American Pharoah spent his formative months in my backyard. My boyfriend and I live on the property where he was raised from a young foal to a weanling, although now it is under new ownership. A good friend of mine was the photographer who snapped the foal picture that everyone has shared on Facebook. And another good friend owns the advertising company that does all of the work for Winstar, the farm who stands his sire, the Zayat’s who own him, as well as his trainer, Bob Baffert. I have worked the sales for the man who foaled him – Tom VanMeter, and my boyfriend was an intern for the farm who prepped him for the yearling sales. While the thoroughbred industry may be widespread throughout the world, in the little bubble that I live in in Lexington, KY, the connections to and fondness for AP ran rampant. All of us hold him quite dear to our hearts. He encompasses so much to us, but most importantly he validates the reason we wake up in the morning. To raise strong, solid, well mannered horses with the upmost care, respect, and nutrition and therapy that human and science has to offer. On Saturday, it was evident that this was accomplished.
American Pharoah at 4 months. Photo by Matt Wooley/Equisport Photography
The public calls this the sport of kings, but for so many of us “mere minions” in Lexington, Ocala, or other horse hubs around the world, watching American Pharoah charge down the homestretch meant so much. Our lives are these horses, our days are spent caring for them, raising them, researching them, nurturing them, treating them, and overseeing their every move. These are not the jobs that the public sees, these are not the usual people that get to be in the winner’s circle. We do not fly private jets, we do not travel to exotic places, but the one thing we all have in common is that we love horses. And not just any horses,we love the thoroughbred. The rush that one gets in seeing the most well bred, athletic, and brave creature as they stretch their legs over ground at a speed that seems to break the laws of science, whether it be on a race track or simply in a massive field with their fellow pasture mates, is all that we crave. A breeding farm might move a bit slower than it does on the track, but in Lexington, KY, it is what we know, what we do, who we are. It’s a lot of soothing tones, pats on big bellies, and hands on legs. It is a lot of tractor repair, stall mucking, bandaging, and weed whacking. It is a thankless job; if the praise that you seek is from the voice of a human. Our thanks come in the guttural whinny of a mare when the grain bin rolls down the aisle, the kick of heels as a yearling is turned out into his paddock, and the naive ballsiness of a foal who approaches the fence just to nuzzle your arm before a nip. It is 18+ hour days, 7 days a week, no holidays, no snow days, 365 days a year back breaking work. But for those of us here, in the Horse Capital of the World, Saturday made it worth it.
The next American Pharoah?
This past Saturday, I was screaming at the TV with tears streaming down my face. In a room full of other members of this industry, I looked around to see tears in all eyes – from the toughest of men down to the friends of friends who knew so little about the amount of time, effort, heartbreak, and perseverance that goes into getting one of these horses to the track. We were not at the track, because we were on the farm. The Triple Crown runs during the busiest time of the year for so many in the industry. Holding a Bud Lite instead of Dom Perignon, in a ball cap that read “Medaglia D’Oro” instead of a frilly fascinator, and having to leave the party early just to get to the barn for an evening treatment of antibiotics and a night check on a colicky foal, this is our lives. There might be wealth, jewels, and crowns in The Sport of King’s, but in my little world, it is more like Muck Boots and Carhartt’s. We are the people that encompass 98% of this sport of so-called Kings. But on Saturday evening, we were all crowned.
Many have said, during the last six weeks, that money and greed are what run the racing industry. And this may be true for a very select few, although I have never met someone who will say they got rich off of a racehorse. The rest of us get rich off of the high that comes with seeing a horse that you are personally attached to, no matter how insignificantly, gallop out with ease across the finish line. It comes in seeing a mare you have raised since her own delivery as she welcomes her own first foal. It comes in seeing a yearling that you had treated through an illness or injury finally break his maiden. We acknowledge, just as in any sport, that there is always room for improvement, advancement, and change. So many of us are accepting of this. And it is coming, I hope. Advancements are being made in regulations of race day medications, transparency into the farms that breed these greats, and well as in simple honesty from the race industry out to the public. The rehoming and rehabilitation of these racehorses into second careers has become a priority, one that the farms stand behind and that sport horse disciplines are prospering from. We know that this sport can becomes even greater, but until then, I will take a brief rest on the laurels of finally seeing a true champion. For what the sport of horse racing does, is that it opens the arms of the royal family to mere commoners. It unites us altogether and extend an olive branch to those around us. So thank you American Pharoah. For so much. For letting me witness greatness. For bringing horse racing back into the living rooms of America. And most importantly, for letting everyone who had even the slightest attachment to you feel like a king, even if it was only for a day.
Photo by Mathea Kelley
Excellent article, you captured the essence that keep us all dreaming about these magnificent beings!
ESPN Radio Lex
Love the article, the passion and love of the horse is and should be the engine that drives the industry. Thoroughbreds are not commodities to be thrown away when we are finished with them. As an owner and breeder, I am more often in barn clothes in the stalls ith our mares and foals as I am in dress for the races!
Beautifully written from the heart. Thank you, from all of us who wear muck boots and sport funny tan lines.
Awesome article!! Thanks to all of you who care for these beauties.
Loved the article, well read and though I know nothing of horses other than a few friends who ride, train and compete, I appreciate the work, love and training going on…
thank you for your story, having worked on many farms in ocala, from being a groom, to nightwatch to foaling, you captured what we all feel most of the time.
This is wonderful, Carleigh, thank you for saying what so many of us are feeling. American Pharoah is such a special horse, and the affection for him is from far and wide. No matter what our connection to him or to those who care for him, he has touched us all… Beautiful images!
The above-stated “mere commoners” make the racing world go round…….
That about said it all for us who love horses and horse racing. It’s in our heart and in our blood.
Amazingly well written. As a horse lover and owner myself (although not Thoroughbreds) I appreciate all the hard work that goes into horses and you captured that and more. Your article gave me goose bumps and made me tear up. Thank you.
You’ve captured the passion of most people involved in racing, and you’ve beautifully expressed what motivates them. Thanks for a good read and for your dedication. You’re among the many people who make this a great sport.
Thank you Gary! That means more than you know coming from you!
Thank you for this, I’m another of the commoners, working with the mares and foals. I couldn’t watch the race, because I was at work; I listened to it by myself on the radio in the farm truck. As Larry made that historic call that AP would win the Triple Crown, I hyperventilated, sobbing uncontrollably. Even as the radio broadcast ended, I was still shaking a bit, as I headed back to work, taking care of the next generation of potential racing superstars. I’ve never seen AP in person, but as I drove to the next barn, I looked out at AP’s yearling full sister grazing in her field, and dreamed about who she may become 🙂