American Pharoah's next start to come in Haskell at Monmouth Park
American Pharoah is headed to the Jersey Shore.
As expected, racing's first Triple Crown winner in 37 years will make his next start in the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park.
Owner Ahmed Zayat said on Thursday the decision to run in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell was based on several factors, the most important being the health of his horse — the first to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes since Affirmed in 1978.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, American Pharoah on Monday had his first timed workout since blowing away the field in the Belmont on June 6, breezing three furlongs in 36.40 seconds at Santa Anita in California.
"We want to do right by him, so he comes first," Zayat said. "He's told us he's happy. He's gained weight back. He's been paraded, literally, from coast to coast, and Bob said we need to go back to work. I want to maintain my promise to the fans that if he's healthy he will continue to run, and that's what we're doing."
Picking the Haskell did not seem like a tough choice, even though there was competition from other tracks offering financial incentives, including Saratoga in upstate New York and Del Mar in California.
Zayat and his family live in Teaneck, New Jersey, and he's a huge supporter of racing in the state. Baffert has won the race a record seven times. The race is limited to 3-year-olds. And, the field is likely to include many of the horses American Pharoah has already soundly defeated.
"We don't want it to be too hard on him," Zayat said. "We want to see how he reacts and comes out of it."
Meanwhile, Monmouth Park officials have plans in the works to make the day a memorable one. Zayat has already put Bruce Springsteen's name on his wish list. Haskell day tradition features Springsteen's "Born to Run" blaring from the sound system before the race.
"We're overjoyed," Monmouth Park President Bob Kulina said Thursday night. "I want to thank Mr. Zayat and Bob for picking the Haskell. It's a great day for New Jersey racing. It's a great day for racing in general, that this horse is going to continue to run.
"We're getting ready for the biggest day in the history of Monmouth Park."
A record crowd is expected. Even before the decision, all 13,000 reserved seats for Haskell day sold out in anticipation of watching a Triple Crown winner. The current mark at Monmouth is 53,638 to see Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide on Aug. 3, 2003.
In past efforts to lure Derby winners to the Haskell, the track has established financial rewards to owners and trainers. One is a condition that pays $25,000 each to the owner and trainer of any of the Triple Crown races — a payday worth $75,000 each for Zayat and Baffert.
"All the tracks came with this bonus and that bonus," Zayat said. "It's great business, but it's not all about the money. It's about the horse and the fans."
After a loss in his first career start, American Pharoah has won seven in a row with earnings of more than $4.5 million.
Following the Preakness, breeding rights were sold by Zayat to Coolmore's Ashford Stud for what reportedly could be in the $30 million range. Zayat said as long as American Pharoah is healthy, the son of Pioneerof the Nile would continue racing until closing out his career in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. After that, the colt would head down the road some 15 miles to his new home at Ashford Stud.
A possible race for American Pharaoh after the Haskell is the Travers on Aug. 29 at Saratoga.
For now, racing's biggest question has been answered — next stop, Haskell.