American Pharoah takes parade lap at Churchill Downs
Other than fidgeting briefly in the same Churchill Downs paddock where he prepped for the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah was his usual cool self during his victory lap for the Triple Crown.
On the other hand, owner Ahmed Zayat and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert could barely contain themselves during a celebration Saturday night that included an estimated 30,000 supporters who couldn't get enough of the bay colt.
"I've been on Cloud Nine since the Derby and that's a very long time to be excited," Zayat said after the owner, Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza received engraved trophies for American Pharoah's one-length Derby victory. "It's really surreal. ... Honestly, it's all about the horse. It's all about American Pharoah. He's making everybody look unreal."
American Pharoah certainly commanded the attention of a loud, supportive crowd on a steamy June night.
The bay colt paraded before the grandstand and around the paddock Saturday night before throngs of camera-clicking onlookers lined up four rows deep to view the 12th Triple Crown champion and first since 1978. The crowd marked a jump from last year's 21,671 for the night card, and they stayed around long to witness a part of racing history.
A steady cheer built as Baffert helped lead American Pharoah on a clockwise path from his Barn 33 on the backside, with the sound rising as the champion passed the grandstand. It was even louder as he made several passes through the paddock with and without a specially made Triple Crown blanket.
The horse got one last cheer before heading back to Baffert's Barn 33 on the backside, where he will reside until returning to California on Thursday to prepare for the next phase of his racing career.
Another hero's welcome likely awaits the horse, and it will have to go pretty far to top the celebration at the famed track in which Zayat received gold and pewter hardware as owner and breeder respectively. Baffert got his fourth Derby trophy while Espinoza received his second in as many years.
Their glee ended with Zayat and Baffert taking the Triple Crown part literally, wearing the long-awaited trophy on their heads in jubilation.
"This is such a magical night for me," Baffert said. "I can't forget that roar when (American Pharoah) hit the wire, and I want just one more roar" before the crowd quickly responded.
Nicki Cetta of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, peered at American Pharoah through iron bars with daughter Brianna, 9, and hung around for every minute of the horse's triumphant walk.
"My dad saw four Triple Crown winners and I didn't think I'd ever see one," Cetta said, "so this is pretty awesome."