American Pharoah, the thoroughbred vying for the Triple Crown, flew into Long Island Tuesday aboard a Boeing 727 affectionately known as “Air Horse One,” beginning the last leg of his journey to the Belmont Stakes.
The 3-year-old colt left Louisville, Ky., at 11:45 a.m. and landed at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip roughly an hour and a half later on a plane with Pegasus, the winged horse, as its logo.
The price of the ticket: $3,250 including meals (hay, that is), water and workers on board, if not exactly stewards.
The H.E. Sutton Forwarding Co., based in Lexington, Ky., arranged the trip aboard the modified cargo plane operated by Kalitta Charters, a firm that, in addition to more conventional charters, has flown horses and penguins and shipped whales.
Few if any passengers have been as carefully watched as American Pharoah, which could become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed took that honor in 1978.
American Pharoah shared the plane – where each horse is given its own stall – with fellow Belmont Stakes competitor Keen Ice and 11 other horses not running in the race.
“We call it first class,” H.E. Sutton chief Rob Clark said of the airline that bills itself as the “choice of champions.” “If you’re a horse, if you can get put on a plane and in an hour and thirty minutes be from Kentucky to New York versus 13 hours over the highway, that’s first class.”
Horses are walked along a ramp to board and leave the plane, which was modified to include padded stalls where the horses are fed, watered down and tended to.
If this seems like luxury compared to a trailer, it’s strictly business. Aviation is likely to better prepare a horse for the run ahead.
“The shorter time they spend traveling, the sooner they get in their stall,” Clark continued. “It’s better for the horse.”
Although the plane could have flown in to Republic Airport in Farmingdale or John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, the aircraft instead touched down in Islip.
“Years ago, we used to go to JFK. It’s a quicker time to get there, but you spend a lot of time taxiing,” Clark said. “We try to minimize the duration of the trip. You have much less taxi time, so the net length of the trip is shorter.”
In addition to the two Belmont-bound horses, other passengers flew in this plane filled with animals adorned with memorable monikers.
Horses on board included Bayern, Enchanting Lady, Smokey, Tepin, Dynamic Sky, White Rose, Bellarmine, Call Me George, Oceanwave, Vouch For Kitten and Shrinking Violet.
“He’s a good traveler,” Clark said of American Pharoah. “He’s a pro. For a 3-year-old horse, he travels very well. No acting up. Some horses act up. And some are very cool customers.”
The plane, unofficially known as Air Horse One, rumbled into Long Island, dropped off its precious cargo and promptly lifted off.
“Air Horse One is a tongue-in-cheek nickname we coined for the plane,” Clark said. “It’s an inside nickname we have.”
American Pharoah earlier flew Air Horse One from California to Arkansas for the Arkansas Derby in April, then went on to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby and to Baltimore for the Preakness before heading to Long Island for the Belmont Stakes.
“Some people are afraid to fly,” Clark said. “A horse isn’t thinking, ‘I’m going up in the air.’ For them, it’s no different than traveling in a trailer or a van.”
Although numerous equine transport companies operate internationally, H.E. Sutton is one of only a few that travel around the United States. Federal Express also moves hoses in cargo planes that contain other freight.
“That’s all we do,” Clark said. “When a horse is on our plane, he’s on with other horses.”
The firm flew more than 2,600 horses last year, down from nearly 3,000 horses before the recession hit.
“Business has been really good. When the big recession hit in 2008, it hit us as well,” Clark added. “Slowly, it’s been trying to come back from that.”
Clark said 70 to 75 percent of horses that it flies are racehorses with show horses comprising the remainder. Many of the most famous racehorses have gotten tickets for Air Horse One.
In addition to American Pharoah, H.E. Sutton has flown equine jet setters such as Zenyatta; Empire Maker; California Chrome, which won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness last year; and Cigar, another top-earning horse.
Halford Ewel or “Tex” Sutton, who was born in Lamesa, Texas in 1921, left home at age 11 and rode a train west to California, where he began working with horses. He worked as a hot-walker, groom, exercise rider and jockey’s valet.
Sutton went into equine transportation in 1954, shipping horses by railroad for 15 years, until he began flying horses.
The firm on its website said he “insisted on employing experienced, capable horsemen to load, unload and attend to the needs of horses during flights.
Read more: http://libn.com/2015/06/10/american-pharoah-flies-into-li-on-air-horse-one-2/#ixzz3eC4ae78z