There are at least eight classic winners in the first five generations of the pedigree of American Pharoah.
The scopy bay colt has won all the important races he has contested, missing the winner’s circle only in his début in a maiden special last summer. And last month, American Pharoah became the 12th Triple Crown winner.
In considering his aptitude for the classic races, it is useful to consider those classic winners who came before him and their success with the Triple Crown events.
The closest classic winner in American Pharoah’s pedigree is his grandsire Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes and one of the better classic sires to stand in Kentucky over the past decade or so. At stud, Empire Maker sired two colts who came second in the Kentucky Derby, the very fast Bodemeister and Pioneerof the Nile, the sire of American Pharoah.
Both those colts raced for Zayat Stables, and both are now at stud on WinStar Farm, where Pioneerof the Nile commands a $60,000 fee.
Empire Maker, however, no longer stands in Kentucky. In the fall of 2010, the now 15-year-old stallion was sold by owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms to the Japan Bloodstock Breeders Association and stands on the island of Hokkaido at the JBBA’s Shizunai Stallion Station. Empire Maker’s 2015 stud fee is $3.5 million yen (roughly $30,000).
Empire Maker’s sire, Unbridled, won the 1990 Kentucky Derby and was second in that year’s Preakness. A giant among racehorses, Unbridled became an even more towering figure at stud, siring a winner of each Triple Crown race, as well as champions, Grade 1 winners, and major producers at stud.
In the fall of 2001, champion racehorse and leading sire Unbridled was euthanized from complications of colic surgery, leaving a legacy of high-performing stock that included Empire Maker among the stallion’s yearlings at the time of Unbridled’s death.
Empire Maker was the best racehorse, among four G1 winners, out of the extraordinary broodmare Toussaud. She was a daughter of English 2,000 Guineas winner El Gran Senor. A beautifully made, elegant, and all quality animal, El Gran Senor was the highweight juvenile of his crop in England and Ireland, just like his full brother Try My Best.
In the transition from high-class juvenile to classic prospect for trainer Vincent O’Brien, El Gran Senor went from strength to strength, becoming one of the best-rated winners of the Guineas, and his only loss among eight starts came as a narrow defeat to Secreto, also by Northern Dancer, in the English Derby.
El Gran Senor would have been an outstanding sire but for the agonizing fact that he was borderline infertile. Coolmore reacquired the horse after an insurance claim from the syndicate that initially sent El Gran Senor to stud and spent years trying different things to improve the stallion’s fertility.
To some degree, they succeeded, and El Gran Senor sired Eclipse Award sprinter Lit de Justice, the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Rodrigo de Triano, and Belmez, winner of the 1990 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
In quality and racing aptitude, El Gran Senor was quite like his famous sire, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Northern Dancer, who appears in the fifth generation of American Pharoah’s pedigree.
Northern Dancer was a staying 2-year-old, winning the Remsen, and improved week by week to his record-setting victory in the Derby over Hill Rise. After winning the Preakness, however, Northern Dancer appeared not to stay the Belmont distance but rebounded to win the Queen’s Plate before beginning one of the greatest careers at stud in the history of the breed.
Also in the fifth generation are the great racehorse Brigadier Gerard and the important sire Le Fabuleux. Brigadier Gerard was one of the best milers in European racing history and one of the best winners of the 2,000 Guineas, in which he defeated Mill Reef. In contrast, Le Fabuleux was an outstanding example of stout French classic breeding and a winner of the Prix du Jockey Club. At stud, both in France and at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, Le Fabuleux imparted bone and stamina generously to his offspring.
The latter two are rather marginal influences at stud these days, however, not often seen except through a couple of specific lines, typically Unbridled and Lord at War. Much more omnipresent is Northern Dancer, who appears twice in American Pharoah, and Bold Ruler, who was the most important sire in the world at the time of his death in 1971 and whose yearlings at that time included Secretariat.
The latter went on earn Horse of the Year in each of his two seasons of racing, and in winning the first Triple Crown since Citation 25 years earlier, Secretariat fired enthusiasm for racing that has persisted for decades. At stud, Secretariat was a good sire, not a great one. His best performers included Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret and Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Risen Star.
Of more lasting influence were his daughters who produced leading sires A.P. Indy (Weekend Surprise), Storm Cat (Terlingua), and Gone West (Secrettame).
1957 Preakness Stakes winner Bold Ruler is the oldest of the classic winners to show in American Pharoah’s five-cross pedigree, but I believe he is crucial. A rangy horse with a distinctive head, Bold Ruler was a top-class performer in each of his three seasons of racing. He showed speed of an extraordinary level, class to win at the highest level, and the tenacity to carry impressive weights.
For high speed, a great hindleg, and physical type, Bold Ruler has imparted a good deal of his best qualities to American Pharoah, who also resembles Bold Ruler in profile.
American Pharoah looks even better now that he has become the second classic winner in the family to earn a Triple Crown.