It’s not often that an American Jewish publication chooses to comment on a horse race. And we certainly claim no expertise regarding the coveted Triple Crown of horse racing. But American Pharoah is a rare hose. Having won the Kentucky Derby and Maryland’s Preakness Stakes last month, the thoroughbred stands to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, and only the fourth since 1948, when he runs at Belmont Park on Saturday.
That’s exciting, of course. But the Jewish angle here is American Pharoah’s owner. Ahmed Zayat, 52, is an Egyptian-born Jew who came to the United States as a young man. He made his fortune in the beverage industry and then turned to horses. His Zayat Stables were the top earners in North America in 2008. That he is also deeply religious, observing Shabbat even on the days his horses race — he apparently stays with family and friends in hotels near race venues, arranges catered kosher Shabbat meals and walks to the races — is a testament to the fact that in today’s world, religious conviction needn’t stand in the way of accomplishment.
“In addition to his faith, he brought some other important things with him from Egypt: a lifelong love of horses, a crazily competitive streak and an overflowing optimism often found in American immigrants,” according to a Yahoo Sports profile of Zayat. “Roll those traits together and you have a gregarious, emotive man who has risen to very near the top of the thoroughbred racing game — seemingly impervious to all the bruises he has absorbed along the way.”
In Maryland, horses are a $1.6 billion industry, with $826 million from racing alone, according to the American Horse Council Association. All of which has drawn our attention to American Pharoah, whose name seems to reflect Zayat’s Egyptian heritage and American home. Of course, there is the curious spelling of the horse’s name which, according to reports, was suggested by an Arkansas woman, who apparently misspelled pharaoh when she submitted it for a contest.
Neither the curious spelling of his name nor the rather unconventional characteristics of his owner have slowed American Pharoah down. We wish him and the Zayat family success at Belmont Park.