Even the name speaks to me as a longtime armchair egyptologist. I watched his campaign from the time he was a 2 year old and he was one of my two main picks for the Kentucky Derby. He won the Derby and became the next horse with the potential to win the Triple Crown.
So, yesterday was the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in the crown. The track was a muddy mess, with water standing on the dirt. Just the sort of track to dash hopes and dreams, and Pharaoh was breaking from Post Position 1, right against the rail, with his stablemate Dortmund, undefeated until the Derby, right beside him.
I literally held my breath at the break. Then I was socked and appalled as Espinoza (the jockey) took American Pharaoh right to the lead and proceeded to set very fast fractions, fractions I'd expect to see on a fast, dry track, not in the slop. I was in agony, I tell you--I wanted this horse to win, and running like that, how could he possibly have anything left when the rest of the horses challenged him on the far turn and at the top of the home stretch?
And then I saw something awesome. Going into the turn leading for home, Pharaoh was challenged and his answer was decisive. He kicked it up a notch. After setting strong fractions in the lead in the slop all the way around the track, he then showed us he had a whole 'nother gear.
He pulled away from the field of horses challenging him. He pulled away and he kept on pulling away through the stretch run. He won the Preakness by six lengths still pulling away. My jaw was figuratively on the floor as I watched him sprint to victory effortlessly over the sloppy track.
I've been on the bandwagon for every horse who could make a bid for the Triple Crown since Alysheba in 1987 and I ain't ever seen anything like that. Oh, there've been some great horses over the years. I still cry over Sunday Silence's loss to Easy Goer. I still think Silver Charm woulda won if he'd seen the other horse coming. I wept when Charismatic broke his leg in the stretch of the Belmont and was eased to come in third (he survived and stands at stud). I was a fan of Barbaro, ill-fated but wonderful. I was a fan of Big Brown, Afleet Alex, Real Quiet, War Emblem and all the others who won the Derby and then the Preakness... so many I can't even remember them all off the top of my head.
I've been a fan of California Chrome since the first time I saw him race--I still think Espinoza threw the Belmont by taking Chrome inside when the horse has always done his best running to the outside. But that's water under the bridge at this point, Chrome lost the Belmont and now all eyes are turning to American Pharaoh.
Can he do it? Yes, I think he can. I say that on the strength of that Preakness win--look at the picture above. He's all alone out there. He has the potential for greatness, for what he showed us yesterday was the heart of a champion.
Best of luck, Pharaoh, in the Test of Champions!