LOUISVILLE -- Even as the lives of those around him have been wonderfully altered by his Triple Crown achievement, champion American Pharoah was his same old, visually inspiring self Friday morning as he went back to the track for the first time since completing his sweep of the American classics in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
With regular exercise rider Jorge Alvarez grinning in the irons and his Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, looking on, American Pharoah jogged a mile clockwise over the Churchill Downs track. Less than a week removed from his 51/2-length victory in the Belmont and the first Triple Crown in 37 years, the Zayat Stables homebred was as bright, alert and kind as ever as he skipped over the track and then indulged the fortunate onlookers seeking a hands-on moment with racing's newest legend.
Among those who came by to visit Friday was Dr. William McGee, an integral part of the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, who has seen numerous Triple Crown runners and even treated some when he was a practicing veterinarian.
Baffert was pleased with the horse's bearing.
"Just watching him come out of the barn and looking at his weight, he still looks like the picture of health," Baffert said, smiling. "It's amazing that what he's been through, it looks like he's starting to get better now. It shows you what he's made of.
"I can tell that the last 60 days, he's grown, he's starting to fill out. I'm happy to see that he's still happy; he enjoyed going to the track today. He came off the track and looked like an incredible animal. I guess you have to be incredible to do what he accomplished."
Baffert called his champion charge "a baby and a beast," the former a nod to the colt's sweet demeanor and the latter a term to describe his domination on the track.
Since losing his career debut, American Pharoah has reeled off seven consecutive wins, including six Grade I triumphs. His one-length victory in the Kentucky Derby has been the closest thing to an off day he has had. His seven-length Preakness Stakes victory and his gate-to-wire coronation in the Belmont Stakes were displays of beauty and ease the likes of which Baffert says he has never seen.
"I was thinking I'd never be able to accomplish (the Triple Crown). That it's just too difficult," said Baffert, who had won the first two legs with three previous horses — Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) — only to have them all come up short in the Belmont. "I've brought too many nice horses here, and we couldn't close the deal. But it took something really special, like American Pharoah.
"I always thought there was no excuses with him. If they're great, they can do it. He earned it, and the way he did it, he did it the right way. He did it with authority."
American Pharoah is set to be paraded at Churchill Downs on the main track after the fifth race, about 8 p.m. Saturday. The son of Pioneerof the Nile is scheduled to return to his Southern California base on June 18.
Baffert reiterated Friday that the Grade II Jim Dandy, Aug. 1 at Saratoga in upstate New York, and the Grade I Haskell, Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey are possible next starts for the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner.
"I have to see how this horse responds. Usually it takes about two weeks, and you start seeing what kind of effect it's had on them," Baffert said. "But if you see him show up, that means he's going to perform in a big way. I feel more pressure training him now. Now I feel like wrapping him in bubble wrap. But what I want to do is show him with everybody."