Angus McNae
Angus McNae's Racing UK Blog
Saturday 15th August 2015

Racing UK

The case for Golden Horn versus American Pharoah

Two modern day superstars on each side of the Atlantic have left indelible impressions this year.

Golden Horn
© Racehorse Photos

Golden Horn
Derby winner Golden Horn in England and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in America are both head and shoulders better than the rest of their fellow three-year-olds.

Yet they are destined never to meet. The cultural void between European turf racing and American dirt racing is seemingly too wide.

In 1938 Seabiscuit met War Admiral in a duel at Pimlico in a race that was dubbed the 'Match of the Century.' There were 40,000 people there at the Maryland track and an estimated 40 million listened on the radio.

For the record Seabiscuit won by four lengths. This was a major sporting event that gripped, not just the racing elite, but also the whole of the country and perhaps even certain parts of the world.

A similar match between Golden Horn and American Pharoah would undoubtedly garner similar interest, and, if marketed properly, would be a huge shot in the arm for the sport on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are far more obstacles in the way of these two in 2015, than there were for Seabiscuit and War Admiral in 1938 however.

The main stumbling block is the surface that the two would race on. Whereas War Admiral and Seabiscuit were both dirt horses and the surface for the duel was never an issue, there are serious surface issues when it comes to the two oustanding colts of this season.

Quite simply Golden Horn's connections will not race on dirt, and I am sure American Pharoah's connections would not want to race on turf.


What's more, 77 years on from that epic duel owners and trainers have become far more protective of horse’s reputations.

These days with stud values so important they do not want to risk defeat if they can avoid it. It was different in the post-war era when horses frequently raced on beyond their three-year-old season and where defeat was not looked upon as a black mark on their career history. In those days a defeat was seen as an incentive to race more and erase the memory of that defeat with more success.

But hang on a minute! Maybe there is common ground in the form of synthetics?

How about a 10-furlong match race on Polytrack or Tapeta? The surface could be prepared to the satisfaction of all involved, and then the most exciting race to grace the racing world for years could take place.

Of course both parties would have major issues with such a proposal. The country where the duel takes place would be contentious, as would be the use of Lasix and with both horses set to retire at the end of the season time is running out.

Clearly it is not going to happen, and I understand why, but it has been dismissed out of hand without giving it, as a proposal, the due consideration it deserves.

Yes there would be a loser, but so what?

As they will never meet on the track, we have to assess their individual merits in terms of what they have achieved in their own comfort zones. Let's start with Golden Horn.

I care not what he has beaten. I care not for his official rating, which is merely an assessors opinion. What I care about is how fast he can run. The evidence of the clock. the only evidence that matters, suggests he is very fast. In fact I would be prepared to say that he is the best middle-distance three year old we have seen for a while. He has beaten the older horses as well, but beating The Grey Gatsby in the Coral Eclipse is not something to get too excited about. He still has something to prove, and if he can beat Treve in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October he will be a champion of champions even if he has never met American Pharoah.

Let's be certain about one thing - the Pharoah would be an tough opponent. He is a Triple Crown winner, the first since Affirmed on 1978. It is fair to say that it was harder for Affirmed than American Pharoah because in terms of official ratings the American thoroughbred is in decline.

In three attritional races in differing conditions he did it - he beat the best of his generation from nine to 12 furlongs. Since then he has won the Group One Haskell Invitational in a canter.

Unlike Golden Horn he has not met his elders yet, but they should be quivering on their shoes because this horse is the real deal. Even if the quality of the American thoroughbred is in decline, this horse achieved what so many have failed to do in the past and he commands maximum respect.

The truth of their merits lies in their respective strengths. Golden Horn is the best middle-distance three-year-old Turf performer in the world. American Pharoah is the best dirt three-year-old in the world. For them to meet on a synthetic surface would be a dream, one that will never be realised, but how good would it be to see Frankie Dettori and Victor Espinoza going head to head, toe to toe down the stretch.

It would be amazing to watch, but who would win?

I do not know, but we should be making more of an effort to make it happen.

Mathematician Betting