Phone conversation with Ahmed Zayat, owner of American Pharoah, prior to the Haskell.

American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Belmont Stakes (Gr I) and the Triple Crown at Belmont Park 6/6/15. Trainer: Bob Baffert. Owner: Zayat Stables
American Pharoah strides clear in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
Photo Credit: Jessie Holmes/Equisport Photos

The following is based on a telephone conversation I had with Ahmed Zayat, owner of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, on Tuesday, July 28.

American Pharoah begins the second part of his three-year-old season in the Haskell Invitational Stakes on Sunday at Monmouth Park.

AB: What is it like to own an American treasure.
AZ: American Pharoah is a blessing, a special horse, a sweet horse. He is a one-in-a-lifetime horse. It is an unbelievable privilege. We bred him as well as own him; we did it the hard way as [Bob] Baffert [his trainer] would say, breeding him.

He is America’s horse, we’ve waited for this horse to bring us hope. He is everybody’s horse now. We own him, we are his custodians. It is a responsibility. I feel a sense of responsibility to share him, to share him with the public. He belongs to everyone now, he is a Triple Crown winner. We have to be extremely careful what with we do next.

American Pharoah has won 5 Grade 1 races, on different tracks, in different conditions.

He is carrying his flesh well. When considering his next race, we can see how is he traveling. He is a great horse, but the horse always comes first.

We have to be careful not to tarnish the Triple Crown. We are not scared of racing him, but it is a balancing act. He enjoys his training, he enjoys his racing, he is a happy horse. We won’t race him unless we know he is ready, and really fit. But we know that things can happen in a race; Secretariat was beaten by Onion at Saratoga, it does happens. But as long as he is happy and healthy we will race him.

I am a fan before being an owner. I am a student of the game. Things happen in racing. Small fields, you become the target, but we cannot worry about that. I cannot micromanage the race. As long as he is happy, healthy and fit, in that order, we will keep racing.

He did some incredible things in this year’s Triple Crown, beating larger fields than in the past. He has won at seven furlongs up to a mile and a half in his career. He has won on the polytrack, and all kinds of dirt surfaces.

AB: Is it about the horse or you?
AZ: This is all about American Pharoah. I am just a person, a very lucky person. We have been gifted with a beautiful horse, it is just a beautiful gift. But it is all about American Pharoah. Its about the athlete, I love horses, I just do.

Not long ago I was laying down in his stall, he is a 1200 pound animal. Baffert was nervous. I told Victor [Espinoza] to come in a lay down with us. Pharoah is really smart, just licking me, I guess he loves the cologne.

I am the ambassador of this horse.

AB: Does he compare to Secretariat?
AZ: No, no. No one ever.

We all remember the “tremendous machine”. Winning the Belmont by 31 lengths, in a little over a canter, it was incredible.

American Pharoah is American Pharoah, Pharoah is royalty. How will he stand in history? His Belmont was a very respectable time, his last quarter was fast, but it is all hard to compare, but of course I am a bit biased.

I was about 10 when Secretariat won, I have watched it. We all remember the images. But I will tell you, the roar of the crowd [when American Pharoah won], 90,000 people, hugging, kissing, happy, screaming, it was an incredible moment. It was a mad house, NYRA security was around — it was a mad house, everything was so spontaneous, crazy elation and lots of sheer happiness, incredible, a celebration of joy.

AB: Decision to sell his breeding rights.
AZ: It was not a difficult decision. Every stallion I have had, since 2006, it is now 14 stallions. People in Kentucky call me a stallion maker, Pioneerofthe Nile, Paynter, Bodemeister and so forth.

I am used to making stallion deals, but I always keep a portion, whether it is 25% or 75% as with Pharoah’s father, Pioneerofthe Nile. I never sell 100%. It provides me access. I like to go to the barns and visit. I would like to breed to him. I am still in control of American Pharoah while he races, and when he retires I will still have a portion.

AB: Does the champ have a barn name?
AZ: There is no real pet name for American Pharoah. Some people call him “the Pharoah”, others call him “AP”. Different people call him something different.

AB: If you could change something in racing, what would it be?
AZ: The Biggest thing is we need the fans of the sport, and what is a sport without transparency. And transparency should not be a buzzword, it needs to be operational. The disclosure of medical records for example.

We need to bring fans into the action. We need to be open. We can use social media, more open communications. That’s how American Pharoah got his name. We try to open up our barn so fans can come and see him. I think this is very important.

We are also looking at the use of lasix with a research project in Gulfstream Park. it is a scientific study, privately funded, looking at lasix-free races versus lasix races. We are funding it, we want hard data. We have commissioned one of the foremost vets to undertake the study. Gulfstream Park is providing us all the access and support.

AB: Thanks for your time.
AZ: Thanks for the coverage you helped provide with Paynter.

AQHA’s disingenuous position on horse slaughter, encourages membership to derail SAFE Act


It is surprising to some people when they learn that horse-related organizations support horse slaughter. Why would they do that?

The short answer is, it supports their industry interests, and their membership interests. That is the case for both the AVMA (vets), and the AQHA (quarter horse association). They then try to convince themselves and everyone else that they actually take this stance for the horse, not for their own interests.

Yes, slaughter is good for you, really ?

Anyway, I digress. I thought it would be interest to parse the statement from the AQHA, in support of horse “processing” (“processing” is surely more appealing than “slaughter”).

Here is a link to the AQHA’s complete statement: AQHA News Bits: Unsafe Consequences.

There is a preamble about the SAFE Act, and its rationale, that of food safety. The statement then avoids the food safety issue completely.

They then note that the ban of horse slaughter would “mean that thousands of unwanted horses will be sentenced to a destiny of starvation, abuse and neglect. It’s a hellish demise.”

There are two problems with this emotive statement:

1. while there may be some unwanted horses, to presume all horses that are purchased by kill buyers to go to slaughter are unwanted, is not accurate.

2. “slaughter” or “abuse and neglect” is not a binary choice. The third option, cleverly left out of the entire statement, is that of humane euthanasia.

Subsequent to the above quote, the statement then goes on to tie the number of horses that are slaughtered to the number of unwanted horses. Again, there is no proof that is the case. What is known is that the number of horses slaughtered is simply based on the demand for the horse meat from the customer, via the meat packers and the slaughter houses. Horses are slaughtered because there is demand for the meat, slaughter is not just a disposal solution for horses no one else wants.

The statement then goes on to discuss the increasing number of abuse and neglect cases, which may or may not be accurate. Whether it is or not has little to do with slaughter, because we are currently slaughtering plenty of horses (same numbers in recent years, so an increase in abuse cases is more likely an economic issue, or an issue of horses no longer being employed for whatever work they were doing).

The statement then examines the cost of taking care of all the horses that are sent to slaughter. A considerable cost indeed, but neglects to consider that some of these horses would be humanely euthanized, some would be diverted to new careers, and some would find other solutions. This ignores the idea of “owner responsibility,” and each owner doing the appropriate thing for his horse. Thus the burden on the government is, at least, exaggerated.

Then they discuss the “property rights” argument that surrounds the horse. The AQHA firmly believes anyone has the right to do what they want with their horses, which includes slaughter as an end of life option. “Salvage value” is another term that I have heard being used.

There is then some preamble that ties together the AQHA, AVMA and AAEP together in wanting to slaughter our horses domestically. Well, we know that each organization is pro-slaughter, sadly not so much “pro-horse.”

The statement concludes,

“As we celebrate the Fourth of July weekend with family and friends, I am reminded that this holiday weekend is not only about picnics, parades and fireworks. July 4th celebrates the birth of American independence, and because of our freedom, we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, including our horse.”

That statement seems disingenuous at best.

In summary:
The SAFE Act is about food safety, which is a genuine concern given the undocumented drugs that American horses receive, before they become a “food animal”. The response from the AQHA completely ignores this, and moves the conversation to an “unwanted horse” issue. They do this in a very disingenuous manner.

For those of you who want to learn more about the horse slaughter issue, and make a truly informed decision on what is the right thing to do, I ask you to review my video series. The better informed we are, the better it will be for our horses.

Three Heroes, at their best

Probably the three greatest moments in Steeplechase history over the last forty years.

Red Rum’s third win in the Grand National, 1977

Desert Orchid’s fourth win in the King George, 1990

Kauto Star’s fifth win in the King George, 2011