Been a Long Time Between Drinks

I was sitting at the dinner table for a “state-of-the-union” chat with my son. We talked about football, girls, grades, and how much he’s looking forward to high school. But as we did dishes together, and the talk turned to workman quiet. I thought about the huge task for teenagers to make the biggest decisions of their life. He was not old enough to drive, but he was being asked to start choosing his path in life. We’ve all been this route, but for some reason it means more now. Maybe it’s the years, or the passage of time. I feel asleep that night in a peaceful state. I started thinking back to my big decisions, and what awaits him down the road. I was standing on the backside watching three-year-old runners work in the morning. Beautiful time of day when the sun creeps up over the mountains, and a pinkish-blue hue looks painted in the sky. The horses coming and going, steamy sweat rising off the runners as they receive a bath in the cool morning air. – I was at peace.

 

Decisions come in many forms. The ones where we check yes or no; the harder ones where we put thought into action, and then of course the ones that define your life. My son got me thinking about the Triple Crown. He knows my love of racing, as I keep him a gentle spectator who gets to make a few place bets a couple times a year. This year has been something special. Hell, they’re all special, but this one has some extra sparkle. As I look back over the past year and think back to who did what and when. I think no matter the outcome, 2015 will stand out for this horse player.

 

The Triple Crown is the unicorn of racing. Hard to find and elusive to catch. Just when you think you’ll see the next one, the Racing Gods send a message loud and clear that “long is the road, and narrow the way.” There have been eleven Triple Crown winners, 24 Derby-Preakness doubles, and 24 others who have won two of the three legs. We ask these young runners to do the greatest test of their lives when they are least prepared. It is  near impossible to win the Derby then have two weeks off and ship to Baltimore to run at Pimlico, and then it’s three more weeks and you’ll be tested at a distance of 1 1/2 at Belmont Park. Most runners will never see this distance again unless they are purchased by the European stables for breeding. Just like the teenagers in my son’s class, we ask them to plan and produce at a time when life is changing and becoming more demanding.

 

I’ve been taken with Ahmed Zayat this year. He and his operation seemed more interested in giving a Triple Crown winner to the sport and loyal fans. He’ll probably be retired at the end of this season, according to Zayat in a Blood Horse.com interview. On June 6th, American Pharoah, the champion 2-year-old male of 2014 and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Xpressbet.com Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner. He would become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 with a win in the June 6 Belmont Stakes. – Mr. Zayat has reached an agreement to sell American Pharoah’s breeding rights. On Wednesday, he posted a note on Twitter that the deal was with Coolmore/Ashford. Additionally, Zayat said, “Once he retires, I will stay in as a partner. I have always kept a minimum of a leg in a horse. I have kept as high as 75 percent, as I did with Pioneer of the Nile, or as little as 25 percent with Eskendereya.”

Zayat did not disclose the amount but confirmed that “incentives” or “kickers” would come into play and increase the price if American Pharoah were to complete the Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont Stakes, and subsequently win additional Grade 1 races like the Haskell, Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic, or be voted Horse of the Year. Management of the horse’s career remains in his hands until the end of his 3-year-old campaign, said Zayat, at which time he and the buyers of the breeding rights will make a collective decision, along with trainer Bob Baffert. He said it was “unlikely” American Pharoah would race in 2016, according to an article in the Paulick Report.

 

There are plenty of obstacles on the Triple Crown road, and a man named Todd Pletcher is not going away quietly. Thoroughbred racing is a gauntlet of sorts, and the top-name outfits love to play the role of the spoiler as in all sports. I was first upset hearing about the breeding rights sale, and the superstitious bug started to bite. I guess I felt in my heart his name was to be etched into the pantheon of greats, and didn’t want any added pressure. Then I remembered the teenager saga of being asked to do the unthinkable when they were least prepared. But when hard work and preparation come together, the greatest of things are possible. I enjoyed watching the Derby even though Mubtaahij finished 8th along the rail. When the rain came so quickly in the Preakness, the track crew didn’t have enough time to get that proper seal on the surface and the rail became a quagmire. He overcame the big field and post position in Louisville, the three inches of water on top of the sloppy track in Baltimore. American Pharoah now faces the sweeping turns of “Big Sandy” complete with fresh leg runners. I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon, or stand in the “I told you so” lines. But there is something in the air this year. Barring any unforeseen injuries or sickness, this guy is flat out the real deal. I could tell you countless stories, and tell the tales of a thousand what-if’s. – I think we’ll just sit back and take it all in. Hard telling when we’ll be this way again.

 

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