History on the line in Classic

Steve Bortstein
For The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Sports fans are often victims of making hyperbolic statements.


Individuals are labeled as the greatest of all time and teams are classified as dynasties.

None of these statements are factual. They are simply the product of overwhelming fandom, in which we all partake.

Saturday, at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Ky., American Pharoah will make the final start of his illustrious career when he goes into the starting gate as the overwhelming favorite in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

The Classic will also mark the only time American Pharoah will face older horses.

In the sport of racing, top-flight 3-year-olds are often judged by how well they do against older competition.

That was the case for 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, as well as 1977 Triple Crown conqueror Seattle Slew and 1978 champion Affirmed.

Should American Pharoah win the Classic, he will have earned his ninth victory from 11 starts. He will have done what no horse in history has done, which is win the Triple Crown and the Classic, since the Breeders' Cup wasn't in existence until 1984.

Can the fans, the handlers, the connections, or anyone really make a legitimate claim that American Pharoah, with a win on Saturday, is the greatest of all time?

American Pharoah, in my mind, won’t only win the Classic, he’ll annihilate the competition.

Fans will debate, media types will ponder and those with a stake in the game will naturally stomp their feet in defense of their position.

For the moment though, let's consider the evidence.

We stacked American Pharoah's resume against the three aforementioned Triple Crown heroes.

We could have gone back to Sir Barton, in 1919, but we think the facts presented below more than make our case.

Secretariat raced five times after winning the Triple Crown. He, like American Pharoah is scheduled to do, didn't race as a 4-year-old. He lost two of those five races, but beat older horses on the turf at both Belmont Park in San Diego and Woodbine in Toronto.

Seattle Slew raced just once more as a 3-year-old, losing the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif. In seven starts as a 4-year-old, he won five times, finishing second in the other two starts.

Affirmed, however, may be the benchmark.

Affirmed raced four times as a 3-year-old following the Triple Crown. He crossed the wire first in two of those races, but was disqualified in the Travers Stakes in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. His other two losses that year were against older horses.

Affirmed came back with a vengeance in the spring of his 4-year-old season. He won seven consecutive races to close out his career, winning four times in California and three times in New York.

Thus, if the argument is going to be made about which of the most recent Triple Crown winners can be called the greatest of all time, that horse better have one pretty amazing body of work.

Now, let's consider American Pharoah.

After the Belmont, he won the Haskell Inviational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2, and did so with devastating ease.

He came back 27 days later and ran second, upset in the Travers Stakes by Keen Ice, who will be lining up in the starting gate against him Saturday.

With what would be just one start and one win against older horses, in my eyes, American Pharoah cannot be considered the greatest of all time.

Again, facts are facts, but I’ll never stand in your way of defending your position.

At least now though, we have some evidence to back up our statements.

That said, American Pharoah's anticipated romp in Saturday's Classic can go a long way in cementing his already stellar legacy.

For those who will want to debate the topic, a win on Saturday means you can make the argument.

You won't win the argument, but you can make it.

Steve Bortstein hosts "First Sports" and "The Fast Track" on Fox Sports 1340 AM and 93.9 FM and on iHeartRadio. He serves as paddock show host at SunRay Park & Casino and is a voting member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.