The party’s still on for the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years — and the owner, trainer and jockey.
Since American Pharoah completed his sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, the past few weeks have turned into a whirlwind of TV appearances, first pitches and victory celebrations for owner Ahmed Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza.
For American Pharoah, too.
“It’s excitement. It’s what you do it for,” Zayat said before his champion was paraded around Churchill Downs to the cheers of 30,000 last weekend. “But again, it’s all about American Pharoah. He is one hell of a horse.”
The biggest questions surrounding the colt stem from what’s next. The Haskell? Jim Dandy? Pacific Classic? The owner insists his Triple Crown winner will race again, and Baffert will make the decision on when and where.
Three more starts before retirement is the plan, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, on Oct. 31 the goal for his finale. The $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Aug. 2 is the favorite for his next appearance; Baffert has won the race seven times, there’s lots of bonus money waiting for the owner, trainer and jockey, and Zayat lives in New Jersey.
The Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga in New York is Aug. 1, and while it could be an option, it’s doubtful the New York Racing Association would consider offering incentives.
Del Mar, meanwhile, is considering a $5 million bonus to keep American Pharoah in California. A horse would have to win the Pacific Classic on Aug. 22, another race at Del Mar — likely the Awesome Again — and then the BC Classic to cash in. Parx Racing is making a pitch for American Pharoah to run in the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 19.
Then, it’s down the road to the breeding shed at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud — but any training setback could send American Pharoah immediately into retirement.
Despite winning three races in five weeks at three different tracks, the champ is still on the move. After the Belmont Stakes on June 6, he returned to Baffert’s barn at Churchill Downs, with police escort from airport to stable. He posed for photos with fans, went for a jog or two around the track, was feted at a “Pharoah Fest” at the track — and strutted his stuff for a photo shoot by Vogue.
On Thursday, he was back on a plane — dubbed Air Horse One — to Santa Anita. A hero’s welcome followed, with a police escort and huge horse trailer decked out with American Pharoah signage (on the roof, too, so helicopters could spot it) taking him to the barn. He was met by Baffert and family, a slew of media — and actress Julia Roberts. A Saturday celebration is planned at the track, and then American Pharoah resumes training.
The horse isn’t the only one being feted. Jockey Victor Espinoza has shown up on “Access Hollywood,” ”Today” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and did interviews with Charlie Rose, Geraldo Rivera and Rolling Stone magazine.
He also took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, where he appeared on the CMT Music Awards show and posed for a photo with Carrie Underwood, and threw out ceremonial first pitches at Yankee Stadium and at Citi Field.
Espinoza showed up at Churchill Downs on June 13 for a celebration that drew 30,000 cheering fans as American Pharoah was paraded on the track. After returning home to California, he popped up at a Los Angeles Angels game, then jumped back in the saddle on Thursday after a 12-day break and won two races.
On Monday, he’s visiting patients at the City of Hope hospital in Duarte, California, where he’s donating his earnings from the Belmont Stakes — about $90,000. He’ll be at Santa Anita on Saturday when American Pharoah is paraded in front of another large crowd. On July 4, he’ll be riding in a VIP car at a parade in Sierra Madre. Agent Brian Beach says the jockey has offers ranging from speaking at a business conference in Mexico City to riding at a track in Turkey.
As for Baffert, if there’s ever been a happier trainer … well, there isn’t, is there? Never more gracious in a Hall-of-Fame career that has drawn as much criticism as praise, Baffert wants everyone to share in his good fortune. He’s allowed fans, media and just about everyone else access to his horse.
“I didn’t realize it was going to be this big,” he said.
The trainer has made his share of appearances — a victory lap and ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium on June 9 for one — but his focus is on his stable of stars and deciding American Pharoah’s next move. He also donated $50,000 to each of four racing charities.
Zayat, of course, has been all over business TV shows, including “Squawk Box,” ”Morning Joe” and “Secret Lives Of The Super Rich.” His Zayat Stables own 143 horses other than American Pharoah, and he has another business that frequently takes him to Europe, where he jetted off to a few days ago.
“This sport without any stars is not good,” The 52-year-old Egyptian said. “It is a dying sport and we really needed this and wanted that. This is our horse, it’s everybody’s horse. Everybody needs to see him.”
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