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American Pharoah Expected to Spur Record-Setting Weekend at Saratoga

  • Jason Whitney

Winning the Triple Crown is a big deal. Being the first to do it in almost 40 years is even bigger.

American Pharoah has brought back horse racing to the collective consciousness of sports fans by becoming the first horse since Affirmed to win the Triple Crown, following the famous run of wins by Secretariat just five years before. While the sports world continues to evolve, the ascendance of American Pharoah has electrified the racing industry, with the New York Racing Authority capping the attendance for the next big race at Travers Stakes in Saratoga, and possibly– depending on whether the Triple Crown Winner is in attendance– more than quadrupling the pot to a staggering $1.6 million from $350,000 last year.

It’s not without reason that the NYRA is taking this step. American Pharoah’s run at the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park was packed with over 60,000 in attendance and the live betting at the Haskell was on fire as well, with a record $20 million wagered at the Invitational. American Pharoah handily crushed the opposition by a substantial margin, cruising down the back stretch at a leisurely pace after putting massive distance between himself and the field at the final turn.

The smart money will move with the fact that this horse draws a crowd. What’s also interesting, however, is that attendance was capped for the Travers Stakes even before it was formalized that the horse was showing. The interest brought on by the mere potential appearance by this historic contender creates waves of interest that are reflected now at every major race.

Is this phenomenon enough to bring back a sport that has seen year-over-year decline since the 1970’s? There are still naysayers, but somehow American Pharoah has raced past them to record purses, crowds, and with relatively little criticism in the sports media. In one sense, American Pharoah’s team has been lucky: the upsurge of interest in horse racing, with both the positives and negatives that come with it, were largely turned on the previous year’s contender, California Chrome, who might have been the first Triple Crown winner in 26 years had there not been an injury. In fact, the story of 2014’s contender might be the reason that Pharaoh’s run felt so surprisingly magical this year.

While California Chrome developed a rabid fanbase locally, nationally and on social media, those who chose to ignore the sudden resurgence of interest in the sport to predict its doom focused on Chrome’s quest for the Triple Crown and subsequent loss at Belmont. However, Chrome’s loss was Pharoah’s gain: new horse racing fans who began looking for the next contender took a shine to American Pharoah early, and the horse brings his fans some drama between owners and trainers rivaling a soap opera.

New American fans and bettors who jumped on the racing bandwagon in 2014 found their interest paid off in a dark horse candidate (pardon the pun) who took the Triple Crown just a year after Chrome’s legendary run. Chrome’s disappointing defeat inadvertently made Pharoah’s rise, victory and dominance much more interesting overall, and by the looks of the record attendances, record purses, and massive bets he’s commanding, American Pharoah might well have just changed the game for this generation of horse racing fans.

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