By Claire Novak
It was American Pharoah's race to lose.
Ears pricked, long stride gobbling up ground, the first Triple Crown winner to ever run in the Breeders' Cup went soaring to an easy lead in the first quarter of the Oct. 31 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and never faltered under regular rider Victor Espinoza.
"He gave everyone what they came to see today," said the colt's emotional Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert. "I've never seen anything like him; I've never trained anything like him. I'm just glad Pharoah goes out the champ he is."
This was the horse who captured America's heart with brilliant victories in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Xpressbet.com Preakness Stakes (gr. I), and Belmont Stakes Presented by DraftKings (gr. I), and the same bay colt who started down that road with definitive wins in the Oaklawn Park prep series and came back from breaking the 37-year Triple Crown drought to win the William Hill Haskell Invitational (gr. I).
Breaking smoothly from post 4 under regular rider Victor Espinoza and sailing up to the front with a few fluid strides, American Pharoah set fractions of :23.99, :47.40, and 1:11.21 through six furlongs, then drew away to a 6 1/2-length win—tying with Volponi (2002) for largest Classic margin of victory.
"I knew this was going to be his last race, and I let him run," Espinoza said. "On the backside, the path I was in was a little deep, so I decided to move out and he accelerated a little. Turning for home, I knew I was gone."
With his Classic triumph, Zayat Stables' homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile brought down the curtain on a legendary career, speeding to 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.07, the fastest race run at the distance in Keeneland history on any surface. It was the 12th overall Breeders' Cup win for Baffert, who took his second consecutive edition of the Classic after winning the 2014 running with Bayern, the third Breeders' Cup win for Espinoza, and the first for the Zayat family.
"What can I say? What a horse! He is the most brilliant horse I have ever seen," owner Ahmed Zayat said. "We so appreciate (having) him, and we owe American Pharoah everything. He is a once-in-a-lifetime horse... He runs with his heart and he is brilliantly fast."
It was a fitting rebound for the Triple Crown winner in his final race before retiring to Coolmore's Ashford Stud. One start prior, he was handed his only defeat of the season by 16-1 shot Keen Ice in the Aug. 29 Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course.
"I am so proud of his horse, but I am so relieved," Baffert said. "After his last race, I got so down on myself. When he's right, he's right, and you saw what he can do today. It has been a privlege to train this horse... I am so proud of him."
Effinex, who provided mild pressure on the backstretch, held second for Tri-Bone Stables and trainer Jimmy Jerkens.
"I'm ecstatic," Jerkens said. "I was happy to see him sitting second early and not being rank. American Pharoah started pulling away on the backside but he stayed second. It was unbelievalbe."
Deep-closing Honor Code ran gamely from last to finish 4 1/2 lengths back in third.
"He was the only one to close," trainer Shug McGaughey said of his multiple grade I winner. "Those two ran 1-2 all the way around... The winner, when he's like that, he's pretty good. As a trainer, he's the first Triple Crown winner I've seen, and I think he was a very deserving Triple Crown winner. To see him come back to run the way he did today against this field of horses, he's a very good horse."
A crowd of 50,155 made American Pharoah the 3-5 favorite in a field of eight in the Classic, the race's smallest field since 1989 with the scratches of Smooth Roller and champion Beholder. He returned $3.40, $3, and $2.40, Effinex brought $14.20 and $6.60 at odds of 33-1, and Honor Code paid $3.40 as the 4-1 second choice. Keen Ice, Tonalist, Hard Aces, Frosted, and Gleneagles completed the order of finish.
The Kentucky bluegrass will now become Southern California-based American Pharoah's new home, as he heads off to a stud career with a final record of nine wins and a second from 11 starts for earnings of $8,650,300.
The Classic win puts American Pharoah fourth all-time in purse earnings among all North American-trained horses, behind only Curlin, Cigar, and Skip Away. He became the first Triple Crown winner to claim two grade I races in his sophomore season after sweeping the classics. The three Triple Crown winners of the 1970s, who all raced in the graded stakes era, combined for one grade I win in their 3-year-old seasons after their Triple Crown wins.