In 2015, I became a “phan” of American Pharoah (AP), the first horse ever to win the “Grand Slam” of thoroughbred horse racing: the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes) and Breeder’s Cup Classic. I saw him race three times and was enamored, not just by AP, but the people at his side. AP’s story is a positive antidote to negative reports about random shooters, terrorism, and politics and a great subject for a future movie. Just like Seabiscuit in 1938–1940, there was triumph (Triple Crown) followed by a setback (Travers Stakes loss) and a comeback.

AP’s story provides valuable life and work lessons for financial practitioners:

  1. Start Small—AP achieved success one race at a time. Similarly, financial success is possible via small steps like saving for retirement via payroll deduction or participating in a 52-Week Money Challenge and ramping up savings by $1 a week.
  2. Set a BHAG—Expand your horizons as you achieve success with a “big hairy audacious goal.” The Grand Slam wasn’t even a possibility until AP won the Triple Crown, which hadn’t happened in 37 years.
  3. Develop an Action Plan—AP’s handlers developed a series of plans to achieve success including training and travel schedules. Similarly, action plans are necessary to achieve personal finance goals.
  4. Work Hard—AP had a rigorous training schedule to develop and maintain his racing form. Similarly, people who “lean in” at work (to use Sheryl Sandberg’s term) are often rewarded with promotions and pay increases.
  5. Be Kind to People—People loved AP’s mild manner and came to watch him practice and see him close up. Similarly, people who are friendly and treat others with respect have the ability to build “social capital” to help them succeed.
  6. Be Humble in Victory—In post-race interviews, AP’s handlers referred to him as a “great horse,” but never overreached to rank him above legendary horses of the past.
  7. Be Gracious in Defeat—When AP lost the Saratoga Travers Stakes, there were no disparaging remarks about the winning horse. Rather, AP’s handlers took to Twitter to congratulate Keen Ice.
  8. Don’t Give Up—AP could have retired after the Travers loss, but didn’t. Similarly, it is easy to give up after financial losses, career setbacks, or relapses in achieving goals. By pushing forward, however, success can be achieved.
  9. Pay it Forward—AP’s owner, Ahmed Zayat, makes donations to many charitable causes, including a program for retired race horses. Jockey Victor Espinoza also donated a portion of his winnings to charity. Philanthropy generates goodwill and income tax deductions. Most importantly, it helps others.
  10. Build Your Brand—AP’s handlers connected with “phans” on Twitter and Facebook and through creative marketing (e.g., Saratoga became “Pharoahtoga”). Similarly, financial practitioners need multiple methods to market their services and connect with clients and/or students.
  11. Adapt to Change—AP’s jockey changed strategy during the Preakness. The track was muddy, it was raining hard, and Espinoza pushed AP to the front of the pack to avoid having mud kicked on his face. Financial practitioners need contingency plans for their business and for clients, when circumstances change.
  12. Reinvent Yourself—Many people struggle to define their “next act” upon loss of a job or at retirement.  AP won’t. In addition to siring baby pharaohs, he’ll have continued access to fans via tours at Coolmore Ashford Stud. Jockey Espinoza, for a short time, danced with the stars. To reinvent yourself, build upon your skills and connections.

Want to have a successful career, financial security, and a good life? Take a page from American Pharoah’s playbook. Develop a series of escalating goals, work hard, be persistent, help others, treat people kindly, and have contingency plans for when “Plan A” doesn’t work out. Best wishes to AP and his team and thanks for some great memories.

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., AFC®, CFP®, is Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management for Rutgers Cooperative Extension and provides personal financial information to residents of New Jersey and beyond. She can be reached at oneill@aesop. and on Twitter at @moneytalk1

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