We have a new American hero…American Pharoah, foaled February 2, 2012. What a special thrill to view his three exceptional Triple Crown races. Before even watching him race in the Kentucky Derby, I was an ardent fan. Not only is he a gorgeous bay, which brings back fond memories of Aquarius, the lovely Quarterhorse-Arabian I rode years ago near Cody, Wyoming, but he is also a once-in-a-generation gifted athlete.
While following American Pharoah these past weeks, I was curious to read a comment made by his trainer, Bob Baffert. After winning the Kentucky Derby, May 2, Baffert shared that his winner did not bring his “super A-game” to the race. What most struck me about this remark was that–like humans–animals have their on and off days. In other words, they may experience the state of flow much like their two-legged athletic counterparts. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work on flow reveals that we—including people who are not athletes–can access the state of flow, a place where our skills are sufficiently challenged to keep us fully engaged, skirting either boredom or anxiety. One who is in flow is not only completely focused on their pursuit, but they are also driven from a place of intrinsic motivation. It is in this focused, motivated place that we perform our best, effortlessly. I loved the image of American Pharoah running full out.
Two weeks later, May 16, American Pharoah did not disappoint. At the Preakness Stakes’ Pimlico Race Course, he won by seven lengths, inclement weather and all. Not only that, he was the first horse in over twenty years to win after starting from the rail. After the Preakness Stakes, Baffert shared, “He brought his A-game today.” In other words, he was fully in a flow state. To witness that race was breathtaking, making for exciting suspense for New York.
By June 6, the day of the one-and-a-half mile Belmont Stakes and third race for the Triple Crown, American Pharoah’s popularity had skyrocketed around the world. Would there be the first triple crown winner in almost four decades? With millions of people from around the world watching, once again, American Pharoah demonstrated his peak performance. As his trainer Bob Baffert succinctly stated after the climactic race, “Down the backside he was in his groove…” He won by 5 ½ lengths in a wire-to-wire victory with the 6th fastest time in history. And what a historic and emotional moment!
What a treat to witness the first Triple Crown winner in a generation—37 years to be specific–with my mother and daughters by my side, surrounded by three other generations of best friends.