American Pharoah and Golden Horn. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you live, you’re likely to have a favourite but few fans of racing will deny that each was a champion in his own right.
American Pharoah had already been named Horse of the Year in his own country just a few days before his owner/breeder, trainer and jockey all flew to London to receive wider acknowledgement when their hero was named Longines World’s Best Racehorse. He topped the World Thoroughbred Rankings on a mark of 134, 6lb shy of Frankel’s best in 2012 when he was crowned world champion for the second time. Golden Horn, Europe’s top galloper, was given a mark of 130.
His loquaciousness at the awards ceremony should be held up as a lesson in communication to all trainers
It was Bob Baffert – his loquaciousness at the awards ceremony should be held up as a lesson in communication to all trainers on this side of the water – who offered up a side of racing not often considered in the public eye. At some stage, every racehorse, whether good, bad or indifferent, will retire. Very few will subsequently reside in the luxurious stallion barns of Coolmore or Darley, as is the case for American Pharoah and Golden Horn, but plenty will be missed when they go by their trainers and the staff who looked after them in their racing days.
The access granted to American Pharoah during his stellar season for both the media and general public alike was unprecedented. With the colt’s stallion career having already been secured by Coolmore before he became the Triple Crown winner, most trainers would have suffered a nervous breakdown at the clamour surrounding such a valuable horse while continuing to try to prepare him for major races which, if won, could only enhance that value.
Not Baffert. His response was to enjoy every minute of the public pandemonium, allowing access to the barn and washdown areas so that fan after fan could gain smartphone footage of the history-making horse. It was only once the furore subsided after American Pharoah’s career-sealing Breeders’ Cup Classic win and subsequent permanent residency in Kentucky that emotion took hold.
Baffert admitted during his first visit to London in January, “There was a little bit of down time. It was sort of sad that he wasn’t around. We were used to having people there every day, coming to see him, so when he left it was like sending your child away to school for the next 20 years. I kept wondering, ‘Is he okay, does he miss us?’ We became so attached to him and there was a lot of emptiness when we got back.”
It’s long been my belief that horses become the best not only through supreme athleticism but also by possessing a temperament which allows that ability to flourish. This certainly appears to have been true for American Pharoah, according to his trainer, who added, “He was such a kind animal – so many people touched that horse, it was incredible. I wanted to share him with people. I was his trainer but also his fan.”
The best – by more than a mile
It’s an admirable stance to take when so much is at stake and Baffert, who had three previous attempts on the Triple Crown with Kentucky Derby/Preakness Stakes winner Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem, gained his just reward by finally claiming the most coveted prize in American racing.
Coolmore, too, now has its own Triple Crown winner having come so agonisingly close to winning the English version in 2012 with Camelot. One of the great deterrents on these shores for connections to set their colts for the Triple Crown is the perceived dent in the stallion value of a St Leger winner, notwithstanding the fact that to achieve that special trio of victories, the colt in question would need the requisite speed and precocity to win a 2,000 Guineas in May.
Camelot’s attempt has apparently done him no harm. The son of Montjeu was one of the busiest Flat stallions in 2015, covering 198 mares at Coolmore, while the 2014 Derby winner, Australia, covered 178. The Blue Riband-winning half-brothers Galileo and Sea The Stars were sent 181 and 159 mares.
There is, however, a noticeable leaning towards the shorter-distance stallions, certainly from more commercial breeders, and when one peruses the foal and yearling sale results, it’s easy to see why. The proliferation of pinhookers hoping to offer sharp-looking yearlings or breeze-up horses means that youngsters whose pedigrees suggest that a more patient approach will be required are often overlooked. But, as outlined in this month’s TBA Leader (page 11), this can be a short-term view.
The Longines awards also included a World’s Best Horserace, judged by average ratings over the last three years. Of the top ten races around the world – in France, America, England, Ireland, Japan and Hong Kong – only one was run at a mile, the rest all being ten- or 12-furlong races, with the inaugural award going to the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
It should follow, then, that in attempting to uphold the old mantra of breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best, mating plans should include some bloodlines with stamina and aspire towards the progressive rather than the flash-in-the-pan.