. Andrew Beyer, with the final call, decided on a 102. He had his reasons. Frankly, we will never know for sure. What I saw that day was an all-out dash to the front and speed that just took the hearts away from the chasers, setting up a second-place finish for a no-hoper like Tale of Verve.

The Belmont Stakes 105 Beyer was strictly a function of pace. The horse went so slowly early on a very fast surface that it was just about impossible for him to put up a big number. That Pharoah was going as fast at the end as he was at the beginning told me all I needed to know.

Prior to the Classic, Pharoah’s 109 Beyer in the Haskell was his best figure. I told Baffert right after that that I was certain that if the colt had been asked at all in the stretch, he would have gotten a 118. In fact, 118 was my Classic figure prediction last Saturday morning on Dave Johnson and Bill Finley’s Sirius show, “Down the Stretch.”

The Travers was a fluke in every sense of that word. Keen Ice ran against Pharoah four other times and was beaten by a combined 32 lengths. I can make a very good case that Pharoah was running on a dead rail at Saratoga. Frosted ended up getting himself and American Pharoah beaten. Baffert is convinced that the gallop/workout in front of that huge crowd Friday morning was a major contributor to the defeat. So was the last-minute decision to bring Pharoah to Saratoga. It was great for the game but wrong for the horse.

With all that, Pharoah almost won anyway. Like the Derby, I loved the fight. He got a 105 in defeat, but if he could recover in time, I was totally convinced he was a lock in the Classic.

And I didn’t care if Beholder was running, or Liam’s Map was running, or any horse was running. It’s not like Pharoah needed the lead to win. He just moves better and faster than all the other horses. And he has never needed any excuses. The horse showed up to run every time, and his speed always kept him out of trouble, a wonderful attribute and certainly not something that should ever be held against a horse’s accomplishments.

For just the second time in his life, Pharoah, in the Classic, was going to have true rest going into a big race. He was awesome in the Haskell with significant time between races. The final Classic workouts were the tip-off.

Let’s deal in a racing reality. Pharoah’s BC Classic stylistic advantage was almost unfair. Still, the other reality is that this was Pharoah’s 10th real race at nine different tracks, with all road games in 2015. What horse does that and finishes it off by making horses with the talent of Honor Code and Tonalist disappear like they were never in the race?

I smiled when the 120 appeared on my computer screen early Sunday morning. I knew approximately what it was going to be before I left the track Saturday night, but Beyer has the final word. It was not a complicated variant. There was no gray area. It was a 120.

To put the number in perspective, the last 3-year-old to get a 120 was Bellamy Road in the 2005 Wood Memorial, and the last distance horse of any kind to go that high was Quality Road (121) in the 2010 Donn Handicap.

So, Triple Crown/Classic/120 – the first Saturday in May to the last Saturday in October –an absolutely legendary campaign in this era that none of us ever really imagined and will be almost impossible to duplicate.