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Owner Ahmed Zayat says it's all about American Pharoah

American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza, left, and owner

American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza, left, and owner Ahmed Zayat, center hold up the August Belmont Trophy as trainer Bob Baffert holds up the Triple Crown trophy after American Pharoah won the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race at Belmont Park, Saturday, June 6, 2015, in Elmont. Credit: AP

This story is not about American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat.

He insisted on it.

"It's not about any of us," he said after his horse became the first in 37 years to capture sport's most elusive prize. "I can sit here for hours and praise the brilliant job that Bob , Victor and the team have done, but at this juncture, it's really about defining the greatness of American Pharoah."

Such has been Zayat's constant refrain in what is now a history-making week. He repeated it over and over when recent legal troubles threatened to overshadow the race. And Saturday, on a day when nothing could overshadow his horse, he repeated it again. He is the owner who, when waiting for the thoroughbred to arrive at Belmont on Tuesday, peeked over the heads of swarming reporters and exclaimed with childlike enthusiasm: "Is that him? Is that Pharoah?," when a truck barreled by (it was not).

He is also the owner who, for all his affection for American Pharoah, was always blunt about the significance of this race. Pharoah was a good horse, he said. A wonderful horse, even. But nothing short of making history as the 12th Triple Crown winner could truly define him as great.

"For the whole time, I've been saying, he's a very good horse," Zayat said. "He could be special, but in order for you to come and win the Triple Crown, you have to define greatness."

Zayat, an Egyptian-American who lives in New Jersey, bred American Pharoah at Zayat Stables, LLC, located in Kentucky. Horses are a family business, and his oldest son, Justin, is heavily involved with both Pharoah and the stable. He has four kids, and made his money in the beverage industry. This week, he had a $1.65-million breach of contract lawsuit thrown out by a federal judge -- stemming from an alleged gambling debt -- but he's still fighting a related $10-million libel suit. He's had three horses finish second at the Kentucky Derby before Pharoah.

But, as Zayat would insist, enough about that.

"I don't think it's sunk in yet," he said. "I feel that I've won an unbelievably great race . . . I have been extremely confident all week. I looked at my wife and I said, get ready to be the owner of the 12th Triple Crown winner. He looked unbelievably focused, relaxed, full of energy."

That said, when he received a text message at 5:20 a.m. saying that they sealed the track, Zayat did let his nerves set in. A drying track, he explained, is punishing for any horse, and, as he watched dark horse after dark horse win the early races, doubt crept in.

"I became very, very nervous," he said.

He didn't bet on any of the races. He engaged with fans, he tried to distract himself. After American Pharoah laid all doubts to rest, he was exuberant. His son, Justin, cried.

"I didn't throw up this time," Justin said. "I'm hoping it's going to bring a lot of new fans to the game, a lot of new owners, and I'm hoping that when I come to the track, I'm going to see it as packed as it was today."

As for Pharoah's future, it's mostly sealed (though not totally, Ahmed Zayat clarified).

"We need to enjoy our stars and race them as long as we possibly could," Zayat said. "His stud fee has been sold, he most probably will retire at the end of this year. Can this change? Possibly, but I can't promise. I don't make that decision. As long as Bob [Baffert] is telling me that he's healthy and he has it in him, I would like to enjoy him as much as I own him."

In short, this will continue to be American Pharoah's story to tell.

New York Sports