JC / Railbird

The Contrarian

Steve Wolfson, Sr., son of Louis Wolfson, the owner of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, tells Peter Thomas Fornatale that when it comes to American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes:

“For the sake of racing, I hope he loses,” Wolfson said. “We talked last year about how I root for all of these old streaks in sports to never be equaled — DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, John Wooden’s great run of victories, Rod Laver’s Grand Slams — I believe that the fact it’s been so long since we’ve seen a Triple Crown is why all these people care.”

American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat wants the win, obviously:

“I want it for the fans,” he said. “They’ve been waiting for 37 years. The sport needs it. A sport without a star is not a sport. Imagine having basketball without Michael Jordan or LeBron [James]. I’m excited. I’m pumped.”

Hm … American racing isn’t exactly going without stars. Since 2009, we’ve had Rachel Alexandra (brilliant, and gamely campaigned), Zenyatta (whose mainstream crossover was the best since Barbaro, and without the tragic end), Wise Dan (beloved), and California Chrome (a star big enough that the racing programs of other countries want him). It’s probably better to think of Pharoah as a comet — win or lose on Saturday, he’ll be off the track by the end of the year, and possibly sooner. If he runs for the remainder of the season, he’ll likely have no more than another two or three starts — “limiting the possibility for large-scale marketing opportunities,” or for fans to get attached.

6/3/15 Addendum: Jerry Izenberg shares the sport needs a star perspective. “How can you have a major sport without a superstar?” So much emphasis gets placed on one horse becoming a name outside the game, and what that would mean for marketing and awareness. It’s wishful thinking.

Now, let’s swing back: “It is entirely plausible that a Triple Crown winner is the exact opposite of what horse racing ‘needs.’

6/4/15 Addendum: Well, Zayat found a large-scale marketing opportunity — ESPN reports that Monster (the energy drink) has signed on for American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run, in what is “believed to be one of the largest single-horse sponsorship deals in history.” (“$5-million initial ask,” Ed DeRosa tweeted, noting he didn’t know the final sum.) There’ll be no publicity shots of Pharoah enjoying a Monster — the drink is loaded with caffeine. “A racehorse promoting a stimulant,” wrote Pull the Pocket, “that’s like Amgen sponsoring a long distance bike race.” That’s racing!