By Blood-Horse Staff
American Pharoah's Triple Crown sweep, culminating in his breathtaking victory in the 147th edition of the Belmont Stakes presented by DraftKings (gr. I) that ended a 37-year drought, was honored Dec. 24 as the "Sports Story of the Year" by the Associated Press.
American Pharoah's sweep of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), XpressBet Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Belmont beat out the "Deflategate" controversy involving Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and FIFA soccer corruption.
It was a runaway win again for American Pharoah, who received 317 points and 43 first-place votes. The "Deflategate" story had 191 points and 13 first-place votes.
"Recognition of American Pharoah by the Associated Press as the Sports Story of the Year is a true reflection of the most compelling sports story from 2015," said National Thoroughbred Racing Association president Alex Waldrop. "Throughout American Pharoah's quest for a Triple Crown sweep that many believed impossible, and then with the completion of our sport's first-ever Grand Slam (counting his Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) win), American Pharoah captivated a nation. It took 37 years to crown Thoroughbred racing's twelfth Triple Crown winner, but American Pharoah proved to be worth the wait in every way."
Entering the starting gate on June 6 at Belmont Park, history was not on American Pharoah's side. Since Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner in 1978, 13 horses stood on the precipice of history as winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, including legends such as Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Smarty Jones . None were able to secure the Triple Crown with a victory in the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes, the oldest and most difficult leg of the series.
In 2015, American Pharoah changed all that. On a sunny, picturesque afternoon and competing before both a national television audience and a sold-out, capacity crowd of 90,000 at Belmont Park, the 3-year-old colt quickly exited the starting gate, moved to the rail, and never looked back. With a dramatic, 5 1/2-length victory over grade I winner Frosted, American Pharoah gained sporting immortality as the first Triple Crown champion in nearly four decades.
Dubbed the "People's Horse" by owner Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza, provided horse racing with a new superstar, attracted new fans, and generated new interest in the sport.
Team Pharoah's focus on cultivating a new generation of horseplayers and racing fans was exemplified in August at historic Saratoga Race Course. Traveling for the 146th running of the Travers Stakes (gr. I), American Pharoah's arrival at Albany International Airport was covered live on local news, with cameras and reporters reporting every movement from the Tex Sutton charter jet. The Triple Crown champion was provided a police escort to the nation's oldest sporting venue, with media from across the nation swarming the backstretch throughout the week. On the morning of Friday, Aug. 28, more than 15,000 fans filled Saratoga's clubhouse and grandstand to get a brief glimpse of the sporting icon.
Calm and camera-friendly, the champion colt provided a lasting image for millions of fans across America, and around the world. Through his continued competition in winning the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I), running second in the Travers, and scoring a resounding victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland, American Pharoah infused new life, interest and attention into horse racing.
For sparking renewed interest in horse racing and for serving as the finest ambassadors on behalf of the Sport of Kings, American Pharoah and his connections changed the trajectory of American racing in 2015 and will forever last the test of time as a permanent icon of American sport.