American Pharoah's prize money tops $8 million

American Pharoah is heading to his retirement barn in Versailles, Kentucky, after becoming the first horse in history to win the coveted Grand Slam of racing.

He is also leaving the track as one of the top-earning horses of all time, with prize winnings totaling more than $8.6 million.

Victor Espinoza rides American Pharoah to win the Breeders Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Track on October 31, 2015
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Victor Espinoza rides American Pharoah to win the Breeders Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Track on October 31, 2015

American Pharoah closed out his racing career Saturday by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic in Lexington, Kentucky, in his typical record-breaking fashion.

The victory made him the first horse to win the so-called Grand Slam, which is achieved by placing first at the Breeders' Cup and the Triple Crown races of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Pharoah was the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 37 years, and the first to do so since the Breeders' Cup was founded in 1984.

Yet Pharoah's big finish was also a major victory for his owners, the Zayat family. They sold American Pharoah's breeding rights to the Coolmore breeding operation for an undisclosed sum ahead of the Kentucky Derby, with added provisions for a Triple Crown win. Under terms of the deal, Pharoah had to be turned over to Coolmore after the Breeders' Cup.

Many horse racing pundits and thoroughbred owners called for Pharoah to be retired after the Triple Crown, so there was no risk of injury. But the Zayats pressed on, seeing Pharoah as an ultra-rare winner who could help revive the sport (and boost their prize winnings) if he kept winning.

Turns out, they were right.

"I'm thrilled," said Justin Zayat, racing and stallion manager for Zayat Racing. "We took a big risk racing after the Belmont. But we always watched him carefully and made sure he was 100 percent before deciding to race him. And as my dad always said, we raced him for the fans and for the sport."

He also did it for Pharoah, who relished racing, Zayat said.

"What would he do for all those months after June, just sit around? He loves to race, he's happiest racing," Zayat said.

"What's amazing about this horse is that he never has an off day. He breathes differently from other horses, he walks differently. He's once in a generation."

Zayat said Pharoah heads into retirement on Monday with total career winnings of $8.65 million. Of that total, $8.2 million has come in 2015. His winnings since the final Triple Crown race in June have totaled more than $4 million, with the Breeder's Cup adding $2.75 million.

Others have earned more, with overseas legends including and T M Opera O and Makybe Diva topping $14 million each. Horses competing overseas are often fighting for bigger purses, or have a more intense racing schedule. Still, Pharoah is among the top 10 earning horses of all time, and his biggest value is yet to come: From stud fees.

Pharoah will start breeding in February, and Zayat said that based on current estimates, his fees could be worth between $200,000 and $250,000 per stud. Only one other horse, the well-established breeder named Tapit (who earns up to $300,000 per stud) is believed to fetch more.

"For the first year, [Pharoah's stud fee] is almost unheard of," said Zayat, who added that his family will still retain a financial interest in the horse.

Given that Tapit typically stands more than 100 times a year, that means Pharoah could easily bring in more than $20 million a year. And there's already a long list of horse breeders waiting to breed Pharoah.

"The ladies are already lining up for him," Zayat joked.

Until February, Zayat said American Pharoah will "relax and just be a horse. And then the good life starts."

Meanwhile, the Zayats — who bred Pharoah — still own his sire, Pioneerof the Nile, whose stud fee has also soared, from $60,000 to more than $100,000. And although they sold Pharoah's mother, or dam, Littleprincessemma, they have bred a 1-year-old unnamed filly who is a full sister to Pharoah and is going through the "breaking" process of getting used to a rider and saddle.

"We don't want to compare her to Pharoah," Zayat said. "But we'll see how she does. And she's a great trophy horse."