Politics & Government

Mike Pence says Triple Crown winner American Pharoah bit him. Did the horse do it?

Vice President Mike Pence says Triple Crown winner American Pharoah bit him hard enough on the arm during a 2018 visit to Kentucky that he nearly collapsed.

But farm manager Dermot Ryan, who was there as Pence was presented with an American Pharoah halter, said Friday it would be out of character for a horse he described as “sweet.”

“If he gave someone a nasty bite, I’d know it,” Ryan said. He said Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Versailles was “very honored” to have the vice president visit and called him “very pleasant.”

Pence offered the horse tale Friday at a policy retreat for House Republicans in Baltimore, who face a challenge retaking the chamber in 2020: “In our line of work, you’re going to get bit sometimes, but you keep fighting forward,” Pence said.

The close encounter with American Pharoah, who in 2015 became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, came as Pence traveled to Kentucky in March 2018 on behalf of Rep. Andy Barr, R-Kentucky, who faced a competitive race against former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath.

Barr was with Pence, but did not see the bite occur. He did see a bruise when Pence “showed it off on Air Force Two,” spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said.

Pence said he enthusiastically accepted Barr’s invitation to meet the racehorse. The vice president said he had grown up in Indiana watching the Kentucky Derby from afar.

And he said he and his wife, Karen, “like to go horseback riding every chance we get.”

He described Coolmore to the House Republicans as “this very fancy Kentucky farm” where “everything was really manicured really nice.” He said there was a crowd of cameras around as he was asked if he wanted to hold Pharoah’s reins.

“I’m a horse guy. I said, ‘Yeah, let me hold him,’ ” Pence said. But then, he said, American Pharoah “bit me so hard on the arm, I almost collapsed.”

“I just gritted my teeth and smiled, because you know what? In our line of work, you’re going to get bit sometimes, but you keep fighting forward,” Pence said. “And we did. And Andy Barr brought it across.”

Pence visited the farm in March 2018 before an event sponsored by a pro-Trump group to tout the White House’s tax cut bill. He told the crowd at More Than a Bakery in Versailles that he met the horse because “I like to be around winners,” but didn’t mention the bite at the time.

Horse Racing Nation, which covers U.S. Thoroughbred racing, mentioned the visit in a story that day, but did not mention a bite.

Pence returned to Kentucky earlier this year and Spectator USA reported in May that Pence told a crowd at the Governor’s Derby Eve Gala that Pharoah “bit me so hard, it left a mark and I show it to people the whole time.”

Pence told a Lexington audience during the visit that he sampled some horse feed during a tour of a business that supplies feed to top Thoroughbreds.

“I did go ahead and take a little nibble of it,” Pence told the crowd at Hallway Feeds. “I think that increases the likelihood that the next winner of the Kentucky Derby and I had the same thing for dinner.”

A yearling filly sired by American Pharoah earlier this week sold for a record $8.2 million at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in Lexington.

Lesley Clark works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, covering all things Kentucky for McClatchy’s Lexington Herald-Leader. A former reporter for McClatchy’s Miami Herald, she also spent several years covering the White House.