Travers next for American Pharoah
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is on his way to the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, where a sellout crowd is likely to turn one of racing's most historic tracks into a festival to remember.
"Saratoga here we come!" owner Ahmed Zayat said Sunday, moments after American Pharoah came off the track at Del Mar in California from a workout termed "absolutely brilliant."
Before making the long-awaited decision to run at the Spa, Zayat and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert wanted to wait until this final workout — seven furlongs in one minute, 23.20 seconds. It came a week before Saturday's 1 1/4-mile Travers.
"He's showing zero wear and tear, in fact he's more mature, even getting better," Zayat said in a phone interview from Del Mar. "He did it so easy, the exercise rider couldn't even pull him up. Bob needed to see that."
About 2,000 fans showed up for American Pharoah's workout.
"He always works well, but we wanted to make sure if he still has that energy level," Baffert said. "It was an incredible work, though. He is a pretty incredible horse."
Weeks ago, New York racing officials capped the crowd at 50,000 for Travers day in anticipation, and all tickets are sold. If American Pharoah starts, the purse increases by $350,000 to $1.6 million. The horse is scheduled to arrive at Saratoga on Wednesday.
American Pharoah is the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. His first encore came in the Haskell Invitational in New Jersey on Aug. 2, where he rolled to an easy 2 1/4-length victory.
Now, the son of Pioneerof the Nile will attempt to do something that hasn't happened in 74 years. Of the previous 11 Triple Crown winners, only three ran in the Travers, and just one —Whirlaway in 1941 — came away a winner.
"We're elated to be coming to the Travers," Zayat, who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, said. "We want this to be America's horse, and I promised two things after he won the Triple Crown: We would open our barn to everyone, and if he's happy and healthy, we'd keep racing him. We are happy to be taking him to the 'Mid-Summer Derby' and to one of the most desirable races and tracks you can go to."
The post-position draw is Tuesday night, and as many as 10 3-year-old rivals could line up against him. Among them is Texas Red, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and looks to be back in top form following his most recent win in the Jim Dandy on Aug. 1 at Saratoga.
Other contenders include Keen Ice (second in the Haskell, third in the Belmont), Frosted (second in the Belmont), Tale of Verve (second in the Preakness) and West Virginia Derby-winner Madefromlucky (second to American Pharoah in the Rebel).
The Triple Crown winners who ran in the Travers — Gallant Fox, Whirlaway and Affirmed — faced no more than three rivals.
Saratoga also is known as the "Graveyard of Favorites" for the huge upsets that have occurred, including the 1930 Travers when 100-1 long shot Jim Dandy beat Gallant Fox.
American Pharoah has won eight straight races after a loss in the first start of his career, and has earnings of more than $5.6 million. The game plan is for a final race in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. And then it's off to the breeding shed a few miles down the road at Coolmore's Ashford Stud.
It remains unclear whether American Pharoah will have another race between the Travers and BC Classic.
For now, the racing spotlight will shine on Saratoga.
"This is a great day for racing fans in Saratoga, across the state of New York and throughout our nation," New York Racing Association President Chris Kay said.
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