American Pharoah makes Grand Slam look easy

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Jordan Speith only got half of the way to his Grand Slam, and Serena Williams fell short after completing the first three legs.

American Pharoah made it look easy.

When no horse pushed him early, the Triple Crown winner was able to run 24-second quarter miles for the first half mile of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That gave him all the energy he needed to brush off Tonalist at the top of the stretch and pull away for an easy victory – making him the first winner of the American Grand Slam.

“I can’t believe this – that I’m in this position,” said jockey Victor Espinoza. “This is such a great horse – probably the best I’ve ever ridden. This was his last race, and I thought it would be hard work, but it was just another race for him. I didn’t have to do anything.”

Trainer Bob Baffert, a Hall of Famer with one of the greatest resumes, was overwhelmed at the end. Baffert came into 2015 with nine wins in Triple Crown races and 10 Breeders’ Cup victories, but even he struggled for words as Espinoza paraded American Pharoah in front of the sold-out Keeneland grandstand.

“I’ve never had a horse like him, and I’ll never have another one,” he said. “It’s hard to know what to ever say at this point.”

About 500 horses have started the Kentucky Derby since 1984 – the first year of the Breeders’ Cup – but none of them have completed the first three legs of the Grand Slam – the Triple Crown. American Pharoah did that, making each race look easier, and Baffert and owner Zayat Stables announced that, instead of retiring him immediately to stud, he would race through the Breeders’ Cup.

He returned with a win in the Haskell Invitation, but was upset by Keen Ice in August’s Travers States after a speed duel with Frosted. That led to fears that he would be retired, but he impressed Baffert and the Zayats enough to get one more race.

“He was working so well, and we told Victor to let him go, because he was going so great,” Baffert said. “We just let him roll.

“I wanted him to go out as a champion – he deserved that.”

Unlike the Travers, where Frosted had dueled him into the stretch, American Pharoah got out to an easy, unchallenged lead in the Classic. By the time that the track clock announced that the first half-mile had been run in 48 seconds, it was increasingly obvious that the race was already over.

Tonalist, the horse that ruined California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid last year, made a run at him at the top of the stretch, but quickly faded back. Keen Ice and Frosted were nowhere, and Honor Code – the winner of two Grade 1 races this summer – couldn’t make any dent in the lead.

At the end, it was longshot Effinex who passed all of the wilting horses down the stretch, finishing more than six lengths behind. Every other horse in the field was more than 10 back – truly a performance for the ages.

He will now head for some time off before his next career begins in 2016 at Ashford Stud, only a few miles from Keeneland. He’s expected to bring in as much as $20 million a year at stud, but he’ll never do anything that brings the horse-racing world together as much as what he did on Halloween evening.

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