LOUISVILLE — At this point, it's just about clearing hurdles for American Pharoah.
With trainer Bob Baffert's nerves rumbling through his body Monday morning, his dual classic-winning charge did his usual thing in his usual way. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness stakes champion laid down an eye-catching 5-furlong breeze in 1:00.20 on a cool, rainy morning at Churchill Downs, his last major work in advance of Saturday's Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y.
Baffert acknowledged Sunday that he would be on edge until American Pharoah successfully completed his final drill before his attempt to become just the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown, and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
As American Pharoah broke off from the 5½ -furlong pole under jockey Martin Garcia on Monday, he clicked off splits that displayed his indefatigable stride — :13, :25, :36.60 and :48.60, galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:13, 7 furlongs in 1:26, and a mile in 1:39.60.
The internal fractions the bay son of Pioneerof the Nile clocked told an even more impressive tale. Going around with his ears up and Garcia barely moving, American Pharoah posted a couple of sub-12 second splits, including :11.60 to finish the fifth furlong.
"Everything went really well today. He went just as we thought, as we were hoping," said Baffert, who is bracing for his fourth try at sweeping the Triple Crown. "He went off in 12 and change and ... he just kept clicking right along. Really happy with that. Now we play the waiting game.
"I was very nervous," he continued. "But I think the rain put just enough moisture (into the track) where it had some bounce to it. (American Pharoah) likes moisture in it. He likes everything."
Now comes the hard part.
American Pharoah is set to ship to Belmont Park on Tuesday morning on a flight that is slated to include fellow Belmont Stakes hopeful Keen Ice, who will have his final work shortly before getting on the plane.
What will be waiting for the Zayat Stables' homebred and his entourage is pressure 37 years in the making. To that end, Baffert said he gave his team a mini-speech Sunday about the numerous requests and demands they'll be walking into once they arrive in New York.
There isn't much left tat Baffert can do to get American Pharoah ready for the 12-furlong jaunt toward history. The absence of any signs of regression on the colt's part has the trainer confident he and his team have done plenty.
"He just keeps bringing it," Baffert said. "He's sustained his weight and his energy level is the same. The racing is just easier on him."
Belmont field down to 8
Some might argue that American Pharoah's path towards the Triple Crown got even easier Monday.
Both multiple Grade I winner Carpe Diem and Ken McPeek-trainee The Truth Or Else were declared out of consideration for the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes.
Carpe Diem, 10th in the Kentucky Derby, had worked 4 furlongs in 47.66 at Belmont Park on May 29.
Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm which co-owns Carpe Diem, said Monday that there was nothing of great concern with the son of Giant's Causeway.
"Todd just wasn't happy with his gallop this morning in the way that he just felt like he's not 100 percent," Walden said of Todd Pletcher, Carpe Diem's trainer. "There is nothing major wrong with him, it's just does he give Todd a feel that he's going to go over there and run his eyeballs out? And Todd ... just didn't feel like he was ready to run a blinder."
Walden added that Carpe Diem would point for either the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga on Aug. 1 or the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2.
McPeek took to Twitter to announce that The Truth Or Else was discovered to have filling in an ankle and would bypass the final leg of the Triple Crown. The son of Yes It's True has won two of 12 starts with both of those victories coming at Belmont.
The probable field for the Belmont Stakes is now down to eight horses: American Pharoah, Materiality and Madefromlucky — both trained by Pletcher — Tale of Verve, Keen Ice, Frosted, Mubtaahij and Frammento.
Pletcher announced Monday that John Velazquez would ride Materiality, and Javier Castellano will have the mount on Madefromlucky.