Since the evening of June 6, Justin Zayat can barely have a conversation that doesn't eventually invoke the name of his family's homebred colt.
When his girlfriend inquires how his day is going, the 23-year-old racing and stallion manager for Zayat Stables laughs that he often responds with a comment about how great "Pharoah" trained that day. Because when you own the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Triple Crown, it's only natural that colt occupies a large chunk of your moment-to-moment thoughts.
Since it has also been 37 years since a reigning Triple Crown winner made a subsequent start, Zayat has faced many queries in advance of Sunday's Grade I, $1.75 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. American Pharoah, who became just the 12th horse to sweep the American classics, is set to make the 11⁄8-mile race his first start since his history-clinching Belmont Stakes win in June.
And everyone, his connections included, wants to know what a post-Triple Crown version of the bay colt can do.
The consensus is that the racing community is in for more of the same Sunday as American Pharoah drew post No. 4 Thursday and was installed as the overwhelming 1-5 morning-line favorite over seven others set to go to post in a richer-than-ever Haskell.
In the eight weeks since American Pharoah's 51/2-length Belmont Stakes romp, the son of Pioneerof the Nile has kept followers awestruck with the way he has maintained his matter-of-fact brilliance, emerging from the five-week Triple Crown journey as good as any horse in trainer Bob Baffert's Hall of Fame career.
American Pharoah's six timed workouts since the Belmont have been their usual fluid exercises. So stoutly has the 3-year-old come into hand, that Baffert worked him three times in a span of 10 days from July 18-28, with the last move being 4 furlongs in :48.80 at Del Mar.
"All my friends are like, 'What are you expecting Sunday? Who is your biggest competition?' And I'm like ... 'If Pharoah is Pharoah he's going to win,'" Justin Zayat said. "I've never been so confident in running a horse as with Pharoah. He needs to be the horse everyone knows, that's what we're looking forward to.
"But it is a scary thought that this horse could get better. It's crazy just watching him, every single work is like. 'Oh my God, he's doing it again.' A horse can work brilliantly one time, but brilliant work after brilliant work after brilliant work, it's just like, 'Wow, that's a true champion right there.' That's why he earned the Triple Crown."
Baffert has owned the Haskell over the past couple decades, winning the race a record seven times beginning with Point Given in 2001. The legendary trainer warned post-Belmont that if the racing world saw American Pharoah in the starting gate again, it would be because Baffert knew the colt was sitting on go.
"I've had some really good horses, what makes him a great horse is he can sustain his form," Baffert said. "There's a lot of horses I've had that are really good horses, but they just cannot sustain that form for a long period of time.
"I really don't see anything that would keep him from running a good race. Everything I've seen in the mornings has been very positive."
Less than 24 hours before entries were taken for the Haskell, the race's purse was increased by $750,000.
The added financial incentive was enough to lure trainer Rick Violette Jr. into sending graded stakes winner Upstart to the Haskell rather than going into Saturday's Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, for which he was also entered. Upstart has not raced since finishing last in the Kentucky Derby, but was installed as the 6-1 second choice in the morning line and recently fired a bullet 4-furlong move in :47.20 at Saratoga on July 25.
"He's been perfect. We gave him a few weeks off at the farm and he hasn't missed a beat since coming back," Violette said. "Whatever happened in the Derby stays in the Derby, because he didn't run. Maybe the winter got to him, I don't know."
Though trainer Todd Pletcher added a couple late Haskell entrants in Nonna's Boy and Dontbetwithbruno — both 30-1 — the seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer is still deciding whether he will run Grade I winner Competitive Edge in the Haskell or keep the colt in the Jim Dandy.
War Story, 16th in the Kentucky Derby, had been expected for the Haskell but was not entered and will instead head to Saturday's Grade II West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer.
Mr. Jordan, Keen Ice and Top Clearance round out the Haskell field.
"A race like this ... you have to take a shot," said Wayne Catalano, trainer of Top Clearance. "They've got to line them up and run the race."