And the ESPY will go to ... American Pharoah!

July 02, 2015 02:16pm
American Pharoah Belmont Fans 615 X 400
Photo: Bob Mayberger/Eclipse Sportswire

We had waited so long for a special horse to come along and win horse racing’s holy grail, that when we finally got our wish, it is no wonder that we have been unable to shower enough accolades on American Pharoah. And the exceptional son of Pioneerof the Nile did it in style, winning all three legs of the Triple Crown in dynamite fashion. As an industry, we are also enjoying the due extra attention that comes with a Triple Crown winner. The fanfare includes: appearances on national television, magazine covers, parades at select tracks, and now American Pharoah has been named for a coveted ESPY nomination, the award program for world sports leader ESPN.

The ESPY category in which American Pharoah is nominated is a big one -- Best Championship Performance. In my estimation, it is right there with the Best Male Athlete and Best Female Athlete awards as the three most prestigious awards on the ESPY roll call. In traditional horse racing lingo, it is time to handicap this bad boy, and see where our champion stacks up against his esteemed award candidates.   

American Pharoah (4-5) - 37 long years came and went between Triple Crown winners, proving that it would take a great horse to finally get it done. American Pharoah more than fits the bill. Already a champion from his brief juvenile season, the Bob Baffert trained three-year-old has been nothing short of fantastic in his second season on the track. He demonstrated all the brilliance and potential in the world in two dominant wins at Oaklawn Park in the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby, setting him up perfectly for his run to history. In America’s most prestigious race, he proved he could battle and persevere, overcoming a very wide run, and a game Firing Line, to win the Derby. In Baltimore, he was the lone wolf at the wire leaving his Preakness competition far behind in a torrential storm. And finally in the Belmont, he passed the Test of the Champion in magnificent fashion. Because of the rarity of his accomplishment, and the grace in which he did it, American Pharoah is my clear choice for Best Championship Performance.

Madison Bumgarner (9-5) - This is the major threat to American Pharoah. Unlike LeBron James, Bumgarner did win a championship in the last 12 months. Last fall, he was the clear star of the World Championship run by the San Francisco Giants. As a starting left-handed pitcher, Bumgarner not only had two excellent starts which resulted in victories for his squad in the World Series, but he also earned a sensational save at the most crucial of times, when he stepped in for five scoreless innings of relief in a tight and deciding game seven. As close as the World Series was, there can be little doubt that the 25-year-old hurler was the difference in the Giants winning the championship instead of the Kansas City Royals. Bumgarner was also the MVP of the National League Championship Series and pitched a record 52 2/3 innings in this postseason. Very solid credentials, but as one of a 25 team squad, and one that was on the field less than half the time, the Giants’ run was still very much a team effort. That fact, coupled with the big recency factor in American Pharoah’s favor, and I expect Bumgarner will only finish second in this race.

LeBron James (5-1) - It was another outstanding year for the best basketball player on the planet. In his first season back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he resurrected the embattled franchise back to prominence. In fact, he almost carried them to a championship, falling just short to the Golden St. Warriors in the finals. All this without the help of the next best two players on the team, who were injured for most of the playoffs. Points, assists, rebounds, and leadership, James did it all for the Cavs. As good as he was, and he was outstanding, in the end, his championship performance came in a losing one. It also could be argued that in the NBA, Stephen Curry, the NBA MVP this year, and star of the champion Warriors, is as deserving for the honor in 2015. Combine these with the fact that James has already won his share of ESPY awards, including this category in 2012, and it is difficult for me to see him winning it this time around. It is time for someone new.

Lauren Haeger (12-1) - The dark horse of the field, Haeger was the dominant force in leading her University of Florida softball team to a national championship. As the team’s star pitcher, she pitched a complete game, one-run gem in their championship victory over Michigan. As the team’s star hitter, she drove in the game winning run, on the way to a 4-1 victory. The senior did it all season long for the Gators, and came up big on the biggest stage. Having said, I do not like her chances for this award. The biggest reason why I believe Haeger will not win is for the simple fact that I had never heard of her before this nomination, and I’m pretty sure that will be true for many voting in the ESPYS.

Of course, there is no precedent for a Triple Crown winner taking home an ESPY, as the last time there was a Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont sweep, there was no such thing as an ESPY. For now, and until July 17, when the winners are formally announced, I will remain very confident that American Pharoah’s rare and outstanding achievement can carry the day. If you have not yet done so, horse racing fans, get out and vote -- you know which button to press.


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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