American Pharoah gives Zayat the biggest prize in racing
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American Pharoah gives Zayat the biggest prize in racing

After many tough losses, Egyptian-born, Orthodox Jewish owner of the horse that won it all lauds 'unbelievable race'

Ahmed Zayat, left, owner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah, approaches the horse as he is held for a bath by hot walker Juan Ramirez after a workout at Belmont Park, Friday, June 5, 2015, in Elmont, New York (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Ahmed Zayat, left, owner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah, approaches the horse as he is held for a bath by hot walker Juan Ramirez after a workout at Belmont Park, Friday, June 5, 2015, in Elmont, New York (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Triple Crown Trophy that went unclaimed for nearly four decades was in the firm grasp of American Pharoah’s owner, Ahmed Zayat.

“This is for the sport,” he proclaimed after his brilliant colt won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. “Thirty-seven years! This is for all of you.”

And then he turned and handed off the three-sided trophy created by Cartier to his trainer, Bob Baffert, who then gave it to jockey Victor Espinoza.

Like the rest of the racing world, Zayat has dreamed of being part of a Triple Crown. Now he owns the 12th horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, and first since Affirmed in 1978.

The 52-year-old entrepreneur from Egypt, who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, has known all along he had a champion in American Pharoah. All that was needed: a clear path to the finish line.

He got it in the Belmont.

Zayat entered the racing business only 10 years ago. He’s had many tough losses, including three seconds in the Derby, with Pioneerof the Nile, Nehro and Bodemeister.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Zayat said. “We won an unbelievable race in my own state. I have been extremely confident all week. I looked at my wife in the post parade and I told her get ready to be the owner of the 12th Triple Crown winner. He looked unbelievable: focused, relaxed, full of energy.”

Zayat, wearing a sponsor cap with his suit, sat at the dais with Espinoza waiting for Baffert to arrive at the post-race news conference. He stared at a replay loop of the race on a TV behind him. How much did he win by, he asked.

Someone said 5 1/2 lengths. His jaw dropped. It was that kind of day for him, his family and roaring crowd of 90,000 at Belmont Park. Since Affirmed’s sweep, there had been 12 failed attempts to complete a Triple Crown. All failed, until lucky No. 13.

“He (American Pharoah) does everything so easy. … He moves like a Ferrari,” said Zayat, who sold the breeding rights to his horse after the Preakness to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in a deal that might now be worth $30 million — or more. “We all wanted it. We wanted it for the sport. This is about American Pharoah and what does this mean for our beautiful sport.”

Zayat and his family, who are Orthodox Jews, and friends spent the night before the race in four large RVs, and then walked to the track. Throughout the Triple Crown, he has exuded confidence his son of Pioneerof the Nile was the best of his generation.

“I’m a driven guy,” he in the days leading up to the race.

He grew up in Cairo, the son of well-off parents. After attending college in the United States, he eventually set out on his own. He managed New York City skyscrapers, bought a beverage business and then came his first love, horses. He currently owns 144 horses. He also breeds and sells horses, and nearly sold American Pharoah last year, but bought him back at auction for $300,000 because the bidding was not going as high as he thought it would.

Good move.

Now that his horse has won the Triple Crown and joined a most exclusive club, what’s next for American Pharoah? Zayat would not give a definitive answer, but said:

“We need to enjoy our stars and race them as long as we possibly could,” Zayat said. “He most probably will retire at the end of this year.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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