American Pharoah poised for more racing history in Haskell
From a beauty salon in Beverly Hills to an intersection in Zurich people are talking about American Pharoah.
Derek Jeter. Carrie Underwood. Drew Brees. Even Cheech and Chong. All have chatted up either the owner, trainer or jockey of American Pharoah in the weeks after the horse became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years with a sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
''He's captured the imagination of the nation,'' says Ahmed Zayat, the effusive Egyptian owner who travels the world on business and resides in Teaneck, New Jersey. ''More than just a nation, if I dare say.''
On Sunday, American Pharoah returns to the races in the $1.75 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, the Jersey Shore track a few furlongs from the home of rocker Bruce Springsteen, whose classic ''Born to Run'' has become the Haskell pre-race anthem.
On this day, though, Pharoah will be The Boss.
''We have a legend here with American Pharoah,'' says Dennis Drazen, a management consultant to the track. ''People are going to be talking about being there the day American Pharoah ran at Monmouth Park in the Haskell.''
Thrilled to have American Pharoah, track officials this week boosted the total purse of the race by $750,000 to a record $1.75 million. The winner's share is $1.1 million. A record crowd approaching 60,000 is expected. A three-day ''Pharoah Phan Phestival'' began Friday, with giveaways, contests, and a chance for fans to watch American Pharoah on his morning gallops. About 5,000 showed up Friday.
The Triple Crown winner is the overwhelming 1-5 favorite in an eight-horse field going 1 1/8 miles.
''He has so many fans,'' says trainer Bob Baffert, who said his wife, Jill, told him that a little TV was tuned in to the Belmont at the beauty salon she goes to in Beverly Hills, California. ''There's people in front of his barn in the mornings, and people watching him gallop and cheering for him every time. It's fun to really share him with the fans.''
From the moment American Pharoah won the Belmont, Zayat hasn't wavered in his desire to keep racing his prized horse - even though he's sold the breeding rights for what could be as much as $30 million, with a stud fee that could be in the $100,000 range.
''You wait a lifetime for a horse like this,'' says Zayat, who has spent tens of millions of dollars building Zayat Stables. ''We want to enjoy this. There is nothing for us to prove other than continue to help the game and for people to enjoy this.''
After the Belmont, Zayat flew off to Europe on business. He said as he was crossing a street in Zurich one day, a driver rolled down his window and called out, ''Go Pharoah, go!'' In London, he said he was recognized by a salesperson in Harrod's who told him, ''I know you from the TV. You ... you won the three things. American Pharoah, right?''
At the ESPY's, where Victor Espinoza won for best jockey, the Pharoah contingent was approached by retired Yankees' star Jeter, who wanted to pose for a picture. Same with Yankees' slugger Alex Rodriguez.
''They are asking for a picture with us?'' says Zayat. ''Really?''
With social media and a 24/7 news cycle these days, American Pharoah may actually be more popular than Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner many consider the greatest racehorse of all.
American Pharoah appears in the August issue of Vogue magazine. He was paraded at Churchill Downs and Santa Anita Park before tens of thousands of fans. Zayat was featured on ''Secret Lives of the Super Rich.'' Espinoza signed on with Steiner Sports Marketing. A Pharoah website is a recent addition to the Twitter accounts of Zayat and his son and racing manager, Justin.
''People know what he's doing every step, and everybody knows where he is,'' says the white-haired Baffert. ''I might as well put a GPS on him. But he enjoys it and so it's fun to really share him with the fans.''
The goal is a final race in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky on Oct. 31. Then, it's off to the breeding shed down the road at Coolmore's Ashford Stud. Plans have not been set for a next race after the Haskell, but several are under consideration.
The Haskell shapes up more as a public workout on national TV than a competitive race. The second betting choice in the field is Upstart, who finished 18th in the Derby in his last race but finished second in the Florida Derby.
Also entered are Competitive Edge, Keen Ice, Mr Jordan, Nonna's Boy, Top Clearance and Dontbetwithbruno.
Post time is 5:52 p.m. ET. The weather report is call for sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s.
Baffert fares pretty well in the Haskell. The Hall of Famer has won it a record seven times, including four of the last five years.
At times, Team Pharoah has been criticized for running where it can make the most money before retirement, but Baffert and Zayat insist that's not the case.
Baffert said he was on a flight with the comedy duo Cheech and Chong recently. Cheech Marin asked Baffert why American Pharoah was running again.
''The horse loves to run, he loves to train, he enjoys it,'' Baffert told him. ''That's why we run him.''
Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap