The next scheduled start for Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was made official on Thursday. Owner Ahmed Zayat confirmed his champion colt will point for the Grade I, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2 in Oceanport, N.J.
The 11⁄8-mile Haskell will mark the first start for American Pharoah since he prevailed in the Belmont Stakes by 51/2 lengths on June 6 to become the first horse in 37 years to sweep the American classics.
Both Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert had previously indicated the Haskell was the leading candidate to serve as American Pharoah's post-Triple Crown race debut.
ESPN was first to report the decision was official, and in a follow-up interview with the Herald-Leader, Zayat said the Haskell "worked perfectly" in terms of both its timing for his colt and creating an atmosphere worthy of a Triple Crown hero.
"I wanted to give him a race that will be kind on the horse and ... my direction to Monmouth Park was 'make it a day that is memorable for the fans and the sport,'" said Zayat, who is a resident of New Jersey. "I said 'Don't worry about the purses and the bonuses.' That's important, but this is not about that. This is about the horse and the fans. And Monmouth promised me they are going to do a day that will not be forgotten.
"We're working on ideas of having giveaways, concerts. Trying to get people like Bruce Springsteen, who is from New Jersey. I just want this for the sport."
Zayat said American Pharoah has regained most of the weight he lost after the Belmont — which was his fourth start in eight weeks and seventh win from eight career starts. They got the green light on his form when the colt returned to the worktab this past Monday, breezing 3 furlongs in 36.40 at Santa Anita Park.
"He came out so far really good," Zayat said. "He lost some weight, he gained some back. But we've literally been parading him from one track to another and everybody and their mother wanted to see him."
Zayat said, going forward, if American Pharoah ran to expectations in the Haskell and came out of that well, he would consider running him back in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 29. He added he would prefer to keep Pharoah on the East Coast this summer to reduce the amount of cross-country shipping heading into his expected swan song in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland on Oct. 31.
"If he comes out (of the Haskell) good, then I am actually very much looking forward to wheeling him back at Saratoga," Zayat said. "(If he didn't run in the Travers) the next target would probably be the Pennsylvania Derby (at Parx on Sept. 19). But I don't want to get ahead of myself. It depends on the horse. ... I just want to give him a first test and atmosphere that will be respectful for the legacy of American Pharoah."