McKathan Brothers Training Center in Citra hasn’t been in the headlines recently, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been part of something important. One of the horses staying in its stables about a year ago was American Pharoah – the 12th Triple Crown winner.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said JB McKathan, who owns the farm with his brother Kevin.
McKathan said they trained two horses that won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, before falling short of the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.
“When we were kids, you know, we thought it was easy,” McKathan said. “Then we found out that it wasn’t.”
He didn’t expect American Pharoah to win, but he isn’t surprised.
“He was so fast that every time we worked him, I was just, like, ‘oh my gosh. Wow,’” McKathan said. “He broke stop watches every time he got out of a gallop.”
McKathan also said American Pharoah was one of the nicest horses they’ve had.
“He’s just a sweetheart. You could just pet him all day long and he’d let you,” he said. “He just would walk around like he owned the place, and you know, he really did.”
McKathan said that Florida is perfect for training. There’s good infrastructure with many businesses that support the industry. It’s located on a water table, which allows the horses access to mineral-rich water.
And of course, there’s the weather, which allows the horses to train year-round.
American Pharoah made history, and he may have also made an impact on the sport. McKathan said there were talks before the race within the horse racing governing body about changing the distances of races because a horse had not won the Triple Crown in 37 years. American Pharoah proved it is still possible and brought national attention to the sport.
“I think the fact that it was such a long dry spell, I think there’s a whole generation of people that actually didn’t think it was even possible,” he said. “I think it’s going to expose a new generation to how great racing (and) racehorses can be.”
Even if another horse wins the Triple Crown a few years from now or even next year, McKathan will not forget the legacy he trained.
“If you just watch the way he moved down the stretch of the Belmont and down the stretch in the Preakness – I got to watch that right here on my racetrack, and it’s exactly the same,” he said.
He said he wouldn’t be opposed to having baby American Pharoahs running around in the future.
“I’ve never seen as fluid a horse that I can remember,” he said. “It’s just he’s got this magical action, and that’s what makes him what he is.”