American Pharoah was the prohibitive 1/5 favorite to win the Travers Stakes at Saratoga last weekend. He was the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, then crushed the $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational field last month. He looked like an absolute lock to win the Travers.
Then something unusual happened...he lost. One hundred yards from the finish line, Keen Ice ran by American Pharoah, and he finished second. Complete silence and disbelief from the 50,000 fans, most of which came to see AP run away from the Travers field. Shock and disappointment, however in the aftermath of the race, there were two important lessons.
No Excuses - America has an epidemic of "not my fault." As an Executive Recruiter I hear a never ending list of excuses from candidates that were recently fired. And they never admit to being fired; it was always "their decision to leave." The Trainer and Owners of AP had many excuses. Most importantly, Frosted pushed AP every step of the way, thus softening him up for Keen Ice to come from way back and win the race. AP had previously beaten Keen Ice three times by a total of 18 lengths. Pace makes the race, and when they go fast early, they slow down at the end. Additionally, AP was obviously tired from all the travel. He flew to Saratoga just three days prior to the Travers from California. But rather than make excuses, Trainer Bob Baffert and Owners Ahmed and Justin Zayat said, "He did not bring his A game today and we got beat by a better horse today." No whining. No complaining. No excuses.
Be Gracious in Defeat - When people lose, they typically cry sour grapes. In my world of Executive Recruiting, I get "that was a bad company anyway" and my favorite - "their loss." Always remember, anyone can win. The true test of a person's character is how they react to defeat. Do they whine and complain, or do they accept that they were second best and move on? In the case of Baffert and Zayat, they graciously complimented Keen Ice (and his connections) on the win, and said it was just a privilege to be in the race. You know they were hugely disappointed, but they are a classy group of folks, and were gracious in defeat.