ELMONT, N.Y. — Since American Pharoah crossed the finish line 51/2 lengths in front of his competition in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, there's been all this talk about what having a Triple Crown winner does for the sport.
Never mind that.
What does it do for Lexington?
There is a certain Thoroughbred racing event scheduled to take place in our fair city. It's called the Breeders' Cup. The dates are Oct. 30 and 31 at Keene land. Its premier race is the Breeders' Cup Classic. Might American Pharoah run in the Classic?
"That's the goal," trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday morning.
A beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was shining through the lovely trees in the stable area. The birds were singing. It wasn't a morning for staying outdoors, so before he hopped a plane back to Louisville, American Pharoah was led outside Barn 1 where he gratefully accepted pats and strokes from a gaggle of lucky visitors.
"He just likes to be around people," Baffert said.
If horses are what make this sport go, people make it grow.
After a news conference in the Terrace Room — an American Pharoah banner was unveiled to join the previous 11 Triple Crown winners — Baffert ran into Bill Dwyre, columnist and racing writer for the Los Angeles Times.
"Bill, my man, we did it," Baffert said. "What do we do now?"
First step, take the horse to the people. Owner Ahmed Zayat repeated Sunday that he feels a tremendous responsibility to the sport with Pharoah and he doesn't plan on taking it lightly. Zayat said his plan was to race the Triple Crown winner "at least" through his 3-year-old season.
Baffert also hit on that responsibility. He remembered that as a young man he went to trainer Bill Mott's barn and asked to see the great Cigar. At Belmont Park this past week that came full circle when Mott came to Baffert's barn and asked for a look at Pharoah.
The Haskell at Monmouth, the Jim Dandy and the Travers at Saratoga were all mentioned by Baffert as possibilities before Pharoah comes to Lexington. Given Baffert's California base, you'd think a West Coast race might be in the plans, but he didn't mention that.
"When he does run," said Baffert, "I just want to make sure he's ready to roll."
As well as taking the horse to the people, the question is will a Triple Crown winner bring more people to the sport?
The greatness of the Travers and the Breeders' Cup Classic are more appreciated by the hard-core fan. The average sports fan is more interested in the classic races — in the Kentucky Derby and the buildup to the Triple Crown.
"That's what Joe Public jumps on," Baffert said Sunday.
Before Saturday, even that interest might have been wavering. Overnight television ratings declined from a year ago. Last year's aspirant, California Chrome, was more of a "rag-to-riches" story. Plus after 12 unsuccessful Triple Crown attempts during the past 37 years, perhaps viewers were tired of getting their hopes up. Why would I watch that? No one wins the Triple Crown anymore.
That changed Saturday. It would be a stretch to think it will change the sport's popularity, however. It will never again be as popular as it was in the 1950s and '60s. Few things are. Times change. But that doesn't mean it can't hold a place on the vast sports spectrum. Keeneland continues to grow in popularity. So does Saratoga and Del Mar. Gulfstream has been transformed. The Kentucky Derby is still the Kentucky Derby.
And the traditionalists who refused to change the rules to make the Triple Crown easier were proven right Saturday — and thank goodness for that — when American Pharoah crossed that wire.
"I will never forget the sound of the crowd," Baffert said Sunday. "People just erupted."
Come October, it could be Lexington's turn for the unforgettable.