Taken from American Pharoah's FB page
I grew up in rural Idaho in the sixties, in a town of about 700. We had a party line telephone, which allowed our neighbors to listen in on our conversations and vis versa. We had a black and white TV that got three channels pretty consistently. Our TV viewing was limited: The Wonderful World of Disney on Friday nights, Masterpiece theater on Saturday nights if my parents were gone, The Long Ranger every morning between when my parents left the house and when the school bus picked us up, and sports on the weekends. My love of football started very early in my life and I was a huge Dolphin fan during the Shula years, then became a Cowboy's fan under Staubach. Sundays in the fall and winter were days spent watching football and Monday Night Football was a staple in our house. The only other event I watched religiously was the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
Why the fascination? It probably started with The Black Stallion. The idea of racing around the mile track at an extended gallop, of pitting my horse against all comers, was a life-long dream. I can remember sitting in the back of my parent's station wagon, staring at my reflection in the glass, when one of my parents asked one of my sibs, what they wanted to be when they grew up. I whispered to myself that I wanted to be a jockey, to ride those very fast horses. I was maybe eight at the time and still completely horse crazy. That dream was almost realized my fifteenth year when I was asked to start ponying horses at the track in Pocatello, ID. I was fifteen and weighed 70 lbs, but had incredibly strong hands and upper body strength. It didn't hurt that I walked and talked like a guy. Unfortunately for me, I gained twelve inches in height and 30 or so pounds in the four months prior to my sixteenth birthday and my dreams of being the first woman to win the Derby crashed and burned around me.
As a young adult/not-so-young adult, I have fed my obsession with the Triple Crown through reading: Bluegrass by Borden Deal, The Most Glorious Crown by Marvin Drager (most excellent book about the Triple Crown), and the entire Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. I watched the match race where Ruffian broke her legs, then read the advances in equine science that resulted from that race in Equus a year or so later. I also read Black Gold, King of the Wind, Born to Trot all by Marguerite Henry and Man O War by Walter Farley. I knew I would never be able to ride in the Kentucky Derby, but it didn't destroy my love of the Thoroughbred.
And I have never lost my fascination in watching the three races.
I don't think I have missed watching the races since 1973, when Secretariat won the Belmont like he was the only horse in the race. I can still watch in open mouth amazement at that race. In 1976, Bold Forbes won the Kentucky Derby on May 5th, and in his honor I named my first foal out of Queenie Bold Ace, who was born on the same day. In 1977, Seattle Slew won all three. And then in 1978, Affirmed battled Alydar for the Triple Crown. Those were three of the most intense races of my young life, with Alydar being the only horse to finish second in all three of the Crown races behind Affirmed. I was an avid Affirmed fan. I read in The Most Glorious Crown that Affirmed and Alydar raced something like eleven times and in those races they were only separated by a total of three lengths. Affirmed won all but one.
Since 1978 I have watched the Kentucky Derby every year. In the years before the advent of the internet, I would watch the hours of coverage leading up to the Kentucky Derby in order to evaluate the horses that would be running. The coverage of the Kentucky Derby pre-internet actually covered the horses, mostly because that was the only way people had access to the information. Now, I look up the contenders on the internet a couple of weeks before and survey their accomplishments: what races they have won, which ones they have raced in, who they have raced against. Then I make my guesses, because guesses they are, and I wait for the race.
The Kentucky Derby is ran at Churchill Downs, in Kentucky. The race is a mile and a quarter, longer than most of the races the colts have ran so far. It is ran on the first Saturday of May.
The Kentucky Derby challenge lies in earning enough points in earlier races (The Wood Memorial, The Florida Derby, The Louisiana Derby, The Santa Anita Derby, The Arkansas and the Blue Grass Stakes) to be amongst the top twenty three year olds racing. This is a change from the earlier way the Kentucky Derby racers were picked and this change is designed to make the Kentucky Derby more competitive. The field is limited to the top 20 horses. A field of 20 is a lot of horses, which by the nature of horse racing, can lend itself to putting a horse in a position from which they can not win.
The Kentucky Derby is the first step. The second step is the Preakness Stakes.
The Preakness Stakes is held in Baltimore, Maryland at the Pimlico racecourse. It is over a mile and 3/16ths or 9.5 furloughs. The field for this race is typically smaller and calls for a horse that races faster over a shorter course. The Thoroughbred used to be bred for either speed or stamina. The speed horses would be raced over shorter distances, or used to set an early pace in a longer race, with the intention of tiring out the longer running horses for a stable mate or another horse under the same trainer. There are horses entered in this race that have not been ran in the Derby and they have been prepped by their trainers with the intention of stealing the Preakness from the Derby winner.
All of you who don't think that's fair, do not understand the definition of a great horse. The Triple Crown winner is the fastest horse over three different distances in five weeks. Not the fastest horse over three different distances against all of the same horses. Just so you know.
It's not supposed to be easy.
The final race is the Belmont Stake, set at the Belmont racetrack in New York, the same race track that The Black ran on. It is the longest race in the Triple Crown, a mile and a half, and it's ran three weeks after the Preakness. The thing that is the most amazing thing about the Belmont, is the size of the racetrack. The racetrack is huge. In the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the horse begins it's move on the final turn, with a short run down the side to the finish line. On the Belmont track, the far turn is still almost a quarter mile away from the finish line. Many of the jockeys racing haven't ran at Belmont before and make their move too early in the race, running their horse out of steam before the real struggle for the lead begins.
My process has been to pick a Kentucky Derby winner, watch to see who won, and then watch the Preakness to see if they are a good enough horse to win the Preakness two weeks after the Derby. If they do, I watch the Belmont. If they don't, I am back to waiting for the next Kentucky Derby.
This year, I went in and looked at the qualified horses that were able to race in the Derby. I picked American Pharoah to win. He had only lost one race and that was his Maiden. I heard they took the blinders off and put a shadow roll on him and he hasn't lost since. I liked his look and thought he had an opportunity to put his breeding and his heart into the race.
We watched it in Buffalo Wild Wings. I was the only one yelling at the TV, which embarassed the hell out of T, but I didn't care. American Pharoah won.
Then came the Preakness, which I watched on my phone. American Pharoah went to the front at the start and held that position for the entire race. There was one small challenge at the top of the stretch, but American Pharoah ran away with the race while his jockey set quiet on his back (didn't have to reach for his whip one time).
The Belmont was raced on Saturday, while I was camping in the wilds of Wyoming. I didn't have a signal strong enough to get video. I didn't have a signal strong enough to call my mother and have her hold her phone up to the TV so I could hear the race. Luckily, J had packed an emergency radio and I was able to tune in a sport's station from Denver that was broadcasting the race.
American Pharoah went to the front early. He held the lead for the entire race. As they topped the far turn and headed down the backstretch he extended his lead. He ran away from the rest of the field, finishing ahead by five and a half lengths. When I got home I watched the race a dozen times. I don't think Espinoza touched his whip the entire race. He had no need to.
For the first time in 37 years we had a Triple Crown winner.
He was the only horse to race in all three races. He ran most of the race with his ears pricked and his stride devouring the track.
I know there is a lot of bad things around horse racing and the Thoroughbred. I know a lot of the lower level horses are tossed aside, that accidents happen, and that horses come to tragic ends. There is a lot bad that is involved, but that is true of any horse event that combines large amounts of money with horses. Think of what TWH horses go through in their training, or what QH horses experience with their build and early show record. Reflect on what breeding for a halter winning show horse did to the QH industry when every one bred to Impressive, unknowing that he had the genetic mutation HYPP, which was passed on to 50% of his offspring, and how his owner kept breeding him even after the mutation was discovered. Even the Scottsdale Arabian show has issues, especially in the breeding for halter horses and the training that they do for show. Any time big money and horses get together, horses suffer.
I watch because it's magical.
I stood in a National forest in Wyoming, staring at a pink granite rock lying at my feet, tears streaming down my face, as the race caller announced that American Pharoah had won the Belmont and the Triple Crown.
Sometimes your heroes can be horses. On Saturday, it was American Pharoah.