OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Triple Crown winner American Pharoah received star treatment as he arrived to prepare for the $1.75 million Haskell Invitational on Sunday at Monmouth Park.
After landing at Atlantic City airport, racing’s biggest attraction was led off the plane, then escorted by New Jersey State troopers for the final leg of the journey. The van he was loaded into was decked out like Taylor Swift’s tour bus with his name splashed across the side.
A cluster of reporters awaited him when the van pulled into the Monmouth barn area shortly after 4 p.m.
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As usual, American Pharoah was cool and collected, even on a blazingly hot afternoon on the Jersey Shore. He calmly stepped off the van, took two short turns outside the barn where he will reside through the race before heading into the shade for a bath and a nap.
It was the end of a long day that started at 1:30 a.m. at trainer Bob Baffert’s barn at Del Mar where the colt was loaded onto a van for the trip to the airport in Ontario, California for the flight east. The plane made one stop in Kentucky before continuing to New Jersey.
”It’s a long trip,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant who accompanied American Pharoah. ”The trip went very smooth. He’s a professional. He always ships good. He makes it so easy for all of us. That’s what makes him so unique.”
The appearance by American Pharoah in the Haskell is the most eagerly anticipated stakes in the New Jersey racing history.
Monmouth sweetened the purse by $750,000 earlier Wednesday for the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds.
The purse has been $1 million since 1997, but increases were made when champions Point Given in 2001 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009 appeared in the race.
A record crowd nearing 60,000 is expected for the Haskell.
American Pharoah swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
This will be his first race since the Belmont in early June. American Pharoah completed his major training in California. His final timed workout was a half mile in 48.80 seconds Tuesday morning at Del Mar. The colt with the short tail will have easy gallops here on the three mornings leading up to race day.
Baffert, who owns a record seven Haskell victories, is not expected here until Saturday afternoon.
”It feels good coming here this strong,” Barnes said. ”We’ve always come strong in the past, but this year we are really strong.”