American Pharoah in Saratoga: Love Him, Yes. Respect Him Enough to Back Off.
And so it begins. American Pharoah Madness began–well, let’s face it–the minute the Kentucky Derby ended on the First Saturday in May. It grew as the warrior horse broke down the walls at the Preakness. It reached fever-pitch on the First Saturday in June, at Belmont Park, when American Pharoah claimed his place in the Pantheon of truly great American Thorougbreds.
On Sunday the 23rd, the nanosecond that Ahmed Zayat gleefully announced that Team Pharoah would be headed to Saratoga for the Travers on August 29th–my own blood pressure rose, from all the psychic energy of thousands of rabid race fans, sending vibes out into the Universe, and zeroing in on Saratoga. The news brought with it both an incredible lightness and joy–and a weight that we haven’t seen played out on this stage since the 1970s.
That weight has two sides: the first, that–if he wins–American Pharoah will be the only other Triple Crown winner, besides Whirlaway, to win both the Triple Crown and the Travers. Whirlaway did so in 1941. The weight of making history back in June–and then of matching history in August–is deep. I don’t know if American Pharoah is aware of the weight of it all, but believe me–it’s uppermost in Bob Baffert’s mind.
The second part of that weight is this: Love can be oppressive. We all love American Pharoah, to varying degrees. I don’t know of a single person in North America who’s said or written, “I hate American Pharoah.” How could anyone dislike such a beautiful, sweet, affable Champion? (I know, it’s easy to detest many human Champions, because humans can be obnoxious. Ego plays a great deal in the myth and hype, the PR and media butt-kissing that takes place in every sport in which humans are the primary athletes.)
But not our horse racing–horses have no ego. It’s not that they’re lacking it–I believe it’s because they’re superior, actually. It’s probably realated to their role as herd animals–we all need each other, to weather the storms in Life. So God and evolution did a great turn to horses: they’re prey animals. They stick together. They have leaders (Alpha Mares), but no egos.
So one of the reasons that we love American Pharoah is precisely that–he’s gorgeous, big, strong, powerful, build like a brick chicken house–and, BTW, he just became the (only) 12th Triple Crown winner in American horse racing history.
And yet…he has no ego. Who could not love THAT?
Oh, what any of us would give to own a horse like him–of owning him, himself. But we don’t–and we won’t–and we can’t–so the best any of us can do is get close to the Champ when he gets to town. For Millennials, American Pharoah’s Belmont Stakes, Haskell and Travers–so far–have provided the first opportunity they’ve ever had to be near a horse of that magnitude. (We Boomers had opps to get close to Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. My friend, Claire, got close to CITATION.) 🙂
So we love him. But as we hurl ourselves, headlong at Warp 7 toward Saturday–just four days hence–I’m compelled to remind you of the concept of crushing Love. Call it, “crushing,” “suffocating” or “oppressive”–it all comes down to the same thing. The weird thing about Love–in all its forms–is that, left unmanaged and unchecked occasionality for Reality–it can turn into obsession, and end up hurting the object of our affection.
We see this kind out-of-whack Love–or, “Love”–all the time, on Facebook. I hate to say this–’cause God knows, I’m a middle-aged woman with a cat–but we see this a lot on the FB profile pages and postings by single, middle-aged women who love animals. (Believe me, this pains me greatly, to indict my own gender and age group.) But, as much as I hate to write this, you know it’s true: look on FB anytime, and within one hour you’ll read something so psycho-hyper-emotional that you wonder if the woman really is a 12-year-old grrl, out of control emotionally.
I am NOT saying here that loving is a bad thing. I love horses. My favorite beings are horses. I love Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Rachel Alexander, Curlin, Alydar, American Pharoah, Manhattan Dan, Shayjolie–my list of beloveds is too long for this forum. I get it. I get Love.
And I cried my guts out when I saw Rachel cross the finish line first in the Woodward, in 2009. But the border between joyous tears and that-which-looks-like-insantity is easily distinguished. Here’s the litmus test:
If you cried when American Pharoah won the Haskell after such an amazing Triple Crown win–you are normal. You are a race fan, regardless of gender. You’re good to go.
But if you cried like a baby when you read someone’s posting on Facebook, that they hope Texas Red beats American Pharoah in the Travers–you need help. Why are you crying over a Facebook posting? Why are you crying at the thought that another horse could beat the Triple Crown winner? Could it be that you stopped growing emotionally at age 12, and that your world is too small?
Loving is a good and wonderful thing. Loving to the point of investing your entire self in anyone–human or horse–indicates serious lack of Self-identity, and need for therapy. Or at least, need for distance between you and the object whom you believe can fulfill you.
American Pharoah is a great horse. A truly magnificent, otherworldly, historically-significant Champion. He’s gorgeous, sweet, quirky, kind and fast as lightning. And he deserves to be loved appropriately, and respectfully.
It’ll be cool if he wins on Saturday, and we all cry.
It’ll be very uncool if, after he arrives in Saratoga–takes up residence–and works out–if the poor horse is so freaked out by the psychic energy of people who “love” him. You may recall that, at Monmouth during a workout, 5,000 fans loved him to the point of losing his mind. He reared up–knocked down his attendant–every instinct in his prey/fight-or-flight thing came roaring to the front.
As beautiful as is American Pharoah–with his own transportation and attendants–he’s still a prey animal. He still has something so deep inside him, something that goes back four million years–that tells him that, when he’s threatened–he should rear up–make himself as BIG as possible–paw at the predators with both front hooves–and be ready to kill, or BE killed.
His instincts are as ancient as The Horse, itself. Without these instinct–there’d BE no Horse.
And remember–horses’ eyes are basically on the sides of their heads (Thoroughbreds, exactly so), because they’re prey. They need to see all around, to see the location of the threat. Humans’ eyes are on the front of our heads. We are predators. Imagine what dear American Pharoah went through when he saw 5,000 sets of predators’ eyes looking at him–AND screaming, at the same time?
Now, I know–and you know–and all those nice people at Monmouth that day love the Champion, and just wanted to see him.
But he didn’t know that.
He’s used to hearing screaming from the RIGHT side of his body–when he’s racing around an oval. He is NOT used to screaming right in his face. And even though 99% of those screamers were saying, “We love you, American Pharoah!!!!!!!!!!!” — to his panicked, prey-animal ears, in that moment I’m sure he just heard very loud, very frightening noise.
So here’s the deal. The reason for this long article. To ask you, as a fan of American Pharoah–to love him enough to give him space. I know that NYRA is working with Ahmed Zayat and Bob Baffert somehow to give opportunities to fans to be within reasonable distance of the great horse.
But the fact that you can doesn’t mean that you should.
All I’m suggesting–and imploring you to really hear me on this–is that you respect the horse at least as much as you say that you love him. Give him space. Don’t scream in his face.
God only knows what this horse is worth, in terms of cash. But as an emotional connection–as a treasured member of the Zayat community–he is a very real member of their family. There’s no way to measure his value in terms of how much he’s loved by those closest to him. I owned the equivalent of an EAR of a Thoroughbred, nine years ago. I still get profoundly sad when I think about the day the partnership sold her. SO I can at least imagine what it feels like, to be the Zayats and see your beautiful American Pharoah being terrorized–albeit, unintentionally–by the very people who claim to love him so much.
Here, for your reading pleasure–to heed or ignore, your choice–are the Rules of Thumb:
* Don’t stalk him. He has enough people taking care of him, whose job it is to protect him, as well. From you, if you’re a stalker.
* Don’t scream at him. You might be surprised, how horses respond to a soft voice and sincere eye contact. If you love him–tell him. Just don’t channel Sam Kinneson when you do it.
* Don’t physically crush on him, if you get the chance to be that close. Wait for an invitation from one of his handlers–as you should with any horse–and offer him your balled-up fist, so he can sniff you and figure out if you’re Friend or Foe.
That’s it, folks. I love American Pharoah–as do you. I want him to have as positive a stay here in Saratoga, as possible. And that positive experience may begin with Bob Baffert and the Zayats, and all his handlers–but it’s you and me–the race fans and media–whose respect for the horse and his space–will tell the real story. Is it Love, or selfish obsession? Get it straight in your head, then move it into your heart, and actions.
(I Corinthians 13 paraphrase: Real love never harms.)
Photo Credit: American Pharoah wins the Belmont Stakes–and therefore, the Triple Crown–on June 6, 2015 — photo by Dan Heary. Thank you, Dan.