American Pharaoh

by Steve Lancaster6/7/15

There was a horse race today, most of you may have heard of it, and many of you watched it. American Pharaoh completed the third race of the racing Triple Crown with his impressive win in the Belmont. His owner, trainer and jockey will take justifiable kudos for their evaluation of his talent, training and placement in the three races. Bettors all over the world will collect their winnings and say, “ I knew he was the one to break a 38 year streak”.

American Pharaoh joins an elite group of the finest athletes of American sports from Sir Barton in 1919 to today only 13 of the greatest have won the Triple Crown. It was eleven years from Sir Barton to the next winner, Gallant Fox in 1930 then through the 30s and 40s Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation and then a 25-year gap to Secretariat, in my opinion the greatest athlete of the 20th century. More great horses followed in the 70s Seattle Slew, Affirmed anyone who has memory cannot forget the racing rivalry of Affirmed and Alydar.

Today there is a new horse at the top of horse racing. We should be grateful for we have been witness to something special. All of the trappings of racing, the fans, bettors, touts, hangers on, trainers, owners, and jockeys are irrelevant even the Triple Crown for it is the horses that make this a singular example of life well lived.

I suppose at some level the horses know the excitement, even the thrill of the race, but at its basic level they are doing what they are bred to do, run. Run with the wind in their face, the crowd. The noise the acclaim of horsemen all over the world is nothing to the horses even those who finish last. Tonight American Pharaoh will return to his stall knowing only that it is clean and he has a good meal of oats. The glory of the moment is at best peripheral to his understanding. He does, I believe, know that he got to do what he loves to do, what he was born to do. How many of us can sleep tonight with the same knowledge?

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31 Responses to American Pharaoh

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I read the subject line of your email and thought, “Oh, god, not another article about how Obama thinks he’s king.” (And he does indeed often act like it.)

    But American Pharaoh is a horse? There was a horse race? Another Triple Crown winner? Wow. This is the first I’ve heard of it, although I did hear someone mention the Belmont on Friday and whether or not some horse was up to the task. But I’ve basically tuned out most of our culture, at least that which comes via the idiot box.

    So a sincere thanks on a thoughtful update on this major achievement. As to whether or not the horses understand their acclaim, well, surely not as we understand it. But I’ve been told, and have read, that horses are extremely aware of their pecking order amongst other horses. They know without a doubt who the winners and losers are.

    In that respect, let’s give them a hand. These are not Cultural Marxist horses where everyone gets a gold star for just participating.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    As a resident of Louisville, I naturally am well aware of the Thoroughbred Triple Crown (there are other horse-racing triple crowns, as Lisa Major has pointed out often). It was nice seeing it happen again after all these years. (Of course, I also recall that one horse who — due to a leg injury during the race — failed to complete the triple crown was Tim Tam, who nevertheless came in second in the Belmont despite the injury.)

    Referring to these horses as athletes reminds me of a book I read on the New York Giants of John McGraw and Christy Mathewson. The author noted that Mathewson was one of the most famous athletes of that day — his closest rival being Dan Patch, a trotter (I think). Until then, I hadn’t realized that the reference to him in The Music Man was a reference to a real hose.

    Addendum: According to wikipedia, Dan Patch was a pacer, though Professor Harold Hill referred to him implicitly as a trotter.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Secretariat, in my opinion the greatest athlete of the 20th century.

    I said almost the same thing to my wife yesterday after watching American Pharaoh win the race. I will never forget watching Secretariat win the Belmont by over 30 lengths. It is still the most exciting and most impressive single achievement in sports that I have ever seen. With each gallop he ate up the track like a machine.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Secretariat was a hell of a horse. But he couldn’t do it by himself. It’s a team sport. He had a trainer and a jockey. But I’ll not quibble over whether or not he was an athlete. Clearly he was a non-human athlete at the very least (as was Dennis Rodman).

      The greatest? Well, he belongs on a list of the top 100. Just a few greats off the top of my head who excelled, did it for a long time, and re-wrote the definition of what was possible in the sport. That’s not going to be a long list. In no particular order:

      1) Babe Ruth
      2) Wayne Gretzky
      3) Wilt Chamberlain/Michael Jordan (either/or)
      4) Caitlyn Jenner (hardy har-har)
      5) Jack Nicklaus
      6) Joe Montana
      7) Pele
      8) Ted Williams

      • Timothy Lane says:

        No doubt some good choices, though how many were great athletes rather than practitioners of their sport is a good question. (I doubt the Babe would qualify, for example. Willie Mays, Joe Dimaggio, and Mickey Mantle were probably greater athletes than Ruth or Williams.) And don’t forget old Dan Patch, holder of all the pacing records when he retired.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Ruth used to be a hell of a pitcher (athlete). If the definition of “athlete” is physique and all-around talent, that’s another category. Wayne Gretzky (who was gifted in baseball as well) and Tom Glavine (hockey) were (are) your prototypical “athlete.” Surely there are others, and lots of them. But history has no equivalent to what Babe Ruth did. Gretzky comes close.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Ruth was an excellent pitcher, who was converted to an outfielder because his hitting was even more valuable. Whitey Ford broke his record for consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series in 2961. He was also a very aggressive baserunner (he ended the 1926 Series by getting rhrown out trying to steal), but I’m not sure how good he was that way.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Ruth used to be a hell of a pitcher (athlete).

            I would have listed Ruth just after Secretariat. I suppose there are various ways to define “athlete”, but I prefer to believe a person has to take part in some sort of sport to be considered an athlete. And I believe talent and achievement in one’s chosen sport are to be given weight in the definition of “athlete.” That being said, I think there is no doubt that the Babe was a great athlete. Actually, I think he was probably even better than we think, because the guy did not take care of himself. He drank a lot, ate a lot, smoked and chased women. Can you imagine how he might have played had he followed the regimen of today’s athletes?

            • Timothy Lane says:

              You could say the same of Mantle, of course. Leavitt’s biography suggests that he was unable to adjust to the loss of his father, who had provided him with the discipline in his life.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                While I think Ruth actually was a better player, I think Mantle was possibly the most gifted player of all time. Of course, although he was a great player, he left a whole lot on the table. One can’t forget his drinking did finally get him.

                I may be a little biased as I met Mantle as a boy and he was a very nice man. I may tell the story someday.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Oooh, that’s neat. I started rooting for the Yankees in 1960, so Mantle was, if not my favorite player, certainly near the top of the list. (Ford was certainly up there too.)

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan are another pair of all-around athletes.

              Who knows with Babe Ruth? Yeah, he drank, chased women, and liked his hotdogs. Maybe that was his training regimen. I’d love to see him hit today with our dinky ball parks, lower pitching mound, every ball hard, true, and perfect (they used to use balls until they were lost or burst the seams…mushy ones didn’t go as far, and imperfect balls were less predictable), thinner pitching, etc. It’s conceivable they would have never gotten him out.

              Although generally not considered quite as athletic of a sport, Richard Petty is another guy who re-wrote the book on what was possible. For a time, he was as completely dominant as any one person could be in a competitive sport.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The balls were mostly hard by the time Ruth showed up, but were still usually rather dirty because they were rarely replaced. This changed after Ray Chapman was killed by a head shot from Carl Mays (it bounced back from hitting his head so hard that the third baseman fielded it and threw to first). Bill James has suggested that the “lively ball” era was actually the clean ball era. Note that Ruth had already hit 54 home runs in 1920, the year Chapman was killed, after hitting 29 the year before. (The difference partly represented the difference in parks between Fenway and the Polo Grounds, and partly the fact that the teams resumed a normal schedule in 1920.)

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I heard Ted Williams say he could see the stitching on the ball as it came at him from the pitcher. To have such eyes and then hand-eye coordination must have been wonderful.

        Also, one must never forget he lost several of his prime playing years by serving his country as a pilot in war.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          The best anecdote (whether apocryphal or not, I do not know) in all of sports is the one told about Ted Williams that I love repeating:

          Ted Williams would sometimes anger his teammates (and fans) because he wouldn’t swing at a ball out of the strike zone — even when what the team really needed at the moment was just to advance a runner.

          Well, a rookie catcher, with Ted Williams at the plate, was complaining to the umpire about his call of balls-and-strikes. The umpire says something like, “Don’t worry, sonny. Mr. Williams will let you know if it’s a ball.” And that meant that if he didn’t swing at it, it was a ball. And that’s not all that far from the truth from what I understand. There are reasons to praise a great number of hitters who were prolific hitters and could produce hits in the clutch. But if, say, your very life depended upon some batter getting a hit, my choice would be Ted Williams. I don’t think there is a close second. Ty Cobb? Yes, perhaps. And a few others. But Williams was something special.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        This should give you some idea of what Secretariat did. I watched the race live, by myself, and had pretty much the same experience Jack Nicklaus said he had. I didn’t weep, but I was stunned into awe.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Lisa Major once pointed out that one of the greatest times on the Kentucky Derby — I think it may have been the second-best of the past century — went to the hard-luck horse that came in second against Secretariat.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Yes, I think must be something like the pain John Adams must have felt being in the shadow of George Washington.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Mark Messier in the shadow of Wayne Gretzky. Scotty Pippin in the shadow of Michael Jordan. Mary Ann in the shadow of Ginger, although some might disagree.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                Funny, there was a Matt Helm movie on last night with Ginger in it. She was blown up by a bottle of Scotch. Since she had to play second fiddle to Sharon Tate it was probably just as well. Ah,the vicissitudes of life.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I preferred Mary Ann myself.

  4. Anniel says:

    I said I had watched the race to a friend and got treated to a diatribe about how horribly race horses are treated, whipped, drugged, etc. She would not listen to anything good about racing, everything was terrible. I could only sigh and remember when my son attended a linguistics conference in Louisville. The big entertainment get together the last night of the conference was to be held outdoors at a Thoroughbred Racing Facility. It began pouring rain and he said they went into the “barn.” I, used to real “barns”, thought how dismal and my son cracked up. He described the palatial set up, complete with air conditioning, that the horses lived in. He said people should have it so good. I gather that everyone loved the set-up and had a great time. With the millions of dollars for stud fees alone, why would anyone mistreat such horses?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I think that attitude is a common refrain amongst those who have been indoctrinated in environmental wacko-ism and other aspects of anti-humanism. There is this romantic and naive notion that horses, as with dogs, are mere captives — slaves, even — of human beings. If only they could run free.

      Well, there’s something to be said for the majesty of the wolf or the wild horse. They are incredible creatures. But life in the wild is brutally harsh. A horse who steps into a hole and injures his leg will slowly starve to death…if the wolves don’t get him first.

      As you noted regarding the racing horses (which the wacko “animal rights” kooks think are being abused), they live in first-class comfort. And they love to race. They’re doing what they’re bred to do and what comes naturally. It’s a win-win situation.

      Think about how well dogs have it compared to their wolf brothers. True, they are somewhat captive of humans and dependent upon them. But that would be a simplistic “secular” (the two often go together) way of viewing things. There is companionship on both sides. These Darwinists and other nuts hale the various symbiotic relationships in nature. But as far as humans are concerned, there is a large faction of these nuts who see humans only ever as exploiters.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    While I think Ruth actually was a better player, I think Mantle was possibly the most gifted player of all time.

    It’s difficult to choose between Mantle and, say, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig as to who is the 2nd greatest Yankee. 😀 (I choose Gehrig.)

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Character can be important. This is why one baseball study made a case for Honus Wagner as the greatest ever. Note that even though he’s considered a great shortstop, he played several years before once playing the position. They put him wherever they needed someone.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        made a case for Honus Wagner as the greatest ever

        I’ve heard this as well. He was apparently a great all-rounder.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I wouldn’t say you are wrong.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        They’re doing 4 players to represent each team for the All-Star Game. Of course, most teams have some difficult choices, but the Yankees are certainly one of the toughest. Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, and Mantle are obvious. But what about Yogi Berra (a favorite of my mother), who inspired a still-famous cartoon character? Whitey Ford (Bob Uecker “pretended” to be him on one of his beer commercials)? Graig Nettles? And the great recent players, such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera?

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The balls were mostly hard by the time Ruth showed up, but were still usually rather dirty because they were rarely replaced.

    Thanks for the info. There’s a good Wiki article on the dead-ball era. From reading that, it sounds as if there were advantages to the dead ball (but certainly not in terms of hitting home runs). The livelier, cork-centered ball of 1909 increased runs and batting averages. But it says the pitchers promptly took back control via scuffing or altering the ball in several ways which made it move.

    Of course, spitballs are not allowed anymore. And given how well Ruth hit in generally less hitter-friendly times, it’s hard to know what he’d do today. And put him on steroids instead of hot dogs and beer and 150 home runs in a season might not have been out of reach for him.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Banning spitballs was part of the clean-ball change, though initially a number of pitchers who relied on it were grandfathered in. (One such pitcher, Eddie Cicotte, didn’t need to be because he was banned from the game as one of the Black Sox.) The last legal spitball was thrown by Burleigh Grimes, around 1930. Of course, there have been plenty of illegal ones since then. Rumor has it that Gaylord Perry once sent Don Sutton a tube of vaseline and received a piece of sandpaper back.

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