Saturday afternoon in Lexington, a thoroughbred champion will run in his final race.
For many people, American Pharoah has already accomplished a feat previously unseen in their lifetime: The thoroughbred is the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. On Saturday, he could take an unprecedented leap into the history books by winning the Breeders Cup Classic.
American Pharoah will seek to end his racing career at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington with a flourish. In what some have dubbed racing’s Grand Slam, the 3-year-old colt will attempt to become the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The Breeders’ Cup was created in 1984, six years after Affirmed won the Triple Crown. After the Classic, American Pharoah will remain in Kentucky, where he will stand at stud.
He arrived in the state on Tuesday from California, where he has been training. It’s been an emotional final journey for trainer Bob Baffert.
“Just watching him work yesterday … it hits me when I talk about it. But he’s been terrific to us, so it’s going to be sad,” Baffert said in a video posted by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
American Pharoah has raced twice since winning the Triple Crown this summer. He won the Haskell Invitational in New Jersey in July but finished second in the Travers Stakes in New York in late August, overtaken near the finish line by Keen Ice.
Those two horses will be part of the nine-horse field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Keen Ice trainer Dale Romans said his colt is training well and seems to be hitting his psychological stride.
“It’s more now about just attitude,” Romans said. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing. He’s just playing around and having fun. He’s figured out this is what he’s here to do.”
Mike Watchmaker, a national handicapper for the Daily Racing Form, said American Pharoah’s Triple Crown journey and the decision by his owners, the Zayat family, and Baffert, to keep racing him have been good for the sport.
Watchmaker also believes American Pharoah has an excellent chance to come back from his Travers finish and go out a winner.
“You know, there were a lot of distractions,” Watchmaker said. “His connections were extremely generous sharing him with the public, many public appearances after the Triple Crown. It was a busy schedule, and it might have taken a toll. Since the loss in the Travers, he’s gone back to California. He’s trained in relative solitude. I think he’s going to rebound massively.”
More than 40,000 people are expected at Keeneland to watch American Pharoah’s final race — a bid by the fans to perhaps recapture a bit of the pure joy that erupted when he won the Belmont Stakes and became the first Triple Crown champion since 1978.
“People who didn’t like each other actually hugged each other after the race. I speak from personal experience. It was an emotional thing,” Watchmaker said. “I love the fact that it was never in doubt, and so we could all celebrate the last eighth of a mile as he just cruised to the wire.”
The Breeders Cup Classic covers a mile-and-a-quarter and carries $5 million in prize money. It’s the last of 13 Breeders Cup races spread over two days at Keeneland. Post time is expected to be at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
(Image via Mike Lizzi/Creative Commons)