OCEANPORT, N.J. — In NASCAR they have what is termed the "silly season" where rumors over which driver may be headed to which team are fervently debated before any official decisions are announced.
The current king of horsepower in Thoroughbred racing is inspiring his own version. Everyone has an opinion about where Triple Crown winner American Pharoah should head next after what was essentially a paid workout in the form of his Grade I, $1.75 million Haskell Invitational triumph Sunday.
And the ones who actually have a say in the matter maintain they will keep deferring to the horse.
American Pharoah's days of going through the sales ring are long done, but a bidding war of sorts is building steam as tracks on both coasts attempt to lure the connections of the champion colt before he makes what is expected to be his final career start in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland on Oct. 31.
Given the ridiculously easy nature of American Pharoah's 21/4-length Haskell win in which jockey Victor Espinoza had him geared down through the Monmouth Park stretch, there is now no doubt the son of Pioneerof the Nile is continuing to thrive in the aftermath of his sweep of the classics.
Trainer Bob Baffert said after the Belmont Stakes he wanted to run American Pharoah twice before the Breeders' Cup. When asked Sunday if one more start before the Classic was still the plan, Baffert went back to stating that the condition of his top charge was going to determine everything from here forward.
"We're just playing it race by race," Baffert said. "It's hard to keep a horse at that level especially what he's been through. But as long as he's at the top level, I'll lead him up there. I don't care what kind of track. ... He just runs on everything."
Among the races in play for the Pharoah Sweepstakes is the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 29 as NYRA announced Friday it would increase the purse of the race to $1.6 million contingent on American Pharoah running.
A Travers start would likely then necessitate Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat running the colt once more before the Breeders' Cup. From a timing and financial standpoint, the Grade II, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 19 could be a more viable option in that it would give American Pharoah a start six weeks out from the Breeders' Cup. Parx also offers additional financial incentives to the owners and trainers of any entrant who has won a Triple Crown race.
Del Mar, where Baffert is currently based, is expected to make a hard sell as well to try and get American Pharoah for the Grade I Pacific Classic on Aug. 22, though Baffert said "it doesn't make sense to put him in with the older horses right now" given the 3-year-old races still available.
"I know when I get home Del Mar will put a lot of pressure on me too," Baffert said post-race. "Mr. Zayat told me you don't run him unless he is 100 percent, do right by the horse.
"I'm not worried about Saratoga or the surface. As long as American Pharoah is on top of his game, that's my main concern. Only he can tell me by watching him work."
Baffert and Zayat flew back to California on Sunday night leaving regular exercise rider George Alvarez to watch over the sport's 12th Triple Crown hero. On a quiet, sunny morning with only a smattering of media tracking him, American Pharoah was in good order Monday as he calmly boarded the van at 8:30 a.m. to take him to the airport.
"He came out good, no problem. He wasn't even blowing or anything," Alvarez said Monday. "It (the Haskell) was easy for him. The only difference I see with the other races and this one is he's a little more mature. Energy-wise, he's pretty much the same. But, he knows his job better."
Trainer Dale Romans said that Haskell runner-up Keen Ice was in good order as he shipped out of Monmouth at 5 a.m. The Travers is the probable next target for the large-bodied colt, who boosted his earnings to $640,395 though he owns just a maiden win from 10 starts.
"He just keeps improving," Romans said.
Trainer Eddie Plesa said graded stakes winner Mr. Jordan seemed to have no obvious problems Monday after finishing a distant last in the Haskell after rating third in the early portion of the race.
"We just had him jogging on the pavement and it looks like he came out of the race fine," said Plesa, who added Mr. Jordan would probably be sent to the farm for a freshening. "I don't really have an explanation for what happened. We're going to do some more testing ... but we can't tell anything is wrong with him."
Disheartened as he was by Mr. Jordan's run, even Plesa couldn't help but get caught up in the dynamic scene around him as American Pharoah stomped all over another would-be challenge.
"He's a tremendous racehorse, no ifs ands or buts," Plesa said. "He's the number one horse certainly this year and years past, possibly. (Sunday) was electric. Even though I was concentrating on one thing, you couldn't help but hear what was happening. You always hear about the roar of the crowd, you heard it yesterday."