11/04/2015 1:46PM

Jerardi: American Pharoah’s 120 erases any doubts

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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.

Maynard Runkle 9 days ago
Ap did not deserve a 120.  It was a going away present for a lucky guy who avoided real speed horses by luck.  Did someone pay Liam's Map's connections to opt out
Ap is a legend of the mind because he strung three prestigious races together without real opposition. The first two his stablemate aided him.  His Belmont was ninth best since speed figures have been kept and the other two were even more mediocre when compared to other winners.  Firing Line and Dortmund - Did they win again? Frosted was a great miler  they put in longer races but Why? Keen Ice - Did he ever win again? With no speed in the Classic, the closers had no chance.
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
I really like this horse a lot! the owners,.....don't seem to be too popular. maybe they can hook him up with Zenyatta and make some super horses.
ESPNRadioLex More than 1 year ago
Mike Cameron ESPN Lexington He may not be the best of all time but he is the best I have seen in a long time!
Sammy More than 1 year ago
120. Tiznow born a 125. Two Classics back to back. His majesty makes A.P. seem a little less than average. Baffert's platoon of legal stimulants is shrouded in mystery. All good say the hey say horseplayers. I'll take Tiznow in this Classic debate everyday. Tiznow. Immortal Classic Champion. Twice.
danylson 6 months ago
Tiznow never ran faster than 117(2001 Classic and Santa Anita Handicap)
Milly Taylor More than 1 year ago
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Marilyn Shively More than 1 year ago
When American Pharoah is right, no horse can beat him
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
Don't take anything away from AP and his crew, he is the best in 2015 and you can't really compare different horses in different eras, even though we sure want to!!! Too many great ones like Swaps, Spectacular Bid, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Sitation, and even Sham if he didn't have to run against big red
ed More than 1 year ago
It didn't matter that Liam's Map or Beholder did not run. AP was going to win and make it look easy. He might have had to run faster, but I think he had plenty left in the tank. He went to the front and said goodbye to the field. Everyone knew it was coming. The few that tried to beat him were only fooling themselves. All I know is he beat the horses that showed up to race. Everyone is entitled to their thoughts if he is a great horse or not. He was much the best of this year's crop. He is such an upgrade compared to California Chrome. He is not the greatest ( Secretariat for me), but he had an awesome year and finally ended the TC curse. He had a top 5 ever year and I would put him in my top 10 ever. Not too shabby for a horse that wasn't really tested. Really??????
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Amen.
Tim More than 1 year ago
Too bad we couldn't have AP, Liam's Map, Beholder, Shared Belief and California Chrome all back healthy and running next year...
Sean More than 1 year ago
I am a trail runner, mostly distance. Average run is about 9 miles but no way could I beat AP in a running race. He 's likely go off course without a Jock but I wouldn't know because he'd leave me at the first bend in the woods. He may stop to graze for awhile and that would give me a legitimate chance. I'd have to be careful to pass him grazing quietly so he doesn't start running again. If he took off again, who knows how it would go for me. Cool having a TC winner alive. I might race him at Ashford next year during a farm tour in his paddock.