American Pharoah

"Heeeee did it! American Pharoah has ended the thirty-seven year drought to a deafening roar to the fans here at Belmont Park."  Tom Hammond (NBC's Host) intoned nearly thirty-seconds after the impassioned declaration of race announcer Larry Collmus that the American Triple-Crown (ATC) drought was over.[1] **** Horse-racing is an unusual competitive event, since most of the action lies with the horse (and not a human).  Moreover, unless one has a monetary or competitive stake in a particular horse, many horse-racing fans don't care which horse wins the Kentucky Derby; however, fans do want that horse to win the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.  To see excellence and observe history.  We celebrate and immortalize athletes that achieve such greatness. And occasionally, when the athlete transcends sport, the personality and/or image becomes an important part of American culture and commerce.  While horse-racing is a less-popular competitive event compared to team or individual professional or collegiate sports, and the transcendent personalities relatively infrequent, horse-racing still has its share of marketable names and personalities. For example, Secretariat remains a beloved and revered horse among horse-racing fans.  Not surprisingly, Secretariat's name and image are still a valuable commodity.[2]  Although a giant in horse-racing history, Secretariat does not stand alone when it comes to trademark exploitation, although his shadow is quite large.  The owners of fellow ATC-winner Seattle Slew (1977) possess seven registered trademarks for a variety of goods.[3] The owner's of ATC-challenger Smarty Jones (2004) possess one registered trademark for horse-breeding and stud services (having cancelled classifications for photos, posters, paintings, and apparel).[4] The owner's of another ATC-challenger Funny Cide (2003) previously owned two registered trademarks, but have since allowed the registrations to lapse.[5] However, trademark registration and commercial popularity are two entirely different considerations. Presently, Am. Pharoah stands as the first ATC-winner in thirty-seven years, and the spoils of such a triumph should be many, at least in the short-term. Whether Am. Pharoah endures as significantly as Secretariat remains to be seen, of course. Naturally, the owners of Am. Pharoah are in the midst of seeking various trademark registrations for the horse's name and likeness.[6] Humorously, in a geeky-IP-attorney kinda-way, the owners (Zayat Stables) filed an intent-to-use (ITU) trademark application for the mark "American Pharoah Triple Crown" on May 18, 2015, the Monday following Am. Pharoah's Preakness victory, and almost three full weeks prior to the Belmont Stakes run (victory). ATC horse-racing fans had been starved and so painfully deprived of a triple crown winner for so long and in so many disappointing ways, the emotions surprisingly bubbled to the surface as Am. Pharoah dashed across the finish line.  As a marketable entity and/or brand, Am. Pharoah stands to capitalize because of this drought. As Leonard Nemoy's "Dr. Spock" might observe in understanding this human (over)reaction:  "Fascinating."  And to understand why, at least in part, Am. Pharoah's commercial viability might be greater than otherwise expected, esp. in the short-term, we must turn back the clock and take a look at the significant triple crown short-comings in ATC-racing over the last thirty-seven years. The Big Background of Belmont Disappointments Coming into 2015, the last ATC-winner was Affirmed in 1978, having staved off chief-rival Alydar in one of the most memorable trio of ATC-races in thoroughbred racing history.  Affirmed bested Alydar by just-under two lengths in total for the three races, including by a neck (Preakness) and by a head (Belmont).  In the thirty-seven years since Affirmed's three masterful circuits, and the high-drama generated by the Affirmed-Alydar rivalry, thirteen horses had won the Derby and Preakness, only to fall short at the marathon known as Belmont:  Spectacular Bid (79), Pleasant Colony (81), Alysheba (87), Sunday Silence (89), Silver Charm (97), Real Quiet (98), Charismatic (99), War Emblem (02), Funny Cide (03), Smarty Jones (04), Big Brown (08), I'll Have Another (12), and California Chrome (14).  Aside from War Emblem (02) and Big Brown (08), and the race-day scratch of "I'll Have Another," most of the other ten horses acquitted themselves well at Belmont despite falling short. Yet, there were multiple close, agonizing losses that seemed to illustrate the increasing difficulty and elusiveness of capturing the Belmont jewel.  In one of the great horse races of the last 35 years, Real Quiet (98) came the closest to winning the Belmont during this span, losing by a nose at the line to Victory Gallup (race begins at ~43:30 of video), a horse that had finished second to Real Quiet in both the Derby and Preakness (although a steward's inquiry would have also ended Real Quiet's ATC-bid with a disqualification).  Coincidentally, Real Quiet's march into history was cut-off by Victory Gallup jockey Gary Stevens, who had his own ATC-hopes dashed twelve months earlier on the back of Silver Charm.[7] During the most-recent drought, two other horses finished second in the first two legs before winning the final leg and denying fans of another ATC-winner:  in 1987 between Alysheba and Belmont-winner Bet Twice (race begins at 14:00 of video), and in 1989 with Sunday Silence and Belmont-winner Easy Goer (race begins at 11:00 of video). Alysheba's thwarted bid was particularly, if not poetically, painful.  Alysheba was horse-breeding royalty, the son of Alydar, the great-grandson of Native Dancer and War Admiral, and the great-great-grandson of Man O' War.  And, Alysheba was going to restore some of the luster lost by Alydar (having suffered three second-place finishes in the spring of '78).  However, at the top of the final turn, chief-rival and Derby/Preakness runner-up Bet Twice took complete control and trounced the field - to the audible groan of those in attendance.  Two years later, with Sunday Silence, the disappointment was similarly crushing.  As Sunday Silence and Easy Goer entered the final sweeping turn, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer passed race-leader Le Voyageur, with Sunday Silence in the lead at mid-turn, and Easy Goer pulling ahead coming out of the turn.  The crowd roared with excitement, anticipation, and encouragement for Sunday Silence to make one final charge.  However, Easy Goer pulled away, and by the time Easy Goer hit the line, the Belmont crowd had been reduced to a low, disappointed murmur, except for the New York partisans enjoying the "home" win by Easy Goer. From 1997 through 1999, ATC-fans were teased with three consecutive Derby and Preakness winners. In 1997, and in another great Belmont finish, Silver Charm (Gary Stevens), Touch Gold, and Freehouse battled shoulder-to-shoulder down that long front stretch.  With 65 yards to go, Silver Charm was ahead and practically snatching that final jewel off the pedestal; at 50 yards out, Touch Gold had just inched ahead; but Silver Charm had nothing left in the tank to make a final rush, and Touch Gold beat Silver Charm by half-a-length, as fans groaned in disappointment.  As noted above, in 1998, Real Quiet lost to late-charging Victory Gallup (Gary Stevens) at the line in a photo-finish (by a nose), forcing Belmont patrons to wait more than 120 seconds before the stewards posted the results to the audible exasperation of a 100,000+ patrons.  Providing more agonizing insult, in 1999, Charismatic, the great-grandson of both Northern Dancer and Secretariat, went to New York with a chance to win the Belmont carnations.  Like the two previous Belmonts, Charismatic was at-or-in the lead coming out of the final turn, and then in the lead about one-third of the way down the final front stretch run before ceding the lead to Lemon Drop Kid.  Memorably, at the wire, falling just short of victory, Charismatic fractured the condylar bone in the left front leg, ending the brilliant horse's racing career. In 2003, lightly-regarded Funny Cide and jockey were relative long-shots, with Empire Maker expected to make the ATC-charge.  Yet, by early June, Funny Cide stood at the precipice of history.  Coming out of the paddock, the Belmont fans roared for the horse like hadn't been heard since Alysheba. On a rain-soaked bog, Funny Cide and Empire Maker dueled for nearly three-fourths of the race with Empire Maker lunging ahead off the turn, and pinching Funny Cide near the rail coming down the stretch (in the most water-logged portion of the track).  As Empire Maker staved off Ten Most Wanted, Funny Cide was empty and drifted back to third, and the patrons once again left groaning. The following year, Smarty Jones was labeled as a favorite to break the ATC-drought.  After a comfortable win in the Derby (2.75 lengths), Smart Jones destroyed the Preakness field by a record 11.5 lengths.  Such domination naturally elevated Smarty Jones' popularity, and anticipation of an ATC-winner reached a fever pitch by early June as the pre-Derby favorite traveled to New York.  However, like the 2003 Belmont, the 2004 Belmont was ran in wet, sloppy conditions.  Despite the conditions, Smarty Jones broke well, seized the lead after the first quarter, and held the closest challenger at bay by one length in the middle of the race, before surging near the start of the final turn.  At the top of the turn, Smarty Jones had pulled ahead of the challengers, as eventual champion Birdstone was hanging back nearly seventh lengths off the lead.  Coming off the final turn, and into the stretch, 120,000 patrons roared with delight as Smarty Jones appeared to be putting the pedal to the metal and pulling ahead for good.  Calling the action for both Belmont and NBC's television broadcast, legendary announcer Tom Durkin's voice rose with excitement but carried the plaintive tone of horse-racing fans pleading for Smarty Jones to end the disappointment.  And like a bolt of lightning, Birdstone closed the gap down the stretch, catching Smarty Jones just inside the last sixteenth pole, and beating Smarty Jones by one length.  Deflation.[8]   2015 Belmont Stakes - Celebrating Am. Pharoah Am. Pharoah took control early, ran a steady pace through the back stretch, and started to slowly accelerate around the final turn.  Once in the stretch, Am. Pharoah shoved the accelerator down and headed for glory, to the deafening roar of 120,000 fans, the type of roar the broadcasters and reporters could not remember hearing at horse-racing event since Affirmed's Belmont victory.  Am. Pharoah was simply awesome.  The collective reaction to this victory was similarly impressive. My reaction - to a lesser degree - was similar to that of fans of Secretariat in 1973 post-Belmont. In ESPN's SportCentury feature on the 1973 ATC-winner Secretariat, former CBS and ABC sportscaster Jack Whitaker and novelist George Plimpton separately recall incidents of people weeping after Secretariat's annihilation of his rival Sham and the field at Belmont (video at 22:00).  Also on video, famed sports reporter Haywood Hale Brown recalls a conversation he had with golfing legend Jack Nicklaus sometime after the 1973 Belmont, with Nicklaus telling Brown he watched the race from home, alone, and as Secretariat stretched-out his enormous lead on the field, Nicklaus applauded and then cried at Secretariat's domination.  Sports columnist William Nack (depicted in the Disney feature-film "Secretariat") continues the Brown-Nicklaus exchange, noting the insight Brown had in explaining to Nicklaus (paraphrasing) "Don't you understand?  You've been pursuing perfection in your sport your whole life; at the end of the Belmont, you saw it." Indeed. In the wake of Secretariat's domination, and the three ATC-winners in the 70s, unfortunately, generations had grown accustomed to the Belmont disappointments.  At 42, I have no recollection of Secretariat, virtually no recollection of Seattle Slew, and only the foggiest of recollections regarding Affirmed (and Alydar).  My generation and younger generations didn't know what it was like and had a difficult time imagining what it was they were hoping for in these horses. As a friend noted, this was one of the first historically rare and significant sports milestones in this generation.  A Triple-Crown winner is a rarity.  Am. Pharoah is the twelfth since 1875.  The "droughts" are generally the rule and the ATC-winners the exceptions.  Which is why these type of victories are so publicly coveted and cherished, and why the disappointments are so discouraging. Whether Am. Pharoah's trademarks endure like "Secretariat" or "Seattle Slew" or experience only short-term recognition (like "Funny Cide" and aspects of "Smarty Jones" trademarks), at the least, the long, painful drought is over and horse-racing once again has a giant personality to build upon.


1. Belmont 2015 2. U.S. Trademark Registration Nos. 1986605 and 3243678. Notably, these two different registrations are owned by two different entities, including an entity from Colorado (by registrant Helen "Penny" Chenery) and an entity from Illinois. Whether the two entities are affiliated is unclear. 3. U.S. Trademark Registration Nos. 2831608, 3849764, 3834828, 3834830, 3834831, 3834832, and 3834834. 4. U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3069248 (classes for photos, paintings, postcards, and apparel have been cancelled). 5. U.S. Trademark Registration Nos. 2950703 and 2871639 (both registrations cancelled). 6. U.S. Trademark Application No. 86/633822. 7. Despite the victory, Stevens seemed fairly subdued in his post-race interview with ABC (Stevens at ~1:05:00 of video), apparently appreciative of the lesser history he made and the greater history he denied.