BALTIMORE — American Pharoah is the kind of horse who is easy on himself and, in turn, makes life pretty drama-free for those who care for him.
The champion and dual classic winner stood like a cow pony for trainer Bob Baffert on Sunday morning, taking in another crowd wanting a glance at the horse who destroyed his nearest challenger in the Preakness Stakes by seven lengths Saturday to set up his bid for history in three weeks.
"He's hard to gauge because he's so quiet," Baffert said. "He's not going to come out here jumping around. He's so mellow."
Good thing, because things are about to get decidedly difficult for the colt and those associated with him. This is the point when well-rested horses enter the mix, when pressure and expectations shoot off the charts, when cracks in the armor show up.
American Pharoah is about to try what 13 other horses since 1978 have attempted and failed at — heading into the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes on June 6 with a chance to become just the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown.
The bay son of Pioneerof the Nile was tired but healthy Sunday morning in the aftermath of his front-running show in the rain in the Preakness. A deluge hit Pimlico Race Course several minutes before the eight-horse field loaded into the starting gate, but American Pharoah shrugged off the conditions, as he has most challengers in his career, and although taxed by his outing, he seemed less stressed to Baffert than he did in the aftermath of his one-length Kentucky Derby victory.
"He's a little tired. He's supposed to be after a race. But health-wise, he looks good," said Baffert, who earned his sixth career win in the Preakness, tying him with fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. "He was more tired after the Derby. The Derby he was blowing pretty hard, he was pretty hot. It was taxing on him. But he hadn't had a hard race. We let him run yesterday.
"He went through a lot with that rain, doing what he did. He just showed what a special horse he is. He didn't bring his 'A' game (in the Derby) but he brought it yesterday."
The Triple Crown bid ringer is something Baffert has lived and breathed. Three times he has brought a horse to this point — Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002 — only to have all fall short.
In the coming weeks, Baffert will look for signs of the toll American Pharoah's seventh career start and sixth career win took on the Zayat Stables homebred. He will ship the colt to Churchill Downs on Monday, where he will train until leaving for New York, probably Wednesday of Belmont week.
And if the reigning juvenile champion indeed makes his expected trip, it means he is floating over the track and holding his weight to Baffert's satisfaction.
"I've learned from my other horses what I did, what I could have done ... you just don't know how they're going to react until they run," Baffert said. "One thing is, he does have a good appetite. Trying to keep that weight maintained (through the Triple Crown) is tough.
"If I put him on that plane that means he's doing really, really well."
There will be no lying down for the champion, either, as he attempts to become the first since Affirmed to take the three classics.
Trainer Dallas Stewart was beaming over Tale of Verve pulling off a runner-up finish in the Preakness and plans to ship the colt to New York on Monday to train for the Belmont.
"We think this horse will love a mile and a half," Stewart said.
Tale of Verve looks to be the only Preakness challenger American Pharoah will face. All the others, including fellow Baffert-trainee Dortmund and Derby runner-up Firing Line, are looking to bypass the final leg of the Triple Crown.
"I think he could maybe use a break. He's getting a little light," Baffert said of Dortmund, who finished fourth in the Preakness.
Among the rested who will take a swing at being history's latest spoiler are Frosted, fourth in the Kentucky Derby; Grade I winners Carpe Diem and Materiality; and Keen Ice, Mubtaahij, Madefromlucky and Frammento.
Carpe Diem, Materiality and Madefromlucky are all trained by Todd Pletcher, who bypassed the Preakness entirely to point for the Belmont.
"I've always said this: There is a home-field advantage at Belmont where there is no home-field advantage at Churchill or Pimlico," said Mark Casse, trainer of Danzig Moon, who ran sixth in the Preakness. "So (American Pharoah) has to be good enough to overcome the home-field advantage and overcome the horses that did stay out of the Preakness. But I like his chances."
Though some people raised eyebrows at American Pharoah's slow final time of 1:58.46 for the 13⁄16-mile Preakness, Baffert wanted to remind them to look again at the conditions.
"Time didn't matter. That was survival to go through that stuff," he said.
Over the next three weeks, Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza — who will make his own Triple Crown attempt for the third in time his career — will have their mental stamina tested as they get repeatedly peppered with questions about American Pharoah's chances.
They're counting on the colt who started all this to ultimately answer.
"I told Victor, if the horse fires, you'll win it. If the horse doesn't fire, you're not going to win," Baffert said. "We just have to get him rejuvenated. If he runs that race again (like he did in the Preakness), he's going to be hard to beat."