Pharoah trainer discusses big win
BELMONT, N.Y. – On the morning after American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought by winning the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes to become only the 12th Triple Crown winner, the Zayat Stables homebred was perfectly healthy and happy as his connections were still soaking in all of the emotions related to the significance of the achievement that has been termed “the most difficult in all of sports to accomplish.”
“It was a beautiful moment and I’ll never forget the sound of the crowd when they were turning for home. I’ve never been involved in anything like that,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said while holding the shank on the horse outside of the barn at 7:30 a.m., and then in an extraordinarily unusual gesture, inviting the assembled media to come up and pet American Pharoah to demonstrate the colt’s gentle and loving nature.
“I just wanted to share him with everybody to show how kind and how sweet he is. He’s been so special to me because for some reason he connects with me. Horses of his caliber are not that nice. He’s just sweet and he’s so different from any other horse I’ve had,” said Baffert, who won the Belmont once before with Point Given in 2001 but came up empty in three previous Triple Crown tries with Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem.
Baffert said that he was amazed by the overwhelming and vociferous support from the fans on hand at Belmont Park, not one of whom heckled him, and that was a first in his lengthy career.
“Everybody was on board with this horse,” he said. “This journey with this horse has been incredible since we started it. From the Rebel (Stakes) to the Arkansas Derby, the whole (Kentucky) Derby thing, and all. There was a lot of pressure, and then there’s the stress. I was really relieved to win the Derby, and I was happy to win the Preakness, and yesterday was very emotional for me.”
Baffert recalled his previous three attempts to grab Triple Crown glory with Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem that fell short.
“Sometimes I can’t believe I have him (American Pharoah) in my barn,” he said. “To see this horse finally do something like this…I was starting to believe that maybe it was never going to happen. I was starting to think that maybe it’s the breed, but it’s not the breed. We just have to wait until a superior horse comes around, and they don’t come around that often. You have to have a superior horse, and he also has to be tough and be able to handle the grind.”
American Pharoah, undefeated in all starts but his maiden effort and unbeaten in 2015, proved with his front-running, 5 and-a-half -length Belmont victory that he is “the one.”
Ahmed Zayat, the colt’s owner and breeder and the owner of American Pharoah’s sire Pioneerof the Nile, said at a morning news conference that he realized this horse was exceptional from the start.
“We were told from the time he was a young foal that he was special, and I told that to Bob from Day One,” Zayat said before watching American Pharoah’s Triple Crown banner unfurled to hang with those of the previous 11 winners. “Then when he went to Bob’s barn, it was the same. Bob never hypes a horse, but he did tell me ‘He’s the one, but let’s keep that between ourselves because we don’t want to jinx him.’ Now the secret is out.”
Baffert said that despite the grueling task of having to run in all three Triple Crown races and having won all five of his starts since mid-March, the beautifully conformed and brightly shining American Pharoah remains in remarkable good health and spirits.
“Looking at the horse today, he looked pretty darn good for a horse that just ran a mile and a half. He’s a tough horse. Today he looked like he could run back in three weeks,” he said.
Nonetheless, American Pharaoh, who stepped on a van at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday and headed to the airport for flight back to Churchill Downs, is getting a well-deserved break. His trainer will give him at least four days off to recover, and then decide when to fly him back to their Southern California headquarters.
Zayat, who has already sealed the deal with Coolmore for the horse’s stallion rights and cut marketing rights deals, adamantly stated that he will not be immediately retired after winning Triple Crown glory. As long as the colt is healthy and happy, he will remain in training.
“After we freshen him up, we have options,” said Baffert, who mentioned the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, and a “little race” at Del Mar, most likely the Grade 1 Pacific Classic.
All of the races will be contested in August and are on the road to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“We’ll have time to figure it all out, and right now we just want to love on him and enjoy him,” Baffert said.
Both Zayat and Baffert recognize that American Pharoah is now racing royalty and how much their Triple Crown winner means to the sport and to his ever-growing legion of loyal and loving fans.
“We want to share him with the fans. He’s our Stanley Cup,” said Baffert.
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