In all major sports, there is a clear champion every single year. That is not the case in horse racing. We will have a horse of the year. We will have a Breeders' Cup Champion. We will have a Pegasus Cup Champion. But we won't always have a Triple Crown Champion. In fact, we have only had thirteen of them in a history that spans a century and a half. When you think about it, that's incredible. To win the Triple Crown you have to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes all in a five week period. That is incredibly taxing for a two year old horse. That's why before American Pharoah won there was a thirty seven year drought. Many wondered whether horses today were capable of completing the feat. People were clamoring for rule changes.
I'm often asked how I got interested in gambling. The answer is my Dad. I remember going to the racetrack as a kid with him and him teaching me how to read a racing form. I remember him telling me to pick a horse at Belmont and he would make a bet on the horse for me. I remember the exhilaration of watching the race thinking I'd win so much money, when in reality it was a few bucks. Those moments always stay with me. I'm a Bills fan because my Dad bet the Bills in four Super Bowls, proclaiming they were the only team "that actually played in New York". But horse racing is always what I remember. It was our thing. He loved it and so did I from a young age.
I remember watching all the horses that came close to winning a Triple Crown. I remember Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones and Big Brown. I remember watching all of them with my Dad and watching all of them fail to win the Belmont. They all failed the "Test of the Champion". I remember him telling me what it was like watching Secretariat roar down the home stretch at Belmont Park and the jubilation that ensued. I craved it.I wanted nothing more than to share in that moment and that feeling.
Then came American Pharoah. He won the Kentucky Derby as a favorite and went on to Pimlico. There in the slop, he took the Preakness and went on to Belmont, where so many had failed before him. I remember I was in Washington. D.C. for a vacation with my ex-wife and my Dad happened to be with us for that day. As the Belmont started we all watched the race and I'll never forget where I was or who I was with as American Pharoah kicked away in the stretch to become the twelfth Triple Crown winner. It's a moment that is indelibly etched in my mind. Watching American Pharoah break that thirty seven year drought with my father is a moment I will never forget. It's a memory I will always cherish and it is why whenever anyone asks me my favorite horse, the answer will always be American Pharoah.
I was lucky enough to witness Justify win the Triple Crown a few years later with my Dad at Belmont Park. It was thrilling. It was awesome. But it also wasn't the same as Pharoah. He was one of a kind. To that end, I'd ask you to take ten minutes and watch the video below. Feel the emotion in the call of each race. Hear the crowd. Watch the horse. He's an incredible athlete and also a wildly gentle thoroughbred. Horse racing is a great sport that welcomes everyone, and by the way, its still running and can be bet on. This weekend coming up would be our Kentucky Derby weekend, but in these strange times the Derby is absent. Instead we get to two legs of the Arkansas Derby. Don't fret over that, though. We still get great racing with great horses. Enjoy it. Watch it and make some memories.