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What Was Going Through Your Mind During American Pharoah’s Belmont Stakes? / Wednesday, June 10, 2015

American Pharoah’s Triple Crown victory was monumental. Our team wanted to share with our personal thoughts and emotions about the race we were all so fortunate to see on June 6, 2015.

Tom Bellhouse, West Point Thoroughbreds COO

Over the years, I’ve become a bit of a Belmont Stakes snob. You see my first Belmont Stakes was in 1978. I sat high up on my uncle’s shoulders in the third floor clubhouse and watched Affirmed & Alydar run one of the greatest horse races ever run. As a long time student of the game, the facet that intrigued me the most was the contradiction in racing styles. Affirmed, the tenacious, speedy front runner and Alydar, the closer with a mighty, prolonged turn of foot. So how could two horses with opposite running styles hook up with almost seven furlongs to go, and lay down the epic performance of a lifetime?

Simple….Courage. Jockey Jorge Velasquez on Alydar knew that if he left Affirmed alone on the lead in a five horse field, the race was over. Instead, he did something so amazing (and rarely ever seen in today’s modern racing), he took his star out of his comfort zone and forced the pace. The outcome…He still didn’t win, but the resulting race has lasted the test of time for greatness.

In the ensuing years, many horses have won the Belmont Stakes with modest credentials and average post Belmont careers. Many critics have said The Belmont has gotten obsolete. So you couldn’t help but wonder if the 2015 field would fall into that category.

Fast forward to this past Saturday….while watching the Belmont unfold you can sense no one wants to battle with The Big Dog!!! At first, I’m thinking….are you just going to hand it over The Triple Crown to him without a fight? That is until I see the time of the race. (2:26 and change. )That’s Risen Star/Easy Goer type time….and American Pharoah came home in 24 seconds, a tick faster than Secretariat’s last quarter. Instantly any doubt was erased…..OH MY GOD…..HE DID IT…..OH MY GOD…We’ve just witnessed greatness!!!!


Dawn Lenert, West Point Thoroughbreds CMO

My experience watching American Pharoah win the Triple Crown was very different than most of my teammates. I watched in solitude (gasp) in front of my big screen tv – just me and the only horse that has given my flutters of feelings similar to the horse who catapulted me into this industry, Seattle Slew.

This surely was not the environment I ever pictured when dreaming of the day I would see another Triple Crown winner. In the past, I was determined to be there in person for the “the one”. Over the years I made many trips up interstate 95 with a revolving cast of friends, family, and teammates. Some voyages were round trip in the same day, some included the Long Island Railroad, some were when I was very pregnant, and some were in a professional capacity, but all were valiant attempts to witness history. But each time always ended the same, in disappointment. Until now.

Last Saturday was a normal weekend of a zillion kids sporting events and volunteer commitments in our household, but I did carve out time to watch the race. As I drove home alone from the baseball field, I thought maybe it would be extra special just chilling out with me, “my horse,” and I, just like it was when I was a kid, content to spend my Saturdays in front of the tv watching the Slews, the Alydars and the Affirmeds run in the big races, something my similarly aged peers totally didn’t understand.

Before the horses loaded, NBC aired a shot of owners Penny Chenery (Secretariat) and Sally Hill (Seattle Slew) sitting in a box, on hand to pass the torch if it happened. That is when I started welling up with tears because I wanted this to happen so badly. I just kept repeating aloud, “You can do this buddy” as American Pharoah loaded and during the entire first half of the race.

I think I knew what the outcome was going to be around the first turn. Because I was alone in front of a big screen tv, I could clearly see Pharoah’s ears close up. I could see how easily he was cruising out in front, how patient he was waiting for his cue. I could see for myself that gorgeous gliding stride moving effortlessly into the turn in big-screen high definition. I could appreciate without distraction or craning for a glimpse of horseflesh the magnitude of what was about to happen. I could cheer aloud and shed tears of gratitude the entire stretch run before he crossed the wire. I could relive internally in a wild rush of emotions why I became attracted to horse racing in the first place. I could hear every word the announcer bellowed, including that finally he is “the one.”

No, it wasn’t at all how I thought I’d experience Triple Crown winner number 12. It was better.


Erin Birkenhauer, West Point Thoroughbreds Racing Manager

In a weird, weird sense I was sad when American Pharoah crossed the wire first in the Belmont Stakes and captured America’s Triple Crown. It felt sort of like my wedding day, so much excitement and anticipation, and in a flash it was over. At the same time, I was absolutely elated and proud to be so intimately involved in racing. I was so proud of the horse and couldn’t wipe a smile off my face until he disappeared out of the Belmont Park tunnel on the way back to the barn. I always imagined I would see a Triple Crown winner have to lay his body on the line and be in an all out drive at Belmont Park. I can’t say I imagined a horse hand galloping a mile and a half and winning for fun!

While the Triple Crown is no longer elusive, we know it can be done, and that’s what will drive all of us to continue buying horses and being involved in the Sport of Kings. It’s crazy to think how many horsemen (including our team) walked by American Pharaoh at Saratoga two years ago, and had no stinkin’ clue how much sheer talented the animal possessed. Good horses come from anywhere, we saw that with California Chrome last year. No matter how much analysis you do, or how much experience you have, you just never know. I guess that’s what gets us all out of bed in the mornings, eh?

I applaud Zayat Stables for keeping the horse in training for the rest of this year. I sure hope I get to see him again at Saratoga, because he’s pretty darn awesome to watch.

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