My Day with American Pharoah (and a Doctor Connection)

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah recently raced at New Jersey's Haskell Invitational. Columnist Greg Kelly caught the race, and shares his experiences, as well as the story of the horse's physician connection.

“A racetrack is a place where windows clean people.”

—Danny Thomas

I made my annual summertime excursion to the racetrack last weekend—and it just so happened that it was the greatest day in the history of Monmouth Park on the Jersey Shore. And there was even a physician connection.

Last Sunday, the reigning Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, raced in the $1.75 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. He easily won the major stakes race and a record crowd of nearly 61,000 loved every minute of it. It was the first time a Triple Crown winner ever came to the Oceanport, NJ racetrack.

The owner of American Pharoah, Ahmed Zayat (who collected $1.1 million for the victory), is the son of a prominent Egyptian physician, Dr. Alaa Al-Zayat, who was a medical school professor in Cairo and had been the personal doctor to President Anwar el-Sadat.

Earlier this year, after winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, the 3-year-old colt became the 12th Triple Crown winner in horsing racing history and the first to do so in 37 years (since Affirmed in 1978). Surprisingly, American Pharoah lost his first race in 2014.

The first Haskell Invitational was run in 1968. The race is named after Amory L. Haskell (1893-1966), the first president of the Monmouth Park Jockey Club and the man who helped to bring back legal pari-mutuel wagering to Monmouth Park.

The winning time for the 1 1/8-mile race was 1:47.95, close to a track record. The overwhelming favorite in the 7 horse field, American Pharoah went off at 1-10 odds. His three-length victory was somewhat deceptive because jockey Victor Espinoza never really pushed the horse. The horse’s Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, won his eighth Haskell race.

On the matter of favorites, I was joined that day by two of my favorite people, my son, Kyle, and my brother, Charlie. We three teamed together to put $40 on the winner and us big spenders agreed to let Kyle keep the bet and the $4 in winnings.

Zayat, who identifies as Muslim and Jewish, was born in Cairo in 1962. He first came to America at age 18 to attend college and now lives with his wife and four children in New Jersey. He got into the horse racing business through the sale of his beer company, Al Ahram Beverages Company. The company was bought by Heineken in 2002 for $280 million. Zayat struggled for a while, even enduring a bankruptcy, but today his Zayat Stables is on top of the world.

Here are few other things from this spectacular day:

• I met and got to shake hands with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was at the race. The state’s two-term governor and a recently declared 2016 Republican presidential candidate was resoundingly booed.

• Other notables I saw on Haskell day were actor Bill Murray and musician Richie Sambora.

• “The Boss” was there in spirit. The Haskell pre-race anthem is Bruce Springsteen’s signature tune, Born to Run.

• Prior to the big race my son offered to buy me a beer. He paid $18 for 2 cans of Coors Light. That concluded our drinking for the day.

• It’s hoped that the record-setting Haskell day (including a $20 million handle) will help secure Monmouth Park’s immediate future. The track (and the New Jersey horse industry in general) has been losing millions in recent years.

Photo credit: Kyle Kelly