American Pharoah? Really? Please explain.

By Greg

I have to admit that I'm not a Track person.

It makes sense to me how it could be fun for some people -- the time spent relaxing at a beautiful venue, the thrill of placing a successful bet, the majestic animals, the hats. I'm just not one of those people.

Probably as a result of not being a Track person, the recent non-stop hype about the arrival of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah for the (sold-out) Travers this weekend is a little odd to me. It's a horse. I mean, obviously, a special, accomplished horse. But, still... a horse.

So, to get a better sense of the the American Pharoah hype train as it passes through our area (Do I wave? Is that how it works?), I got in touch with my friend Robert Lee -- local sportscaster, voice of Siena Saints basketball, and avid horse racing fan.

American Pharoah. Please explain.

Greg: On a scale of "just another" Travers to "OMGOMGOMG!!!!!!" Travers, where does this weekend's race rank?

Robert: I would say closer to OMGX3 than "just another." I've lived here 15 years and been to the Travers most of those years and I can't ever remember this much excitement over the race

Greg: So, is it that American (double check incorrect spelling) Pharoah is the first Triple Crown winner in a long time, or is it something more than that?

Robert: It's almost entirely American Pharoah.

The irony is that the race itself will probably not be very interesting. It's almost a certainty that he will win and win easily. It's just been so long since a horse won the Triple Crown and for that horse to come to the biggest race at the best spot for racing in the world, it's a pretty big deal.

The Travers over the last 10 years has really lacked star power, many of the "name" horses from the Triple Crown [races] have not run at Saratoga for one reason or another. This star power is unmatched in my lifetime.

Greg: One of things about all this that kind of confuses is me that this horse seems to have fans (Pharoahites...). You know, it's not just, hey, wow, this is a really remarkable horse and we want to see it run. It's like the horse has charisma or something.

Can a race horse have charisma?

Robert: He definitely has a legion of fans. I suppose a horse may have charisma. By all accounts, he's a very gentle and agreeable horse (many thoroughbreds are somewhat tough to be around, they can be very wound-up and nasty). People are drawn to his success first and foremost, and everyone loves a winner.

Greg: Did you happen to see the local media reaction to his arrival in the Capital Region Wednesday afternoon?

Robert: I did, it's a bit over the top, although I'm not sure that's exclusive to horse racing or sports these days.

Greg: Local media Twitter was, collectively, sort of embarrassing. Like I can't be sure someone didn't pass out.

Robert: I'm not sure how many pictures of the horse getting a bath or stepping off a plane we really need. He got treated like he was the President or the Pope. It's a shame he couldn't address the crowd.

He got treated like he was the President or the Pope. It's a shame he couldn't address the crowd.

Greg: You know, if he was a Triple Crown winner AND a talking horse, I could understand all the excitement.

Robert: I'd just want him to tell me how he was going to run that day.

Greg: Right. The race. That's why he's here. You mentioned before that he's almost sure to win. Why?

Robert: First of all, he is a great horse. Everyone loves to immediately brand everything the "greatest this" or "best that" right away nowadays. But he is a great horse, particularly because of his durability. He has had a very demanding schedule over the last 4-5 months and hasn't missed a beat when many horses get injured or need a break. So that to me is his most impressive trait, his sturdiness and ability to keep churning out strong performances.

As for the Travers, the field doesn't look particularly strong, honestly. It's almost entirely horses he's beaten soundly already or horses that look like hopeless longshots.

Greg: So why doesn't someone step up with another formidable horse in order to be the one to knock off the Triple Crown winner?

Robert: Good question. The Travers is restricted to 3-year-olds and American Pharoah has beaten pretty much every top 3-year-old in training at some point this year. The one exception is Texas Red, who is running Saturday and lost to Pharoah last year, but not yet this year. He is considered one of the more likely upsetters.

So there's really nothing left to prove against his peers (3-year-olds). All that's left is to beat older horses, which is always challenging. Older, more mature horses are often faster than 3-year-olds. Pharoah probably will not face older horses until his final career race, the Breeders' Cup Classic in late October.

That being said, Saratoga has a well-deserved reputation as the "Graveyard of Favorites." Some of the greatest horses in the sport's history have lost to unheralded longshots at Saratoga. If the big horse loses Saturday, you'll be able to hear a pin drop.

[We interrupt this chat for a brief history flashback. As Robert mentioned, the Saratoga Race Course has a reputation for being the place where champions and favorites lose, and the roots of this rep stretch way back. In 1919, the vaunted horse Man o' War was favored to win the Sanford Stakes -- but, after a bad start, lost to a horse named "Upset." It was Man o' War's only career loss. (There's a story that the race is how the term "upset" came to be used in sports, though that's probably a myth.) The famed Secretariat, a Triple Crown winner, lost at Saratoga. Another Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox, also lost at Saratoga in the Travers -- to a horse named Jim Dandy, who has a race at Saratoga named after him. ]

People will be devastated if he loses (unless you bet on the horse he loses to, and even then...). As you said, the horse has a pretty strong following. I think more people want to be able to tell their kids, grandkids, whoever, "I saw the Triple Crown winner in his full glory crushing the field" rather than "some horse you'll probably never hear from again beat the Triple Crown winner."

Greg: Will people be disappointed? Or will it be something along the lines of "I was there when the champ got beat?"

Robert: People will be devastated if he loses (unless you bet on the horse he loses to, and even then...). As you said, the horse has a pretty strong following. I think more people want to be able to tell their kids, grandkids, whoever, "I saw the Triple Crown winner in his full glory crushing the field" rather than "some horse you'll probably never hear from again beat the Triple Crown winner."

Greg: If he wins, do they build a statue of him or something?

Robert: Haha, that's an honor reserved for the best of the best. I'm not sure. An interesting question has been raised: Many tracks name big races for famous horses who have run at their track at some point. Will there be a race to name a race for American Pharoah? He has run at seven tracks I believe, and they may be falling over themselves to name a race after him first.

Greg: Up thread you mentioned that Saratoga is the best place for racing. Is that a full-on homer statement, or is it the truth?

Robert: That's the truth. From the quality of racing to the sheer dollars involved to the amount of attention and fan support Saratoga gets, it's widely acknowledged as the pinnacle of the sport.

Greg: OK, bottom line: Are you betting American Pharoah to win Saturday?

Robert: Haha, that is the $64,000 question isn't it? Most likely not, and here's the reason. I do think he's going to win but as a public service announcement to racing newbies, please listen to me.

The horse will likely go off at odds of 1-5 or 1-9. Essentially if he wins, you will receive somewhere between $2.10 to $2.40 for every $2 you bet on him to win. HOWEVER, if you bet him to show (has to finish in top 3), you will win $2.10 for every $2 you bet. So please, if you want to have a commemorative ticket on him to win to have as a keepsake, please only bet $2 on him to win and bet the rest of your money on him to show. Do not under any circumstance bet a substantial amount of money on him to win. The risk vs. reward compared to betting him to show is just not worth it.

Greg: Last thing: What's your plan for Travers Day? How are you taking in the race?

Robert: Well, I'll be in the backyard with about 40,000 other people. I'll try to carve out a spot where I can actually see the race about 20-30 minutes before the Travers. In order to get a reasonable amount of space in the backyard, I'm planning on arriving by 9 am at the latest. The first race is at 11:45 and the Travers goes off at 5:45. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

We talked via chat. The log has been lightly edited.

Earlier on AOA::
+ As Tom Durkin arrives at the top of the stretch, five of his greatest calls (2014)
+ Wegmans? Really? Please explain.


So, you are not a track person, but you decide to take cheap shots at horse racing people because......

Can we cut the sarcasm please. As a neutral reader, I feel for Robert Lee having to deal with this douchebag of an interviewer.

Oh, lighten up Jim.

Great interview/conversation. It really broadened my perspective on horse-racing. I'm not into horse-racing or sports-betting at all, but I can appreciate the spectacle of the event and have gone to the track multiple times just to enjoy that atmosphere with friends and family. I'm very much looking forward to reading a recap of the event on Monday morning.

Hey Jim, what do flamboyant horses eat? Haaayyyyy!!!!!

The hoopla about American Pharoah coming to Saratoga is so over-the-top, you would think he was dragging a Wegmans behind him.

I thought the coverage was over the top -- but then I started thinking about Seabiscuit, who during his heyday (hay day?) was a genuine celebrity.

Look, this is a small town and it doesn't take much for the gee-whiz thing to kick in. Add to the mix an over saturation of news organizations -- who now are addicted to social media -- and you get something that quickly starts feeling unbearable.

So, here's to American Pharoah. I hope we won't find out later that you were on steroids or abusing people or deflating footballs.

In this age when so many can't get through a single day without a Kardashian fix or being enthralled by the Donald, I think excitement about a horse is pretty healthy!

BTW @Rob I saw an extended video a week or so ago following American Pharoah from Belmont back to his home and the crowds everywhere were large, so it's not just because "this is a small town." For those who think it is over the top I suggest just letting everyone have their next week we'll all be on to some other flavor of the day.

This morning you can't park or get into a breakfast place (Compton's or Triangle Diner) anywhere in Saratoga. People are having their pictures taken with signboards picturing the nag. Crazy times, but good for business.

As a Saratoga resident, I'm happy to see the Race Course having such a good season and it's great to go out with a bang. It's also great that the late Labor Day gives us an extra week. I'm planning to make my first serious visit next Wednesday or Thursday, when the crowds will be gone.

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.


Recently on All Over Albany

Thank you!

When we started AOA a decade ago we had no idea what was going to happen. And it turned out better than we could have... (more)

Let's stay in touch

This all feels like the last day of camp or something. And we're going to miss you all so much. But we'd like to stay... (more)

A few things I think about this place

Working on AOA over the past decade has been a life-changing experience for me and it's shaped the way I think about so many things.... (more)

Albany tightened its rules for shoveling snowy sidewalks last winter -- so how'd that work out?

If winter ever gets its act together and drops more snow on us, there will be sidewalks to shovel. And shortly after that, Albany will... (more)

Tea with Jack McEneny

Last week we were fortunate enough to spend a few minutes with Jack McEneny -- former state Assemblyman, unofficial Albany historian, and genuinely nice guy.... (more)

Recent Comments

My three year old son absolutely loving riding the train around Huck Finn's (Hoffman's) Playland this summer.

Thank you!

...has 27 comments, most recently from Ashley

Let's stay in touch

...has 4 comments, most recently from mg

A look inside 2 Judson Street

...has 3 comments, most recently from Diane (Agans) Boyle

Everything changes: Alicia Lea

...has 2 comments, most recently from Chaz Boyark

A few things I think about this place

...has 13 comments, most recently from Katherine