On a pleasantly warm June night that Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert called “magical,” Triple Crown winner American Pharoah paraded before thousands of adoring fans before sunset in the Churchill Downs paddock.
American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat, trainer Baffert, and jockey Victor Espinoza were given their Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) trophies in a winner’s circle presentation shortly after the sixth race on the June 13 Saturday evening card, but the star of the night most assuredly was Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
“The horse of America,” Zayat proclaimed to the crowd of approximately 30,000 shortly after accepting his solid gold trophy.
Zayat has shared America’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years with the fans. On the backstretch Saturday at Churchill, several hundred fans awaited his emergence from the barn, lined the walkway to the track, and gathered along the backstretch to view the 3-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt.
American Pharoah, who returned to his Churchill barn after completing a Triple Crown sweep Saturday June 6 with a dominant victory in the Belmont Stakes presented by DraftKings (gr. I), left his barn after the fifth race Saturday evening. He received a quick bath, then left the barn area and walked a road lined with fans on both sides, moving in and out of shadows on a sun-splashed evening.
The Triple Crown winner walked behind the field for the Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) and after the fillies entered the paddock and a throng of connections and media, American Pharoah made his entrance in bright sunlight that decided to add to the show rather than yield to dusk. American Pharoah walked around the paddock once before entering his Kentucky Derby stall.
Baffert and Zayat arrived at that point before a crowd that was nearly as deep as the paddock scene before the Derby. American Pharoah then walked around the ring three more times, sending "oohs" and "aahs" through the crowd when he would pause and raise his head to get his own view of things.
One fan yelled, “Horse of our century,” and another shouted, “America’s horse.” The crowd included fans of all ages, about equally split men and women.
“This is a once in a lifetime horse,” Baffert would say when accepting his Derby trophy. “I loved all my Derby winners but this is the one I’ll never forget.”
“I’m so happy for horse racing fans,” Zayat said. “This is really all about the horse and he’s a special, special animal.”
“I feel like I’m flying up here,” Espinoza said. “It’s been fun.”