In 1978, Exceller won six Grade I races and defeated both Seattle Slew and Affirmed when he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (USA-I). Nonetheless, he was beaten out by Affirmed for Horse of the Year honors, by Seattle Slew for the champion older male title, and by 3-year-old Mac Diarmida in the turf category in spite of having won four of his top-level races on the grass.
In Thoroughbred racing, the good may not die young, but they retire too soon. So it is for American Pharoah, whose reign over American racing lasted just 11 starts.
In one sense, it is for the best. There are no more mountains to climb; had Pharoah remained in training, the challenge would be not to climb Everest, but to remain atop it. The abortive 4-year-old seasons of California Chrome and Shared Belief are fresh reminders of how difficult it is to stay on top in this game, no matter how talented a horse is.
Still, the ending of Pharoah's racing career brings a sense of regret. He is only a 3-year-old, not yet come to his full powers, and we will never see what might have been. All that is left is the memory of having witnessed greatness, and the hope that one day, the spark will be relit in his sons and daughters.
I'm Avalyn Hunter, an author, pedigree researcher and longtime racing fan.