Farewell to American Pharoah, from the Next Generation

November 07, 2015 08:21am
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Photo: Averie Levanti

With the final chapter of American Pharoah’s racing career now closed, many are reminiscing over the past year of accomplishments our beloved sport has seen. I can’t help but think all Pharoah has been able to do for us, and for our sport, in such a short span of time. He was a revival, a breath of fresh air, one who’s lasting impact will be felt for decades to come.

With my 17th birthday in only a couple days time, I certainly did not have to wait nearly as long as most people for racing’s next Triple Crown winner to meet his throne. Double my time on this earth and it still wouldn’t reach back to when Affirmed and Alydar went tooth and nail down the Belmont stretch in 1978. But I have grown to love this sport with every fiber of my being. It’s where I’ve found my home. And with the decision for college fast approaching I know whatever I end up choosing, will lead me back to a life in the sport.

I was incredibly lucky enough to have been able to witness American Pharoah on three separate occasions this year. I was able to witness him doing what he does best at the Preakness, Belmont, and lastly, the Haskell, where I snapped my favorite picture of him (displayed as the cover photo above) out of the hundreds I’ve taken. To have been able to witness and capture the effortless ease in which Pharoah has become world renowned, is something I will forever be grateful.

Of course, of those three races, the Belmont Stakes tops the list. I only had general admission and managed to snag a spot right along the rail inside the sixteenth pole early in the morning where I would be able to capture all of the day’s action through my camera lens. I had genuinely no idea what to expect of the day to come. A Triple Crown seemed like something beyond reality.

It’s always quite an easy task to make friends with other track goers and that’s exactly what I was able to do right off the bat, becoming friendly with the others parked around me for the day, all of us yearning for the same result. But out of all of the incredibly kind people I spent my day with one stood out more than others. Her name was Jenny, a mere 13 years old, and her and her family traveled all the way from Kentucky in hopes of seeing history. Born and raised in California, Jenny and her parents only recently moved to Lexington, Kentucky and attended their first Kentucky Derby only five weeks prior. After seeing American Pharoah take the roses that day a promise was made that if Pharoah won the Preakness and set up a potential Triple Crown bid that they would book a trip for the Belmont Stakes. So, promise made, Jenny and her parents trekked north to New York where I was lucky enough to be next to them out of the tens of thousands of other people there.

Decked out in an American Pharoah shirt, Secretariat hat, and Zenyatta bag, I quickly came to learn that Jenny was an immensely knowledgeable person on the sport of horse racing, and she even recently began working on the Keeneland backstretch back home. The two of us sat there, packed in like sardines in the sweltering and sunburn imposing heat as we quizzed each other on who won the Derby in what year, as we waited that long stretch of time between the Manhattan and Belmont Stakes.

Everyone knows the result of what the world saw that day, and the moment he hit the wire and what was thought to be impossible suddenly became possible again, I cried out of sheer disbelief and happiness. And Jenny, propped up on her dad’s shoulders, was crying right along with me. It’s a moment that will be imprinted in my memory for the rest of my life. As long and as exhausting as that day was I would not trade it for anything else. I wouldn’t have traded it for seats in the grandstand or for any amount of luxury, for that matter. Standing in the same spot for eight straight hours paid off because the moment American Pharoah’s nose graced the wire and all of Belmont Park roared with the sound of 90,000 at a deafening volume was indescribable. It was as perfect as the moment could have been.

The Haskell was the moment that it really struck me that being involved in the sport of racing is where I really belonged. After he roared down the stretch to victory yet again with Monmouth thundering almost as loud as Belmont two months prior, Pharoah passed by me a short arm’s length away as he paraded down the grandstand. And I had to take a moment to put down my camera and take in my surroundings because that feeling of “this is what I want to do and where I truly belong being a part of for the rest of my life” hit me full force.

As I’ve been trying to find my way through my teenage years, I found a home in the sport of horse racing and American Pharoah really solidified that notion for me. I wanted to write this blog as a way to show that racing still reaches out to us younger fans because I don’t believe many are aware of just how many young racing fans there still are left today.

So, that’s when a lightbulb went off in my head.

Instead of making this blog just the babblings of boring me, the thought popped into my head to reach this out to other young racing fans as well. I know of many other teenage fans who hold a great love for the sport, many also finding a love for writing and photography, so I extended the offer out to a few peers of mine to send me a little something about what American Pharoah and his accomplishments in racing meant to them.

Here is what I received:

"It was one of those experiences that is so beautifully shocking that it doesn't really sink in until later, so you're just stuck there in an indescribable wonderstruck awe because what you saw was so perfect you're sure God himself was right there with the horse." -Hannah H. Age 16.

"He's inspired something in this nation. He's united both west and east coast fans, young and old. He's returned horse racing to its former glory; the one where it was truly the Sport of Kings. Where it had the best athletes and the best fans. Where people would travel cross country to see one horse- the horse who meant the absolute world of him. He's proved that horse racing can be- and will be- America's sport once more. I have faith in the future of racing and I know that there will be more Seattle Slew’s, Whirlaway’s, Secretariat’s, American Pharoah’s, Gallant Foxe’s, Sir Barton’s, Omaha’s. I know that I can wake up everyday and not worry about if I can turn my dream into a reality and work in the racing business. And for this, I want to say thank you, American Pharoah." -Madison F. Age 16.

"American Pharoah, the horse that finally ended the 37 year wait.

I remember you weren't my top pick for the Belmont and my reason behind that was I didn't think you could handle the distance, but boy did you prove me wrong. That was the first and only time I ever doubted you. Going into the Haskell, you were so strong and cantered home, Travers; you were tired, but finished a strong second and still made me cry, tears of joy. When I saw one of your workouts at Santa Anita recently gearing up for the BC, you switched leads easily and excelled down the stretch. At that moment, I knew no one was even going to touch you in the Classic. There was no doubt in my mind that you could capture racing’s fourth jewel, and that you did! There are absolutely no words to describe what an incredible athlete you are. And I just wanted to thank you, Pharoah and team Zayat, for all that you did for this sport and an unforgettable racing season! I wish you the best of luck as a stud and can't wait to see your babies! Thanks again for making my racing dream come true." -Juliana C. Age 16.

"American Pharoah will forever hold a spot in my heart that will never be replaced. He was one of those magnificent gifts God puts down on the earth every now and then and since it's a gift from God, it can't be ignored. All of American Pharoah's accomplishments have been outstanding, but his win in the Classic is by far my favorite, the way he just looked so smooth with his ears perked up then kicked away with ease not ever looking exhausted. The world will forever remember the name American Pharoah." -Allyson H. Age 14.

"American Pharoah was and is the horse that made our dreams come true. Our dreams of a horse talented enough to sweep the Triple Crown and end the 37 year drought. He did what many thought was impossible. American Pharoah has got it all-speed, looks ,a glorious stride. But I think that what really sets him apart is that to go along with all the above qualities he has an amazing personality. He's a sweet puppy dog of a horse. Really Pharoah is a horse that makes you love him. From his misspelled name to his mis-fit short tail. From his maiden race to his Breeders Cup Classic Victory. He did it all. Thank you American Pharoah. Thank You for making our dreams come true and winning our hearts. We love you Pharoah." -Gemma B. Age 14.

"I have been watching horse racing, starting with the Kentucky Derby, since I was a child. The first Derby I ever saw on TV was Smarty Jones in 2004. As a child, every year I was so hopeful that the current year would be the year the world would get its’ next triple crown winner. Then, in 2012, I went to my first Belmont Stakes and have been going every year since. Those first three years had two horses aiming for the Triple Crown, I’ll Have Another (2012) and California Chrome (2014). Both of those horses failed to grab the third jewel, along with Smarty Jones and Big Brown in 2008. By 2015, I had basically given up all hope. I felt that we would never see another Triple Crown winner again. Even after I saw American Pharoah win the Preakness so easily, I still didn’t have the faith anymore. But then I saw American Pharoah pull away in the homestretch of the 147th Belmont Stakes. Crossing that finish line first, American Pharoah put the faith of horse racing back in me. He made me believe in the sport again. He cemented that faith when I watched him dominated in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. That’s when the tears of joy came. Seeing him win two of his most important races, in person, is something that I will never forget. He reminded me why I fell in love with the Sport of Kings. You gave the world a ride of a lifetime and you will forever be in my heart. I don’t think we can thank you enough for what you did for the sport." -Emma S. Age 21.

"The moment when American Pharoah really struck me was not when he won the Belmont to complete the first Triple Crown in 37 years. It was when he passed by my seat, located around the eighth pole. That was when I realized that he was actually going to pull it off: a feat dismissed as impossible by many racing fans.

Of course, he was impressive when he tore through Oaklawn in the winter, then demolished the best three-year-olds in the land in the Preakness and Kentucky Derby. But how many three-year-olds had we seen do that before? I was skeptical going into the Belmont: it was only a natural instinct.

When he passed that eighth pole, however, and continued to expand his lead, that's when I realized he was different. He really was the champion we had been waiting for." -John P. Age 19.

"The accomplishments American Pharoah has done have meant the world to me! By just winning the triple crown he made all of us feel like we were dreaming! I’ve been involved in horse racing since before I was able to walk. I was raised in the racetrack and followed it 24/7. I always wanted to witness, meet, and see a horse win the Triple Crown and I never thought it would happen this fast. I’m just 19 years old and I was able to witness history in the making! A moment I will NEVER Forget. " -Jayro L. Age 19.

"I’ve said this before, but there really is no way to describe this horse that does him justice. I grew up thinking that I’d never see a horse like him, that I’d never see a Triple Crown winner, and that I’d have to live with that. Those who know me know that I was on the bus to my prom when he won, and that I was watching on my phone, surrounded by friends who didn’t know anything about racing but were rooting for him as hard as I was. I remember the moment my head hit my hands and my eyes filled with tears very clearly. Even the prom bus radio announced his victory as “the greatest sports moment of the decade.” It was the greatest moment of my life, and I just want to not only thank Pharoah for giving me that moment, but also thank the Baffert’s and Zayat’s for giving us access to this horse and letting us live his journey with him. So from me, thank you. Thank you for everything." -Sophie S. Age 18.

"Thanks to social media, I knew about American Pharoah long before he became a household name. I saw the reaction to his poor debut on Twitter, and I was wowed by his victories in the Del Mar Futurity and Frontrunner Stakes. When he romped in the Rebel, I remember thinking “Oh my god” as I watched his perfect stride. After Pharoah destroyed his foes in the Arkansas Derby, I shared the race on my social media pages because I was so impressed. I never post videos of Derby contenders for superstitious reasons, but I posted his win without hesitation. After he won the Derby and Preakness, I felt more confident about his Triple Crown chances than I had for any of the four prior failed attempts that I had seen in person. Yet, I walked into Belmont on June 6th expecting disappointment. Even at the quarter pole, I was convinced that Pharoah would lose. I had already seen four failed Triple Crown attempts. Why would this year be different? Because American Pharoah is no ordinary horse. At the eighth pole, I knew that the Triple Crown was his, and I started bawling. I rarely react during a race, but on that day, I was jumping up and down, yelling, and crying. June 6, 2015 was the best day I have ever had at a racetrack, and it would also have to rank as one of the best days of my life.

I was fortunate to see Pharoah two more times after the Belmont Stakes. I trekked to Monmouth to see him run in the Haskell, and I joined dozens of other fans as we held our phones out of the women’s bathroom trying to get a picture of the champ in the paddock. The last time I saw Pharoah was not to see him run, but to see him parade. I am a first-year graduate student at the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, making me six hours from Del Mar. On Labor Day weekend, my friend Kevin and I made the highly impulsive decision to drive to Del Mar and back in one day (I don’t recommend this). It’s safe to say that just the chance to see American Pharoah for ten minutes made the adventure worth it.

On a personal level, American Pharoah represents a living legend. He is not a name from 40 years ago, a horse whose feats I can only imagine and read about. I SAW him. I EXPERIENCED him, either in person or through a television screen. I will forever have the memories he gave me. However, I am also grateful for American Pharoah’s impact on horse racing in general. Usually, when I talk about Thoroughbred racehorses to non-racing friends, few of them have heard of the horses that I am referring to. However, since American Pharoah became racing’s twelfth Triple Crown winner, I can count on one hand the number of people I have talked to who DO NOT know who he is. American Pharoah may not “save” horse racing, but he has shown to millions of people how beautiful and exciting our sport can be, and that is all I could ever hope for. Thank you, champ." -Alexa R. Age 22.

"Most teenage girls have a summer romance with the boy of their dreams. But this summer, my romance was with the incredible story that is the story of American Pharoah. As an usher at Saratoga, I had a front row seat for every race this summer right at the finish line. The local news had their set up next to me and I got the scoop on all things Pharoah before anyone else. The moment I found out he truly was coming to the Spa, I danced in place for three hours and my smile never left me face. The entire week of the Travers was perhaps one of the most exciting and magical weeks of my life. The anticipation was incredible and I was one of the 50,000 people who witnessed one of the greatest Saratoga upsets in history. I am so honored to have been a part of the wild ride of American Pharoah and the romance I had with his story, the history, and the magic of the entire event will forever be one of the most treasured memories I will experience. American Pharoah's fairy tale was a reality, and to be a part of something that you never thought you would happen is incredible." -Mary E. Age 17.

"Once you choose hope, anything is possible."

Pharoah was that hope. we as racing fans chose him, and when we did, everything became possible. When we chose him, the Triple Crown was won, then the Grand Slam was won. American Pharoah was and is our hope. He carries us on his back forever. We love you Pharoah and thank you for everything single little thing you have done for me and everyone else in this great racing community. We love you." -Savannah P. Age 15.

"American Pharoah wasn't only important to me, he was very important to the entire racing world. He's a horse of our dreams and a horse of our lifetime, and only we were lucky enough to have a horse like him. He bought the hearts of many people as well as put a positive effect onto horse racing." -Daniella R. Age 15.

"My first memories of horse racing are hearing of stories of the great Triple Crown winners, but for me that's all it really was, a handful of stories.

Two years ago when I first started following racing we weren't given a hope of a winner, last year I watched as we were once again denied, but this year I saw history made. Nothing could have made my heart soar higher than seeing American Pharoah cross the finish line and even now it seems like a dream.

Having witnessed history just in the short time I've been a fan, I feel like I'm accomplished one of my biggest wishes within the industry." -Dana S. Age 17.

"American Pharoah was never a horse I intended to fall head over heels for. He was never a horse I expected to ever win further than 9 furlongs, as I always said he was not bred for it. However, the more I kept saying such things, the more he kept winnings. The more I said he wouldn't make the Derby, the more points he collected. I was amazed, and overjoyed, that he won the Derby in such a fighting fashion. He'd never tried so hard. I knew he'd be great right then and there. I never doubted him again. He have behind this horse since his Derby win, and while that is not as long as others, I will claim he is one of not only my favorites, but one of the greatest racehorses I believe this sport will ever see. I cannot compare him to Secretariat or Seattle Slew or any other old time great. But I can say he's one of the best I will ever see. I believe American Pharoah did to this sport for my generation what Secretariat did in the 1970's. I believed he has revived horse racing and given many hope! This is more than what our sport needed. Not only did we need hope, we needed American Pharoah." -Casey L. Age 21.

"I'm feeling so blessed to have seen a Triple Crown and Grand Slam winner at my young age. I have followed him from across the pond and every single performance amused me, the more he ran, the most I was impressed. I can't find the right words to describe how much he means to me but he knows he is something special. One day I will be so proud to talk the new generation about him, telling how a little horse with a misspelled name and a short tail conquered the Grand Slam with his ears picked up. Thanks for the memories, Pharoah and enjoy your retirement." -Monica C. Age 19. (Italy)

"I never believed that he could win the Triple Crown. My hopes for a Triple Crown winner had been dashed too many times before. Then I watched him in the Derby and he was impressive but I still didn't see him as a Triple Crown winner. He seemed to struggle just a little too much to even win the Derby, but my dad kept telling me that this was the horse that this sport had been waiting for and that he was the best horse that he had ever seen. Of course I had to believe my dad, he has trained racehorses for 30 years but I still couldn't quite believe that we would have a Triple Crown winner after all these years. Then he won the Preakness so impressively and I think that is when I really fell in love with this horse. Then on Belmont day, my whole family sat down in the living room to watch him run and I remember jumping down and yelling "He's got it. It's over," at the top of the stretch when he started pulling away from Frosted and widening the whole way to the wire. Then I remember all of us sitting speechless. That was probably the first time that I had ever seen my dad speechless; not even after the hundreds of races we had watched. I don't know how long it will be before we see another horse like him, but American Pharoah is definitely the best horse I've ever watched." -Virginia K. Age 16.

"I was eight years old when Big Brown made his bid for the Triple Crown. He was the first racehorse that I actively followed. When he didn't finish the Belmont, I cried. Four years later, I'll Have Another appeared and he looked the part. When he scratched, I was devastated. California Chrome would be next, and when he lost, I lost hope. This year, when American Pharoah came along, I doubted him. I couldn't bring myself to believe that the handsome colt could win the Kentucky Derby, much less the Triple Crown. When he won with ease, my hope was restored. For me, the debates over whether or not American Pharoah belongs alongside the sport's all-time greats are futile. American Pharoah united my generation. He gave us something to believe in- just as the champions of days past did for their generations. At the end of the day, that is what means the most. That is at the heart of why his racing career is so significant. So thank you, American Pharoah, for restoring a sense of hope and wonderment to not only the sport of horse racing, but an entire generation." -Talia A. Age 17.

I truly believe that American Pharoah is the greatest racehorse I will ever witness in my lifetime. That was confirmed for me when he completed the Grand Slam last weekend. I was again moved to an onslaught tears, crying just as hard as I did that evening at Belmont, when he turned for home for the final time in his racing career to claim the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Summarized so well by many of the young fans above, Pharoah did wonders for our sport. He’s captured the hearts of millions and restored faith and united a generation in such a short span of time. He’s the horse we’ll be able to reflect on to our future children and grandchildren. And if, perhaps, another one like him never comes along again, I will even more forever cherish these memories I’m lucky enough to hold.

So from us, to you, Pharoah, thank you. For every little thing you have been able to achieve in our sport, the next generation of racing thanks you from the bottom of our hearts. There aren’t great enough words to properly convey our utter gratefulness.


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Meet Averie Levanti:


Averie Levanti has been an enthusiast for racing ever since she read Bill Nack's Secretariat in early 2011. After falling in love with the popular Shackleford, racing quickly grew to become her passion. Soon discovering she had a love for writing, she began to share some of her articles through HRN. 

In January of last year she fell in love with Princess of Sylmar, and, after following her through her rapid growing success, showed her enthusiasm for the filly through a simple poster board. Being noticed by Ed Stanco and meeting the filly lead to a whirlwind of events which eventually lead to being named as the 2013 Tim Reynolds Memorial Fan of the Year.

Now proudly a part of the King of Prussia Stable team, Averie is only beginning to embark on her dream of achieving a lifelong career in horse racing and hopes to make a name for herself through her writing and her growing interest in photography.

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