The biggest sports star in America was ready for his closeup Sunday morning, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show.
He also met fans and the media at Belmont Park, basking in the glow of his historic accomplishment Saturday afternoon.
American Pharoah, who became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years when he romped to victory in the Belmont Stakes, was the toast of the town Sunday.
In a surreal scene at the track Sunday morning, the Triple Crown winner was calmly standing in front of the TV cameras and between jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Bob Baffert — who were both seated — while held in hand by assistant Jimmy Barnes.
“The Pharoah, he’s golden,” said Baffert, the 62-year-old Hall of Fame trainer. “You can count on him. I’m enjoying the moment. I don’t know if this will ever come around again. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another horse of this caliber.”
Jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Bob Baffert are on the ‘Today’ show with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Following the interview, in which the horse seemed amazingly calm and collected, and after being petted by members of the media and other personnel, Pharoah bolted out of town as quickly as he raced on the Belmont Park track.
He was en route to Baffert’s barn at Churchill Downs, where his handlers will be presented engraved Kentucky Derby winner’s trophies on Saturday.
Then it’s back to Baffert’s headquarters at Santa Anita Race Track in Southern California.
When Pharoah races again is unclear, with Baffert only saying it would likely occur at the end of July.
The $ 1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2 would seem the heavy favorite as his next race. Owner Ahmed Zayat lives in New Jersey and Baffert has won the Haskell a record seven times, including four of the last five years.
The $ 1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar Race Course on Aug. 22 and the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 1 are also possibilities, but are considered longshots.
“We’re going to sit down and figure something out,” Baffert said. “I’ve seen Triple Crown horses come back and get beat. I don’t want that to happen. If this horse gets beat next time, Jill (Baffert’s wife) will never forgive me for it, so he’ll be ready.”
If American Pharoah doesn’t start in the Jim Dandy Stakes, don’t expect to see the colt in Saratoga for the $ 1.25 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 29.
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah gets up close with the cameras.
“To me you have to win the Jim Dandy if you want to win the Travers because the Travers track (Saratoga) can be sort of a little gimmicky,” the trainer said. “It can be weird.”
Baffert indicated that the little bay colt with the short tail came out of the Belmont in good shape and could race in three weeks if he had to.
“He’s pretty solid, this horse,” he said. “He can run in a couple of weeks, I mean it (the Belmont) wasn’t really taxing at all on him.”
Whichever route he takes, American Pharoah is pointed toward the $ 5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic to be run this year at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington on Oct. 31.
“We think we’d probably run him three more times,” the trainer said. “The Classic is the goal.”
Before the Triple Crown began, Zayat sold the breeding rights for the horse to Coolmore Stud for an undisclosed figure. Some say the deal was worth $ 30 million to $ 50 million.
Zayat retained control of the horse during his racing career, which is schedule to end this year.
“Money plays an important factor in this game,” said Zayat, who indicated he’d like to race the horse as long as he possibly could. “I know with Bob, the horse always comes first with him.”
Baffert, who spent Saturday night with his family having “a little, quiet meal,” remembers the roar of the fans as American Pharoah charged to history.
“When he straightened him out I knew it was going to happen,” Baffert said. “I just sat there listening to the crowd, to the call and the roar. The roar was insane. It’s just something that I’ll always remember, the roar of the crowd. They kept yelling past the wire, they were so happy. That’s the happiest I ever made anybody in my life. It was pretty exciting.”
It sure was.
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