10/31/2015 7:06PM

For Pharoah's connections, the dream ride ends in victory

Nikki Sherman
Owner Ahmed Zayat kisses American Pharoah after the Breeders' Cup Classic.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – From his vantage point in the paddock, surrounded by family and friends, Ahmed Zayat turned his head away from the television screen as American Pharoah cruised through midstretch, his record-setting victory in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic all but assured at that point, and began to well up with emotion.

Zayat turned and embraced his wife, Joanne, and son Justin as American Pharoah crossed the finish line, completely overcome not only by the moment but the cumulative effects of the unbelievable year he, trainer Bob Baffert, and, most of all, American Pharoah had given racing fans not only across this country but throughout the world.

“What a horse, what a horse,” was Zayat’s first reaction once finally regaining his composure a couple of minutes later. “I’ve said all along I wanted this one today for American Pharoah. When he won the Derby, to be honest with you, I wanted it for the Zayats. The Triple Crown, I wanted it for the sport after 37 years. Today, I wanted him to go out on a high note, a very high note, as a winner. And it couldn’t have been any better than this. I’m so humbled and privileged to own a horse like him.”

American Pharoah put the punctuation mark on a year Thoroughbred racing will not soon forget with his 6 1/2-length, record-setting victory in the Classic – his performance not only erasing any memories of his lone 2015 setback in the Travers in August but also establishing, without a shadow of a doubt, that he was not only the best 3-year-old in the country but by far the best horse of any age the sport has seen in recent memory.

“He was a gift from God,” said Baffert, choking up. “He was the best thing that has happened to racing in a long time. Just to be mentioned in the same frame with Secretariat, who was by far the best horse I’d ever seen, is an honor; it’s incredible. To have a horse like this so late in my career, I’m so blessed. I know I’ll never have one like him again. It will be a long time before we ever see one like this again. This whole year was like a horse-racing fairy tale, and I just happened to be in it.”

Both Baffert and Zayat agreed that winning the Classic took on added significance for them following his unexpected loss to Keen Ice in the Travers.

“Bob and I took full responsibility for losing the Travers,” said Zayat. “We got a little overzealous. And even in defeat that day, he showed how brilliant he was. Even when totally empty, he ran his heart out. And we didn’t want his legacy to end that way. And Bob did an incredible job to get this horse back to his top form today.”        

Baffert said that despite American Pharoah losing the Travers, if given the choice, he would do it all over again.

“I was pretty down on myself after that last race. I thought he was doing well enough to win that race, but he was a little flat,” said Baffert. “But those few days at Saratoga were some of the best of my career, watching the way those fans came out to see and support him.  We could have put him away after the Triple Crown. But he’s hickory.

“There’s a lot of pressure training a horse like this, and I didn’t want to let the fans down again. I didn’t want to let American Pharoah down. When I see him run, it’s like I’m watching one of my children. Going down the backside today, I knew it was over because he was in Pharoah mode. Nobody can beat him when he’s like that.  And when he turned for home, I was watching like a fan. I got goose bumps. He gave the people what they came to see. He made me cry today.”

Baffert then reflected on what life will be like without American Pharoah, who will begin his stallion career next season at Ashford Stud.

“It’s going to be tough for everybody connected with this horse,” said Baffert. “I’m going to go visit him a lot. And he’ll certainly be a tough act to follow. We’ll all just have to go back to work, starting tomorrow, and try to find another one.”