Wednesday, October 28, 2015
By Bob Ehalt
It’s a term that has been around in sports for decades.
Breeders’ Cup 2015Yet in horse racing, it came into being nearly five months ago.
It was the morning of June 7, 2015, less than 24 hours after American Pharoah had captured the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
There was speculation that the Zayat Stables superstar would be retired after achieving the ultimate goal in racing. But then owner Ahmed Zayat dismissed all of that conjecture, much to the delight of the horse’s growing legion of fans. He said, “What it’s about now is the fans and that he belongs to history. Myself and my family take this responsibility extremely seriously and I hope we will be worthy. We owe it to the sport to campaign him properly and as often as we possibly can.”
With those words, Thoroughbred racing’s “Grand Slam” was born.
Now the Triple Crown had the perfect season-ending complement to the Triple Crown in a $5 million showdown where the sport’s newest heartthrob would be matched against the world’s best horses in an idyllic bluegrass setting at Keeneland Race Course.
It seemed too good to be true, and in late August, immediately after American Pharoah finished a shocking second to Keen Ice in the Travers, Zayat raised the possibility that he might retire his homebred colt.
But a few weeks later, Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert quelled all of the anxiety by committing to keep American Pharoah in training. The original plan to have him end his career in Hollywood fashion at the Breeders’ Cup — while attempting to achieve a “Grand Slam” —was still in place.
And so on Monday, the first step in American Pharoah’s final steps on a racetrack took place with the post position draw for the 32nd Breeders’ Cup and the first with a “Grand Slam” on the line.
American Pharoah drew post four in a field of 10 and his legacy as a Triple Crown champion did not deter an international collection of formidable Grade 1 winners from turning out to challenge the 6-5 morning-line favorite in an emotionally charged farewell performance that will be televised by NBC (5:35 p.m.).
Beholder (3-1 morning line odds), the 5-year-old mare who demolished males in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, is in post 10.
Metropolitan Handicap and Whitney winner Honor Code (6-1) is in post nine.
Two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup and 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist (6-1) has the rail.
Keen Ice (12-1) will break from post two.
Pennsylvania Derby winner Frosted (15-1), who furiously pushed American Pharoah in the Travers and was the runner-up in the Belmont Stakes, landed post three.
English champion Gleneagles (20-1), in his first race on dirt, has post five.
It’s a bevy of stars, sharing the same track and giving the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic a supreme status.
“It’s a race for the ages,” Zayat said.
And even though his Triple Crown champion hasn’t raced since the Aug. 29 Travers, Zayat believes for one simple reason that his horse will be ready for the challenge of facing his elders for the first time.
“He breathes different air,” Zayat said.
Prior to arriving at Keeneland on Tuesday, Baffert pronounced American Pharoah ready for the greatest challenge of his career after watching the 3-year-old work five furlongs in 59.40 seconds at Santa Anita on Monday.
“His work was very impressive,” Baffert said. “(I’m) very happy with the way he’s coming into the race.”
A horse with a majestic stride who seems to float over a racetrack, American Pharoah figures to take the early lead from post four. The bigger question concerns who will run with him in the mile and a quarter epic. Frosted no doubt learned his lesson in the Travers, where he faded to third. That leaves Smooth Roller (15-1), the Awesome Again winner, and Beholder as the likely suspects.
Beholder is winless (0-for-2) outside of her home base of California and spiked a fever shortly after arriving in Kentucky last week, but has looked like her old self in recent days.
“She’s doing great, even with the little blip in training (the fever) after we got here,” trainer Richard Mandella said about his two-time Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse Award winner. “I’m ready.”
So is her owner, B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm.
“I’m glad we’re here,” he said after watching her work five furlongs in 59.40 seconds at Keeneland on Monday. “I’m very grateful to have a mare like her.”
She’s a mare who, like eight other males, will try to stop something unprecedented from happening on Saturday. Though whether American Pharoah wins or loses, racing will something new after this weekend.
It can finally talk about a “Grand Slam.”
Whether it will have a “Grand Slam” winner is the $5 million question that promises to be answered in a classic showdown.
Here’s the complete field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic by post position order with morning-line odds: 1-Tonalist, 6-1; 2-Keen Ice, 12-1; 3-Frosted, 15-1; 4-American Pharoah, 6-5; 5-Gleneagles, 20-1; 7-Smooth Roller, 15-1; 8-Hard Aces, 50-1; 9-Honor Code, 6-1; 10-Beholder, 3-1.