First, American Pharoah did something fans of his sport had feared would never be done again by becoming the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown.
Then, the Kentucky-bred did something that had never been done before, adding a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory to his wins in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
So it seems fitting that American Pharoah will end his year having achieved one more thing that no horse has ever done. In record-shattering fashion, American Pharoah was elected the 2015 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sportsman of the Year.
“I’ve waited my entire life to see a Triple Crown winner and wondered if it could live up to expectations,” wrote Drew Deener of Louisville’s WHBE-AM and WLCL-FM. “It exceeded them. The roar of the Belmont crowd is something that will stick with me my entire life.”
Wrote Terry Meiners of WHAS-AM in Louisville: “There was American Pharoah, and there (were) all the others chasing him. Love that boy and what he did for Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry.”
From a record 163 votes cast by media members from across Kentucky, American Pharoah was named on 150 ballots and received a whopping 141 first-place votes.
Both are Sportsman of the Year records, as is American Pharoah’s 897-point victory margin over the runner-up, Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari.
In the 35-year history of the Kentucky Sportsman of the Year award, American Pharoah is the first horse to win. Previously, the highest finish for an equine athlete was fourth, by Sunday Silence in 1989.
Calipari led the Kentucky men’s basketball team (38-1) to an undefeated regular season and its fourth Final Four trip in five years. The coach also was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“You’d have to have an unbelievable year to knock John Calipari out of the top spot given his team’s amazing run to winning 38 straight games,” wrote Steve Moss of Lexington’s WKYT-TV. “But American Pharoah had a season 38 years in the making.”
Rounding out the top five in Sportsman voting were record-shattering Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty in third; Jeff Brohm, who coached WKU football (12-2) to the Conference USA championship and a Miami Beach Bowl victory, in fourth; and former UK big man Karl-Anthony Towns in fifth.
American Pharoah was eligible for Kentucky Sportsman of the Year because owner Ahmed Zayat’s star was born at Stockplace Farm in Lexington.
The state of his birth and American Pharoah’s epic 2015 will always be linked. Expertly conditioned by trainer Bob Baffert and ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, Pharoah won the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in May and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in October.
American Pharoah is now beginning his career as a sire at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Woodford County.
At the national level, the editors of Sports Illustrated chose tennis star Serena Williams over American Pharoah for the magazine’s Sports Person of the Year. For many Kentucky Sportsman of the Year voters, this year’s decision came down to how they felt about choosing a horse for the top spot.
Philosophically, some couldn’t do it.
“Much as I love horse racing, I am philosophically opposed to humans and horses competing against each other for awards and spots in Halls of Fame,” wrote Billy Reed of LouisvilleCatholicSportsNet.com. “So rather than vote for Pharoah, I voted for his team.”
Most voters, however, decided that American Pharoah’s achievements were too great to bypass.
“As opposed as I am to voting for 3-year-old, non-humans who sleep in barns and don’t talk to the media, I find no one whose achievement compared to Pharoah’s,” wrote C. Ray Hall, formerly of The Courier-Journal.
Curtis Burch of Lexington’s WLAP-AM wrote emphatically: “I DON’T CARE IF AMERICAN PHAROAH IS NOT A PERSON. This horse was the story of the year.”
Wrote Darrell Bird of The Cats’ Pause: “National pundits might be unable to bring themselves to name a horse as Sportsman of the Year, but we have no problem with it here in Kentucky.”
More Sportsman of the Year coverage
- American Pharoah is the 2015 Kentucky Sportsman of the Year
- The 10 best in Kentucky sports for 2015
- Where does American Pharoah rank among the all-time greats?
- What voters said about Kentucky Sportsman of the Year candidates who finished outside the Top 10
- Choosing a horse as Sportsman of the Year: What the voters said
- Bluegrass Sports Awards: A nod to horse racing and history
- Video: Sportsman of the Year Nominees