ELMONT, N.Y. — Everyone wanted to know what Triple Crown winner American Pharoah will do next. But trainer Bob Baffert first wanted them to do what he is trying to — just bask in the champion's presence.
So, from Barn 1 on the Belmont Park backstretch Sunday morning, Baffert led American Pharoah out to the media for his latest dose of admiration. And since Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner is blessed with the temperament of a petting zoo pony, his trainer invited all those there who wanted to come and lay hands upon the colt themselves.
"He loves to be around people, people petting him and loving on him," Baffert said. "I want to share him with everybody and show everybody how kind and sweet he is."
American Pharoah is nothing if not the people's horse right now. The day after the son of Pioneerof the Nile captured the 147th Belmont Stakes by 51/2 lengths to become the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, the process of dissecting his greatness and speculating on his future began with force.
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The gleam on his coat and brightness of his demeanor answered the primary question of how American Pharoah bounced out of his seventh win from eight career starts. The reigning juvenile champion, six-time Grade I winner and newly-christened legend has made freakish ease his hallmark.
Yet it was still a marvel to see him barely stressed after notching the sixth-fastest winning time in Belmont when he hit the wire in 2:26.65 over 11/2 miles.
"Today he looked like I could run him back in three weeks. He's that kind of horse. He's special," Baffert said.
In further evidence of his remarkable high cruising speed and acceleration, the Zayat Stables homebred covered the final half mile of the 12-furlong Belmont faster than he did the first 4 furlongs. It also marked the sixth different track the colt has won over, with him handling everything from Del Mar's old synthetic surface, to sloppy conditions to Saturday's dry track.
"No matter if it's raining, sloppy, heavy track, you get it done. That's what he did. He just brought it at every track," Baffert said. "I went back and looked at all the videos of Seattle Slew, Secretariat and Affirmed and ... they all have in common — that there was never an excuse. They just took the ball and ran with it. When they're special like that, you keep them healthy, keep them happy, stay out of their way and don't overthink it."
Now that Thoroughbred racing has the Triple Crown golden child it has been clamoring for, the question is how much of a mainstream lift American Pharoah's feat will provide the sport — assuming the future Ashford Stud stallion runs again.
Both Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat reiterated Sunday that as long as American Pharoah stays healthy, the plan is to have him race throughout the rest of his 3-year-old season, with the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland in October as the target.
"With this horse, we owe it to the sport to continue properly, and as often as we possibly can," Zayat said. "This is a pledge to my family, the industry and racing, and we take it really seriously. When the horse is ready, we're not going to be scared about running him, to lose or not lose."
American Pharoah's added role as ambassador will take effect while he gets some post-Triple Crown R&R. Shortly after making an appearance alongside Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza on NBC's Today show Sunday morning, American Pharoah was shipped back to Churchill Downs where he will reside for at least a couple of weeks, Baffert said.
He also will be back under the Twin Spires on June 13 as Churchill Downs has plans to parade the champion colt for fans as part of their "Downs After Dark" card featuring the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap.
"He's our Stanley Cup. I have to go take him around there and show him off to the people," Baffert cracked.
Earlier last week, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin expressed concern that even if his Grade I-winning charge, Frosted, ran his best race in the Belmont, the colt might be running into a monster the likes of which hasn't been seen in generations.
McLaughlin's fears were justified as Frosted uncorked a top effort that was only good enough for second. Whether any horse, 3-year-old or otherwise, can push American Pharoah the remainder of the season might now be a tougher challenge than the three-race feat the bay colt just conquered.
"I think with every race I can see, he's getting better," Baffert said.
Added McLaughlin, "American Pharoah is a special horse, he does things effortlessly. We were happy with our horse ... we just picked the wrong year to have a good 3-year-old."