He turned 90,000-plus patrons at Belmont Park into a singular mass of pure joy. He has given a generation of racing fans a moment they will never adequately capture in words. He has given a sport that has taken numerous public relations hits over the years a gold-plated, mainstream surge.
The fairy dust is still settling from American Pharoah's triumph in the Belmont Stakes last Saturday, a feat that made him the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown. And as owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert try to absorb their new reality, they field excited questions about what the future will hold for the horse who is just the 12th ever to sweep the American classics.
While much of the discussion surrounding his potential races is speculative, the history-making son of Pioneerof the Nile has managed to — temporarily at least — squash decades worth of excuses cited by the frustrated who thought Triple Crown glory could not be attained in its current state.
Everything from a perceived lack of breed durability to race-day medication to modern-day training practices had been offered up as reasons why the longest drought between Triple Crown winners had gone on for nearly four decades.
In notching his 1-length win in the Kentucky Derby followed by his 7-length Preakness Stakes romp capped off by his 51/2-length Belmont Stakes masterpiece, American Pharoah has both elevated his sport and validated the current landscape as one still capable of producing enduring greatness.
"To see this horse finally do something — for a while I was starting to think maybe it's never going to happen. It's changed, it's too tough ... maybe it's the breed," Baffert said. "It's not the breed. You just have to wait for these superior horses to come around. They don't come around that often.
"This horse, he was made for it."
Just the right combination
Until American Pharoah, the idea persisted that North American breeding had shifted so much toward speed and precocity that the industry could not produce a horse with the stamina, brilliance and constitution to withstand Kentucky Derby prep season and the five-week grind of the classics.
While American Pharoah is a freak of a talent, he also has some key pedigree influences. His great grandsire on his dam's side is the legendary Storm Cat — one of the best providers of precocity of our time — while his sire, Pioneerof the Nile, delivered a stamina influence as he is by 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker.
Add to that the fact American Pharoah did what he did after coming back from a foot injury that knocked him out of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and sidelined him from racing until his season debut in the Grade II Rebel Stakes on March 14.
"I felt good about this horse because I felt he really justified the Triple Crown title he would be wearing," said noted Thoroughbred consultant and horseman Ric Waldman, who managed the career of Storm Cat. " Whatever the genetic combination there is that makes him what he is, I don't think anybody can honestly say it's this, this, this and this.
"I think it's just, it was all the right stuff. Out of all the foals we breed a year, we don't have that many opportunities to have the result be such a perfect combination of whatever the genetic material is that puts them in that position to be able to show it. Fortunately, all the stars were aligned that allowed this horse to show how truly great he is."
Baffert's handling of American Pharoah before and after his injury has made the Hall of Famer equally as worthy as his charge.
The current trend among trainers of giving horses more time between starts has been singled out as contributing to the 37-year hiatus, with the argument being that too many don't have their horses tough enough to stand up to the rigors of the Triple Crown. Baffert, however, toed the line perfectly between not overtraining American Pharoah and sharpening him to perfection at the most crucial moments.
Baffert gave the colt two easy prep races in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, got the hard race he needed in the Kentucky Derby, then worked the colt into peak fitness with a couple of scintillating drills between the Preakness and Belmont.
"He deserves a lot of credit for his horsemanship," trainer Chad Brown said of Baffert. "For that horse to miss the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with an injury, and then ... to have him perform as well as he did in all three events dealing with a foot issue and all that. I can tell you as a trainer that's an extraordinary training job for that horse."
The Crown remains
Remarkable horses can make a lot of would-be excuses null and void.
Where Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed all trained regularly at Belmont Park prior to the final leg of the Triple Crown, American Pharoah shot a hole through the home-field advantage theory by doing all his major work at Churchill Downs and shipping to New York on Tuesday of Belmont week.
"He doesn't have to take his track with him, it doesn't matter," Baffert said. "He could overcome any obstacle you throw at him."
American Pharoah has also run on the anti-bleeder medication, Lasix, in all eight of his starts, dispelling the belief held by some that the diuretic effects of the drug take too much out of horses as they try to hold their form during the three-race test. And where there had been chatter over changing the spacing of the Triple Crown races — most notably sparked by former Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas last season — the roar of the Belmont crowd welcoming American Pharoah into the history books probably silenced that debate for the immediate future.
"The great thing is this will quiet those wanting to change the structure of the Triple Crown," Waldman said. "You just have to be good enough. This ( American Pharoah's win) will weaken their argument for at least 10 or 20 years."