American Pharoah, Abstract Expressionist

When he’s not busy training for the Breeders’ Cup, which takes place Oct. 31 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., American Pharoah has quite the artistic side.

He is among those champions, including Kentucky Derby rival Firing Line and the legendary Cigar, who have done artwork – cleverly called Moneighs – to support After the Finish Line and ReRun Thoroughbred Adoption, which help less fortunate retired racehorses to a new life.

In my guise as editor of WAG magazine, an award-winning lifestyle publication, I had the pleasure of interviewing After the Finish Line President Dawn Mellen, who assists artistes like the Pharoah. (His Moneigh sold recently for a record $7,104 on eBay.)

Mellen visits the horses in their stalls and, with their grooms standing by, allows them to get comfortable with the paper and nontoxic children’s paints in the colors of their respective racing silks. (AP’s artwork looks like an Abstract Expressionist watercolor in his signature aqua and yellow.)

Once the horses are familiar with the tools of the trade, Mellen applies paint to their chinny chin chins and lets them at it as she holds the paper. An imprint of one of the horse’s racing plates, or racing shoes, serves as his signature. The results speak movingly of the instinct to create and to empathize with others – which transcends humanity.

As for AP, Mellen told me he was a perfect gentleman throughout, participating fully in the process. In words, she painted a portrait of perhaps the best type of champion – one who leaves his game face on the track or court or field to be a relaxed charmer at “home.” She has certainly given me food for thought for my planned novel “Criterion” – the third in my series “The Games Men Play” – in which the title character seeks to become the first racehorse since Whirlaway to win the Triple Crown and the Travers Stakes. Focusing on rival stables, families and athletes, “Criterion” is a tale of blood and bloodlines among two- and four-legged creatures, told in part from the title racehorse’s viewpoint.

Will Criterion be creating a Moneigh? He has a great heart, one full of compassion for the troubled racing dynasties that share his destiny. So I can imagine that he’ll be doing a Helen Frankenthaler-style work in his signature tennis-ball green and sea blue silks – the colors of “The Games Men Play.”

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