American Pharoah arrives at soggy Keeneland for last race
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) American Pharoah arrived in soggy Kentucky on Tuesday to begin final preparations for the last race for the Triple Crown champion in this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
After a flight from warm and sunny California and a short ride from the Lexington airport, American Pharoah was guided off the van in a cold, steady rain and into Barn 62 at the Keeneland Training Center.
About 150 photographers and news crews recorded every step. Owner Ahmed Zayat was on hand to view the unloading and trainer Bob Baffert arrived soon after. Once inside the barn, American Pharoah walked around several times before being led into his stall.
In the stall next to him was Smokey the stable pony who accompanies American Pharoah to and from the track for his workouts.
Like most horses, the champion colt prefers cooler weather, even if his human handlers were chilled by the 54-degree temperatures.
”I left California for this?” Baffert said.
The forecast calls for another day of rain Wednesday before warming to the low 60s on Thursday.
The rain was affecting the plans for several Classic horses, including the mare Beholder who is running against males. Trainer Richard Mandella said she would either walk around the barn on Wednesday or get her exercise on the track.
American Pharoah is the early 6-5 favorite for the $5 million Classic, where he faces nine rivals on Saturday.
”It’s a fantastic field, it’s really tough,” Baffert said. ”This is what you’re always hoping for.”
After the race, American Pharoah will head to nearby Versailles to begin a stud career.
”He’s been terrific to us, so it’s going to be sad,” Baffert said. ”I’d like to keep him another year or two.”
Before American Pharoah departed Santa Anita, rival trainers brought their kids by Baffert’s barn to see the champ one last time. He completed his last major workout Monday and will gallop up to Saturday’s race.
A year ago, American Pharoah didn’t even make it to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. He was withdrawn four days before the Juvenile because of a bruise in his left front foot after being installed as the early 2-1 favorite.
”When I had to scratch him last year it was just gut-wrenching,” Baffert recalled. ”But then watching him come back, watching him train all winter, I just stayed out of his way. I could only do that with a horse that is that talented.”
Zayat welcomed his star horse with the owner’s usual enthusiasm. He pushed back the hood of his black jacket with purple Triple Crown insignia, waging a losing battle to keep water from dripping onto his face.
”It’s sad, but it’s exciting,” Zayat said. ”We became so emotionally attached. I’m just happy that he’s healthy and here.”
Yet to arrive is Keen Ice, the only horse to beat American Pharoah this year. He won the Travers two months ago, with American Pharoah finishing second. Neither horse has raced since Aug. 29.
Keen Ice is likely to make the 75-mile trip from Churchill Downs to Keeneland on Wednesday. He galloped on a sloppy track there Tuesday.