10/31/2015 6:39PM

American Pharoah goes out a winner in Breeders' Cup Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, ridden by Victor Espinoza, wins the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday in the final start of his career.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – They had won the Triple Crown and now had just seen American Pharoah go out a winner in his career finale in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trainer Bob Baffert, who had been an emotional wreck much of the week, stepped onto the sandy loam of Keeneland as Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah’s jockey, brought the bay colt to a halt just outside the winner’s circle.

Baffert reached up toward Espinoza, who was perched high in the saddle.

“We’ll never have another son of a bitch like this,” he said, as both men laughed and smiled, because they knew it was true, and that it was over.

So often in racing there is great disappointment, with expectations seemingly beyond reality, and yet twice this year, American Pharoah delivered when it most counted.

The first came on June 6, when he became the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, a deafening roar bringing him to the finish at Belmont Park. And then on Saturday at Keeneland, in the heart of this nation’s horse country, American Pharoah gave the fans just what they wanted, a final, satisfying way to remember him before he begins his new life as a stallion, and the cheers as he came to the wire could almost be heard up in Elmont.

“He gave everyone what they wanted to see,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah ($3.40), the odds-on favorite, shot to the front and never looked back. His high cruising speed on full display, American Pharoah led his seven rivals on a futile chase throughout the 1 1/4 miles and widened through the lane to win by 6 1/2 lengths, with Espinoza turning 90 degrees to the right at the finish line to smile for the camera and wave his whip in triumph.

Effinex, at 33-1 the second-longest shot in the race, was closest to American Pharoah throughout and safely held second by 4 1/2 lengths over Honor Code, who rallied from last to finish third. Behind them came Keen Ice – the conqueror of American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes – then Tonalist, Hard Aces, Frosted, and Gleneagles.

Beholder had been scratched on Thursday, and Smooth Roller was scratched by the veterinarian on Saturday morning, leaving a field of eight.

American Pharoah completed the 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track in 2:00.07 after clicking off fractions of 23.99 seconds for the quarter, 47.50 for the half, 1:11.21 for six furlongs, and 1:35.47 for one mile.

The win was his ninth in 11 starts – his lone losses coming in his debut and in his prior start, the Travers – and the $2.75 million first prize increased his lifetime earnings to $8,675,300 for his owners and breeders, the Zayat Stables LLC of Ahmed Zayat and his son and racing manager, Justin.

Baffert had desperately wanted a satisfying end to American Pharoah’s career after losing the Travers. His first few works back after that race were good, but over the past three weeks, American Pharoah had trained with sheer brilliance.

“He was doing so well,” said Baffert, who instructed Espinoza to “let him roll,” knowing there was no reason to save anything for another race.

“I bounced out of there and let him run,” Espinoza said. “I didn’t want to take any chance of anybody getting close to me.”

Baffert had been in a joking mood much of the week owing to his confidence in how American Pharoah was doing, but every time a question was offered about this being American Pharoah’s final start before heading to the breeding shed, the reality would hit him.

“I’m a little emotional,” Baffert said in the paddock. “It’s been a privilege to train a horse like this. I just want him to put on a show.”

That he did.

“When he’s right, you can see what he can do,” Baffert said after the race. “It’s been a privilege to train him, watch him train, watch him breeze. He’s probably the greatest horse I’ll ever be involved with.”

When Espinoza first got American Pharoah pulled up after the race, he told the outrider he wanted to take American Pharoah up the stretch for a curtain call, much as he did after the Belmont Stakes. But by the time he returned to the homestretch, a phalanx of photographers and security officers was across the track at the sixteenth pole, near the finish line, making an impenetrable border.

Blocked from his intended path, Espinoza circled back with American Pharoah and came back toward the finish line, then looped around again to the winner’s circle, taking in the adulation, something everyone connected with the horse desired the fans to see.

“We wanted him to go out a winner,” Ahmed Zayat said. “He’s the most brilliant horse I’ve seen in my life. He is just a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

In the 11 races American Pharoah competed in, he ran in Grade 1 races nine times. This year, he had two preps before the Triple Crown, won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont, then ran in the biggest 3-year-old races of the summer, the Haskell and Travers, prior to the Breeders’ Cup. For each of those last three races, he had to fly directly from his base in California, something he had done for his two Derby preps in Arkansas, too.

“You can’t be afraid to run in these big races,” Baffert said. “We never put him away. He was ready for all challenges. He takes his track with him. He ships, flies everywhere.

“He’s going to be a tough act to follow,” Baffert said. “I’m just glad Pharoah goes out the champ he is.”