It was a beautiful June day in the Big Apple and American Pharoah was poised in the starting gate at the Belmont Stakes, set to begin the final leg of the Triple Crown.
For a moment, we all held our breath; no horse had captured the elusive ‘Crown since Affirmed did it in 1978. Was the impossible dream possible?
And moments later as American Pharoah neared the finish line you could hear the collective roar of an entire nation as the 37-year-long drought came to an end and he became the 12th Triple Crown winner in American horse racing history!
As amazing as it was, crossing the finish line first wasn’t American Pharoah’s only achievement. Long before he had won the big race, this stunning bay colt with the short tail and long, buoyant stride had already won our hearts.
Throughout the Triple Crown season, on social media and in countless interviews, the Zayat family owners and trainer Bob Baffert had continuously invited us in to get to know their once in a lifetime racehorse.
Like the great Seabiscuit before him, he was a horse that we had come to care about. We were pulling for him to win and make the dream of a Triple Crown come true.
I have also been sending hats to the Triple Crown races ever since I started my couture millinery business in 1998 and have had the thrill of seeing my hats make it to the winner’s circle.
But it has always been my dream that someday one of my hats would be there at Belmont Park to see some special horse finally win that Triple Crown.
In March this year I received an email from a woman named Leigh McKathan. Leigh was in love with one of my cocktail hats, the “Trisha’s Zophie”, which she wanted to wear at the Derby.
Leigh’s husband, JB McKathan, Jr., and his brother Kevin, own and operate the McKathan Brothers Training Center near Ocala, Florida, and two of the horses they had trained as 2-year-olds were heading to the Derby.
One of the horses was Mr. Z. The other horse was American Pharoah.
On Derby Day, Leigh sent me photos of her and JB at Churchill Downs as they nervously awaited the call to the post. Leigh looked stunning in her “Trisha’s Zophie”, so perfectly coordinated with her dress, handbag and shoes!
Much to my delight, I found out later that my little chapeau even took part in the traditional Derby walkover prior to the race. I still get goosebumps when I think about being part of this historic parade and I am so grateful to Leigh for capturing the moment and sharing it with me.
American Pharoah’s victory in the first jewel of the Triple Crown was not an easy one. Overcoming a tough post position and the Derby stampede at the start of the race, the son of Pioneer of the Nile had to dig deep as jockey Victor Espinoza urged him on.
At the top of the stretch, Pharoah and Espinoza swung wide but somehow, together, they finally managed to pull away from Dortmund and then shake free a surprisingly game Firing Line to win the day.
In a message sent to me from her iPhone Leigh wrote just two words, “Lucky hat!” I couldn’t stop smiling as I thought of my chapeau, there in the winner’s circle as American Pharoah received his blanket of roses to the cheers of the crowd.
Two days later I received an email from Leigh. American Pharoah was heading to the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, and she asked if I would I have time to create another hat for her. She wanted the “Darby” in bold yellow and red silks.
I looked over at the already-cut pieces of yellow dupioni silk sitting on my cutting table, all pinned and ready to go.
Perhaps my “Darby” was meant for another race?
Please visit me again soon for Part 2 of “Reflections on a Crown”!
This is Part I in a 3-part series