If American Pharoah Wins It's a Disservice to Everyone to Shut Him Down

Triple Crown time usually brings story time. Often times it's about a trainers past, or an owner. Sometimes it's about the horse. A lot of times it's a whole lot of nothing. This time, a narrative is surfacing that I feel is actually a pretty important conversation to have. It's about the history of the game and what makes a great horse.

Today in the Beachwood Reporter, (h/t to Crunk on twitter) Tom Chambers cuts to the chase.

"The once-defeated colt's future has already been romance-arranged with the sale of his breeding rights to Coolmore Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky. Check your emotional investment at the door. Resist the hype run-up to the June 6 Test of Champions. When his connections announce a minor injury and retire him "for the good of the horse," you'll be left disappointed, at the very least, without answers."

The background to such an opinion is not new. It goes a little something like this.

In general terms (I have no idea what the AP deal is): The horse is worth $20 million, and already bought and paid for at that price. If he wins a Triple Crown, the price goes up, everyone makes a little more money as he is syndicated for more. If he races in the fall, races poorly, or gets exposed as not as good as advertised, it costs investors money. So, it's best to call it a day.

The above is the exact reason there was so much breeder and big horse buyer (flipper?) disdain for the Gural Rule in harness racing, where horses had to race at four, then be retired. Virtually 98% of the industry loved the rule, the minority who did business like this hated it. The result? The 2% won and the rule was changed. 

This is much more than just 'it's my horse I can do what I want with it' arguments. It's about the history of the game and the game itself.

Winning a Triple Crown comes with immediate accolades. "Best horse ever", "great horse", "coulda hung with Big Red I bet". Those are cash register memes. As Tom Chambers points out, these narratives can survive the test of time in some quarters with immediate retirement, when no one has the slightest idea if they're true.  It's impossible to prove the unprovable.

Chambers: "If he wins it and captures the Triple Crown, which is against the odds, nice, but his greatness will always be questioned. No epic rivalries, no Saratoga, no Breeders' Cup." he writes.

I am not in the slightest convinced that if American Pharoah wins the Triple Crown he will be shut down with a mysterious ailment. Curlin raced for a year worth much more than American Pharoah apparently sold for, California Chrome is happily plying his trade and he was worth a lot of money, and on and on.

If most who are predicting this are correct and they do rush to retire American Pharoah, however, they will have done fans and industry historians a great disservice. But perhaps most of all the horse itself is not being served. American Pharoah looks like a fine horse, a horse that might be great, a horse that comes around very infrequently, a horse who could do great things. "For the good of the horse," let him prove it.

Enjoy your Wednesday everyone.


Ron said...

If American Pharoah was trained by anyone else, I'd make him 2-1to win the Belmont, but since he's trained by Bob Baffert, I'd say 1/2 is fair value. Even in his past defeats his horses fired their best shots. If AP fires his best he wins by about 8, a good race wins by 3. Only an average race gets beat against this field.

Abby said...

I dunno about Curlin, maybe his owner was just a sportsman, but isn't California Chrome of pretty unfashionable breeding? And a bit crooked to boot? I thought that was why they ran him again this year to try to make him marketable enough.

I can't help but think it's a foregone conclusion AP'll retire within 3 more races, TC win or not. Even if the horse is totally healthy and everything goes perfectly, you're talking about Belmont, prep race, Breeder's Cup. That's it, boom, done, send him to the stud barn. And, of course, ship him sooner if he gets so much as a stone bruise.

Hard to get excited about that (which I understand is your point).

Anonymous said...

It's a breeders' job to invest early now then do their best to pull the wool over eyes. The worst part is everyone complains that the breed is too britte, but are advocates of the new way of syndication, which does not reward excellence and longevity in the gene pool.


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