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Monday, June 08, 2015

American Pharoah: Triple Crown Win Rewrites Racing History



American Pharoah: Triple Crown Win Rewrites Racing History

With the historic win, horse racing has the opportunity to capitalize on the sport’s increased spotlight

By Pia Catton in the Wall Street Journal

Elmont, N.Y.

History called. And American Pharoah answered, sweeping the 2015 Triple Crown in dramatic, nearly uncontested fashion.
As the champion crossed the finish line at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, he crushed the doubts that have hung over this sport like a curse for nearly four decades, dispelling the notion that winning the three-race series is beyond the capacity of the modern thoroughbred.
American Pharoah’s Victory at Belmont Stakes
Now it is time to let American Pharoah’s victory stand as a cap to history—and move forward.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Stuart Janney, vice chairman of the Jockey Club, the breed’s registry and advocacy group. “The world has changed since 1978.”
Back in the days of the Carter administration, horse racing was thriving. But after a run of Triple Crown winners in 1973, 1977 and 1978, the industry was soon eclipsed by a multiplicity of professional sports far more popular and more connected to their fans.
Among the forces that chronically disengages horse-racing fans is, ironically, the Triple Crown itself. It compacts attention into a five-week stretch. And in seasons without the possibility of a winner, the attention doesn’t even last that long—though some of the best racing happens throughout the summer and into the fall with the season-end Breeders’ Cup championships.
Not only that, but the parameters of each of the three races have varied substantially over the years. They have been run at different distances, on different tracks and in different orders throughout history. The first horse to win all three, Sir Barton in 1919, did so before the series was even referred to as a Triple Crown—and before the Belmont was run in the current counterclockwise direction.
In 1930, when Gallant Fox won, the Preakness Stakes was run before the Derby. Eight days before the Derby—as opposed to the contemporary two week spacing.
It wasn’t until 1931 that the current order was established. And the current timetable—the Derby on the first Saturday in May, followed by the Preakness two weeks later, then the Belmont three weeks later—was set in 1969.
Spreading out the series would extend the sport’s visibility, but even more effective would be keeping the champions on the field instead of rushing them off to their second careers as stallions. Too often, after a horse wins one or two classic races, he is retired quickly to stud, where multimillion-dollar deals await.
As the only living Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah will be one of the industry’s most sought-after stallions, and already owner Ahmed Zayat has a deal in hand with the international breeding operation Coolmore, which will house him at Ashford Stud in Kentucky.
Yet Zayat has expressed a desire to continue running the horse this year.
“We would like to enjoy him as long as we can,” he said. “We need to enjoy our stars.”
It will be astonishing if he follows through. To enter this horse in coming races, such as the Breeders’ Cup, which this year will be held in Lexington, Ky., presents the risk of injury to a horse worth more than anyone can accurately estimate today.
“A star that continues to train and runs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic? You’re asking a lot,” said Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, a trade group.
But the major issue insiders point to is that of establishing uniform, national drug rules, ending the variations that exist from state to state.
“I think it’d be an ideal time to do away with race-day medication. Just get the job done,” said Cot Campbell, founder of the pioneering ownership group Dogwood Stable, which won the 2013 Belmont Stakes with Palace Malice.
Since the death of Eight Belles—a filly who was euthanized on the track after the 2008 Kentucky Derby when she suffered two broken ankles, sparking outrage and reviews of numerous safety practices—the industry has taken steps to address this and other issues. But with a Triple Crown, said Mr. Waldrop, the industry is in a position to make changes from a position of strength, pride and visibility: “Let’s use success as an impetus now.”
Corrections & Amplifications:
The Triple Crown compacts attention into a five-week stretch. An earlier version of this article incorrectly described it as a seven-week stretch. (June 7, 2015)

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