LOUISVILLE — The praise came from all corners Tuesday morning, and in this case, it wasn't just a case of typical trainer-speak.
All those who saw American Pharoah's breeze over the Churchill Downs track didn't need trainer Bob Baffert or jockey Martin Garcia to state the obvious.
The dual classic winner didn't show any signs that his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 is weighing on him as he put forth a seemingly effortless display Tuesday in covering 4 furlongs in 48 seconds flat. It was his first major move since winning the Preakness Stakes by 7 lengths on May 16.
Baffert has brought three colts to this stage before, and he has said this is the point where one would usually start noticing any fatigue from the five-week Triple Crown grind.
Both Baffert's body language and that of his Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning charge Tuesday signaled that was not the case as American Pharoah cruised along under Garcia. The colt's ears pricked the entire way around.
Garcia barely moved on American Pharoah throughout, letting the son of Pioneerof the Nile roll as he pleased through splits of :24 and :35.80 en route to clocking 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 and galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:13.20.
"I like the way he went today. He showed a lot of energy going to the pole," said Baffert, who flew in from California for the work. "He took off from the 4½-furlong pole and was going really easily. I kept telling Martin just keep going, and he ended up going five-eighths in a minute and change. Just the way he did it was the right way; he's moving like his fluid self and came back the right way. That's Pharoah. When he's on his game, that's the way he looks."
American Pharoah has been a fantastic workhorse throughout his seven-race career, and coming off the track Tuesday, there was little evidence to suggest that his latest breeze was anything other than another example of how he keeps making challenges look routine.
Garcia, who took off his mounts at Santa Anita Park on Sunday to fly in for the work, beamed as he described how the Zayat Stables' homebred was feeling in preparation for the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes on June 6.
"He's not going to get beat. He's going to win," said Garcia, who regularly works American Pharoah for Baffert. "He's super good. Really, really good. He was just galloping. I'm really happy with what he did. He come back like (it was) nothing; he loves to run."
Baffert said he would likely return to Louisville this Saturday evening and planned to work American Pharoah once more — either Sunday or Monday, depending on the weather — before shipping to Belmont Park on Tuesday.
The only charge of his that Baffert can recall gaining weight throughout the Triple Crown series was Point Given, the 2001 Belmont Stakes winner and eventual horse of the year.
Baffert said American Pharoah weighs 1,178 pounds and has been holding at or around that weight since the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 11.
"What I saw today was pretty good; he was pretty spectacular out there," Baffert said. "I think the most important thing is not Victor (regular jockey Espinoza) or me; it's the horse staying healthy. That's the key. If he's not, Victor can't get him to win. If his horse gets beat, it's because we didn't have the prep right for the race. There is more pressure on us than American Pharoah. As for what I saw today, I don't see any regression."
The list of potential challengers for American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes got smaller Tuesday. Owner Ron Paolucci said that War Story, 16th in the Kentucky Derby, would bypass the final leg of the Triple Crown and instead will point to the $500,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 20.
Paolucci was initially bullish on running War Story in the Belmont Stakes, even though trainer Tom Amoss clearly preferred to take a different path with the gelded son of Northern Afleet. Amoss said at Churchill Downs on that "a couple of conversations" still needed to take place before War Story's status for the Belmont was official. And, after talking with Paolucci, the decision to run War Story elsewhere was made.
"You know, after talking to Tom, I can only run in one of two races and he made me choose," said Paolucci, an Ohio native. "He said 'Listen, in the best interest of the horse, I can tell you if you run in the Belmont, you're not going to be able to run in the Ohio Derby,' and that's a race I've always wanted to win. I guess I'd rather be 8-to-5 in the Ohio Derby than be in the Belmont race just to be part of history. I can't have both, unfortunately.
"He's a gelding, and as much I want to run in the Belmont and try and win that race, I guess it just really had to sink in to me that there is really no intrinsic value other than winning the race itself. And when it came down to it, ... the chances of winning the race were 50- to 60-to-1."
The possible 10-horse Belmont Stakes lineup currently is: American Pharoah, Blue Grass Stakes winner Carpe Diem (10th in the Kentucky Derby), Peter Pan runner-up Conquest Curlinate, Frammento (fourth in the Blue Grass and 11th in the Derby), Wood Memorial winner Frosted (fourth in the Derby), Keen Ice (seventh in the Derby), Peter Pan winner Madefromlucky, Florida Derby winner Materiality (sixth in the Derby), UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij (eighth in the Derby), and Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve.