America, and the world, are in the process of falling for American Pharoah, in the early, heady stages of the affair. There is one way to cement that infatuation, to turn infatutaion into devotion and to let the horse truly do his part to restore thoroughbred racing to the hearts of the people.
Let him run. And then we will happily visit with him when he is done.
Secretariat, the most illustrious horse of our era, ran in six races after he scorched the Belmont dirt to win the Triple Crown by 31 lengths and post a record time that still stands. Fans saw Big Red win, post Triple Crown, in Chicago and in Canada and twice more at Belmont. They also saw him lose in Saratoga and at the New York track where he had driven into history.
And once he was put out to stud at the end of his three-year-old season, fans were still able to come and see him at Kentucky's Claiborne Farms, where he sired horses and held court until he died at the age of 19.
Even today, the curious and the enamored come to Claiborne to take guided tours of the fields and barns where he once roamed, and to see his grave.
It's not unusual for horses to retire to stud immediately after a huge victory these days, and the financial rewards for doing so are tempting. But owner Ahmed Zayat seems to be leaning toward racing the three-year-old again, and he certainly has the freedom to do so. He's already closed a syndication deal for American Pharoah that allows him to control the horse's racing schedule until retirement from the ovals. There is always a risk that America's new equine darling could be hurt in further forays onto the track, but that can be insured against. What can't be insured against is the possibility that racing won't enjoy as much of a moment in the sun as it deserves if this horse stops running.
The path to the next starting gate is wide open. It's probably too much to ask that American Pharoah race beyond his three-year-old campaign, but a nice, long run through the rest of the year's spotlight races would be mesmerizing both for dedicated fans of horse racing and potential converts who just need a further connection with the sport to solidify their interest.
There is the Haskell Invitational, a rich high profile race at Monmouth in New Jersey in early August. Saratoga and the Travers Stakes beckon in late August, although the horseas connections say a trip upstate may be a long shot. And then, perhaps, the best showcase of all: the Breeders' Cup, to be held this year at the majestic Keeneland in Kentucky in late October, where this three-year-old sensation could face great horses of all ages in the Classic, and perhaps even increase his legend.
And he could return to Belmont for another run.
I saw American Pharoah win the Belmont Stakes Saturday from the stands at Belmont, and I felt a crowd of people who came out to drink and chatter and gamble and compare hats transfixed and inspired by that convincing run toward legend. They experienced a beauty and excitement that was once at the center of American sport but has faded from preeminence in the past few decades.
If there is any chance racing can regain popularity, this is it and the time is now.
When his racing is truly done, Pharoah will retire to stud at Ashford Stables in Versailles, Kentucky, alongside past stars Fusaichi Pegasus and Giant's Causeway, where public tours are available. Hopefully he will live a long and lovely life there, grazing and playing and covering mares and entrancing fans.
But first I want to see him run again. And I believe the nation and the world do, too.