American Pharoah’s performance in the Belmont Stakes cemented his place in the pantheon of American racing history alongside immortals like War Admiral, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. The feat was 37 years in the waiting and no one knows whether it will be another 37 years before we see his likes again. Or, are we about to enter another golden age of racing, like the 1970s when there were three Triple Crown winners. Time will tell, but the immediate question for many is: What’s next for American Pharoah?
First things first. It will take a few days to see how American Pharaoh came out of the race. Things like energy level and regaining his normal eating habits are telltale signs of what this race meant to American Pharoah physically. Assuming there are no issues there, published reports indicate that before the Belmont Stakes AP’s owners, the Zayat family, struck a deal with Coolmore Ashford Stud the Ireland-based breeding operation that operates an arm in Kentucky. The reports indicate that the Zayat family has retained control over American Pharoah’s racing career through 2015, and thereafter he will become a stallion at Coolmore. Cutting the deal before the Belmont was another big bet by both Coolmore and the Zayat family. AP’s value if he had not won the Triple Crown would certainly be less, but now as the only living Triple Crown winner in several generations of equine history to spread his genes and imprint the breed takes it to another level.
Although the details of the breeding rights deal were not released, the business pressures that now exist will be significant because of the natural concerns and risk that exist with horse racing. To give a sense of these elements, if American Pharoah continues on the logical path, the soonest we might see him race is in August possibly at Saratoga (Jim Dandy/Travers), Monmouth (Haskell) or Del Mar (Pacific Classic). Thereafter, there could be a race against older horses, and then the logical final race of American Pharoah’s career would be the Breeders’ Cup Classic on October 31 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. If American Pharoah won all of these races, he would add approximately $3-4 million to his earnings.
By contrast, once American Pharoah enters stud he is far more profitable. Each opportunity to breed to American Pharaoh will conservatively be priced at $150,000. The rules of thoroughbred racing do not allow artificial insemination, so these are live “covers” thus limiting the annual breeding opportunities, conservatively to 150. This does not take into consideration shipping AP to the Southern Hemisphere where the breeding calendar (opposite of the Northern Hemisphere calendar) allows for even more opportunities. The conservative math comes out to $22.5 million per year in gross revenue. Assuming he has a breeding career that (again conservatively) lasts 15 years, that’s $337.5 million in gross revenue. Variables including the success of his offspring on the track will affect this, but since the best mares in the world will be coming for a “date” with American Pharoah, the chances of his progeny having success on the race track are very good. With that, his value will increase and a stud fee matching that of legendary stallion Storm Cat ($500,000 per cover) is clearly within reach, as is the opportunity to generate career gross revenue of over a billion dollars.
Back to the business pressures. American Pharoah is the messiah that the racing world has wanted for 37 years. The hope is that a horse capturing the Triple Crown would reignite interest in horse racing, broaden the fan base, and encourage people of means to become owners and participate in the “Sport of Kings.” To see the 90,000 fans at Belmont cheering on Saturday, there may be some degree of logic to that. The statements by Mr. Zayat immediately after the race that he fully intends to race AP for the remainder of 2015, and not immediately retire him to stallion duty has to make everyone in horse racing truly grateful. With the kind of money that is waiting for Coolmore beginning with the 2016 breeding season, lots of folks will be holding their breath and even the most minor hiccup in American Pharoah’s training regime could upset the stated intent to race for the remainder of the year.
Let’s hope for smooth sailing and a few more races to see one of the greatest athletes in American racing history do what he clearly was born to do. As for his next race, if the Zayat family is looking for challenges left to conquer, the historic Saratoga Race Course would seem to offer the most. Both Man O’ War and Secretariat lost at Saratoga. Will we ever find out how American Pharoah would fair at Saratoga? It’s now up to the Zayat family. Stay tuned.