By Dick Downey
Photo by Churchll Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
He'll face some fresh horses in the 147th Belmont Stakes, but American Pharoah doesn't look any worse for the wear himself. On a gray Monday morning in a light rain at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner put in an impressive final workout for the race.
Despite the drizzle, the track was in great shape for the move during the 8:30 time reserved for the two Belmont Stakes horses on the grounds. As trainer Bob Baffert watched, American Pharoah broke off and, after throwing his head up a couple of times, quickly got down to business.
Under Martin Garcia, American Pharoah registered five furlongs in 1:00.20, breezing, and then galloped out another three furlongs plus. According to Churchill Downs clockers, his splits were 13.00, 25.00, 36.60 and 48.60. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.00, seven in 1:26.00 and a mile in 1:39.60.
“Everything went really well today,” Baffert said. “I was worried about the rain a little bit, but the track was in perfect shape. He went around there really nice and it sort of let up a little bit when he worked so it went just as we thought. He just kept on clicking right along and so now we just play the waiting game. We’ll ship out tomorrow morning and hope everything goes well when we go to the Big Apple.”
The trainer mainly wanted the track to be in good condition.
“This morning I saw the rain and the track was really dry this morning, so I think the rain, just enough moisture in it to make it have some bounce to it. But the track was in excellent condition. I slept pretty well last night. I didn’t think it was going to rain today and then I woke up went ‘Whoa, where did that come from?’ But had I known it was storming that night I probably would have had a hard time. I didn’t want to work on a sealed track.”
Now that the final major piece of work is over, Baffert said it's time to move on.
“We’re sort of used to running in these big races, so it’s not like it’s the first time for us,” Baffert said. “We know that as long as we’re prepared and we know what we need to do – that’s the whole thing. The only thing that I would get nervous about would be if things aren’t going well, but so far everything has been right on schedule. There haven’t been any setbacks – no hiccups – so that’s the main thing.
“The vibe here with this horse has been just to enjoy him. They don’t come around very often so try not to get in his way, prepare him the best we can and get him into position to win. So we’re doing that and try to keep everyone updated. Basically everyone wants to be updated to see how the horse is doing and that’s what the media is about.”
Baffert said a Triple Crown win would help the sport.
“I think it’s big for the sport right now,” Baffert said. “It’s about the sport and the Thoroughbred industry. This is a time where people are tuning in to see if it can happen and I think that’s like any sport. People in this country are sports fanatics, will tune in to see if there’s something on the line or some historic thing. And now with social media, people will know what’s going on. But I think the Thoroughbred industry needs a jump to get people involved. That’s how you get people involved, getting more people in that maybe buy and breed horses. If you can’t own a baseball team, football team or basketball team, you own a horse. It’s the same enjoyment.”
On Tuesday morning, American Pharoah will have a walk day and then be vanned to Louisville International Airport for his flight to New York along with Keen Ice and others going in stakes races at Belmont Park Friday and Saturday.
The latter one has been kept off the track until after American Pharoah is put on display, and today was the same as Keen Ice galloped before walking off through the easternmost gap at the Louisville track.