The Breeders’ Cup guest of honour continued to shine during his final work at Santa Anita.
American Pharoah was the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Yesterday he ‘breezed’ four furlongs before a gallop over five under the watchful eye of trainer Bob Baffert. Saturday’s $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic will be his final race before he starts his career as a stallion based at the Coolmore America Ashford Stud in Kentucky.
An emotional Baffert spoke of his equine hero with that final race drawing near: “He fulfilled a goal for me that I wanted but thought was probably unreachable, and that was to win the Triple Crown. It was emotional for me because unfortunately my parents weren't around to see it and they were always my biggest fans.“
Of that historical final leg of the Triple Crown he added: "The Belmont is the first time I've run a horse and never rooted for it. I just watched in amazement, and that's really rare. I always root and scream my lungs out, but watching him, I just knew he was going to do it. There was something about him that's so special. We finally did it and we did it with a horse that was just so incredible.”
The exceptional colt has won eight of his 10 career starts, accumulating earnings of almost $6 million.
The trainer appeared more than pleased with his stars recent work, saying: “It went really well. I was debating whether to work him in company—like, maybe put a target in front—but we just wanted to cruise around there, and it was nice that we had the track to ourselves. He looked like Pharoah.” Ridden by his regular work rider Martin Garcia, the gallop proved a little faster than anticipated.
“He did it the right way,” Baffert said. “I just told Martin to keep him in hand and let him cruise around there. That's what he did. He could have slowed him down a little bit, but he was doing it the right way. I was pretty impressed. Going into this race, he's ready to roll.”
It was also American Pharoah's last run at the Santa Anita track, a place that has become home for most of his career. “Walking up here, I was getting a little bit emotional,” Baffert said. “I was excited to watch him work, and got a little bit nervous. It was great the way he was doing it, but a little piece of me said, 'it's a little bit sad.' We now have to ship and the ship has to go well. It doesn't matter where he goes. He's handled it very well so far. He's used to everything—the crowd, the paddock—he's just that kind of horse. It makes my life so much easier, but that's because he's so great. He can handle it mentally.”
Three-year-olds have a decent record in the Classic but by no means outstanding. Horses that have found success in the Triple Crown events rarely shine at the Breeders’ Cup. Curlin back in 2007 was the last horse to win both the Preakness Stakes and the Classic in the same season, whilst Drosselmeyer won the Belmont in 2010 and a year later won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The effort of a Triple Crown campaign is notoriously testing for a young horse, and Pharoah’s last run, when beaten in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, is cause for concern. Despite all this, the bookies have him as a short-priced favourite. He slipped up at Saratoga, but given a break since and seemingly on the back of a smooth prep there’s every chance America’s latest racing sensation can finish on a high.
“It’s going to be a sad, but a happy day when he leaves because he put us way up there,” Baffert said. “He gave us the biggest thrill you could get in racing.”
It would be a fitting final act, if he could give his trainer and connections one last thrill on Saturday night.