American Pharoah delivered the ultimate redemption for Egyptian-born businessman Ahmed Zayat, who has three times been second in the Kentucky Derby.
Hoisting the trophy into the air in the Churchill Downs winner's circle, an emotional Zayat, cried "Yes!" before passing it back to family and friends.
It's been a short, but unusually fraught career in racing for a man who only got into the business in 2005 and has been second in the Kentucky Derby three times.
"I'm speechless. This is really emotional," Zayat said. "We've been really close and we're extremely thrilled and honored. This is one special horse. I was very reluctant to hype him, but the horse does the talking."
Never miss a local story.
Zayat, who moved to the U.S. when he was 18, made his fortune with Al Ahram Beverages, a beverage company in Egypt he sold to Heineken.
His interest in horses apparently grew out of show jumping. Once the Teaneck, N.J., resident got into Thoroughbred racing, he quickly became a major force in racing and in the Thoroughbred sales ring. In 2008, he was leading owner in North America by earnings.
By 2009, he was hot on the Kentucky Derby trail, with Santa Anita Derby winner Pioneerof the Nile but lost to Mine That Bird.
He was back the next year with Eskendereya, an early favorite, but just the week before the Derby, the horse had a swollen leg and had to be withdrawn.
But he came back in 2011 with Nehro, who finished second to Animal Kingdom. In 2012, Zayat came back yet again, with Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister, who yet again finished second, this time to I'll Have Another.
Bodemeister would go on to finish second to I'll Have Another in the Preakness, while another of Zayat's horses, Paynter, finished second in the Belmont to Union Rags.
While Zayat was so close to the top of the racing world, he was also suffering setbacks. In 2010, Zayat declared bankruptcy after Fifth Third Bank sued over $28 million in loans that the bank alleged Zayat defaulted on. Zayat countersued, saying the bank was at fault; eventually they reached a settlement.
The issue never was money: Zayat's stable was making millions on the track the whole time. And Zayat continued to enjoy support from the Central Kentucky breeding community.
The suit dragged Zayat into the courts and embarrassed him, but on a more distressing level, Zayat's Nehro died of colic on the morning of the 2012 Derby. The incident became the center of controversy last year when an undercover video made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals focused on Nehro and his hoof issues.
But behind the scenes Zayat's revival was coming: Pioneerof the Nile had been retired to stud after his injury and in just his second crop of foals he sired American Pharoah with a mare named Littleprincessemma.
"Pioneer is a helluva stallion," Zayat said on Saturday. "What's particularly pleasing is that he is a homebred. After all the seconds, how spoiled can you get? This is the first horse I bred that's a Grade I winner. And American Pharoah's dam is also named for my little daughter Emma. It's Zayat love from A to Z and makes this very pleasing."