10/14/2015 12:16PM

Breeders’ Cup Classic: Pharoah gets serious

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Barbara D. Livingston
American Pharoah, shown training on Oct. 9, worked seven furlongs Wednesday in preparation for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. – To watch Bob Baffert train American Pharoah since the Travers has been like watching the high-wire act in the movie “The Walk,” for Baffert has had to know when to back off and when to push in order to get American Pharoah to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland.

American Pharoah, the Triple Crown winner, had had a series of nice, solid works without company since going back into training last month after a brief freshening following his loss in the Travers. On Wednesday at Santa Anita, it was time to press forward in a big way, and American Pharoah responded with a long, sustained workout that pleased Baffert as much with how he did it as with how he was acting afterward.

“Look at him,” Baffert said trackside an hour after the work while watching American Pharoah on a closed-circuit video stream from his stall. “He’s going after his food. The work didn’t knock him out. I’d be worried if he was off standing in the corner.

“He put me in a good mood,” said Baffert, who had a bit of a queasy stomach on Wednesday. “I think I needed it more than the horse.”

American Pharoah was given an official time of 1:23 for a seven-furlong work, and he went out sharply another furlong afterward. With regular work rider Martin Garcia aboard, American Pharoah began his drill at the six-furlong pole while breaking off about seven lengths behind the filly Madam Aamoura, who also is trained by Baffert and owned by Ahmed Zayat, the owner of American Pharoah.

American Pharoah reeled in Madam Aamoura through the lane, was about five in front while passing the finish line, then continued out to the seven-furlong pole to complete the work. Garcia let him gallop out strongly another furlong.

“That was very important. It was a key work,” Baffert said. “If he’d have struggled down the stretch …”

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Baffert didn’t finish the sentence – he has a habit of doing that – but the inference was clear: If American Pharoah had struggled, all the careful planning in previous weeks would have been for naught.

“I wanted to get a strong work into him,” Baffert said. “It looked like he handled it really well. He was reaching, happy. He came back well. We’re right on target.”

The end target has been the Classic. The signposts along the way have been a moving target. After the Travers on Aug. 29, Baffert gave American Pharoah until Sept. 21 before he worked him again. “He was a little over the top,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah had four fairly routine works without company before the far more serious work in company Wednesday.

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In addition, Baffert scrapped a plan to ship American Pharoah to Churchill Downs earlier this month to do his final training there, fearful that a ship at that point would cause a setback. It has been fascinating to watch him pull the strings.

“They tell you,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah worked every six days until last Friday, after which Baffert said he’d “start getting serious next week.”

“It was time to lean on him,” Baffert said. “I’d gone easy on him. I didn’t want to do too much with him when we were still far out because I didn’t want to show up with a rag doll. I liked the way he did it. I needed to see something like that. We’re moving in the right direction. He likes to train. That was a good work. That’s what he does when he’s on it.”

Garcia got off American Pharoah and lingered at Baffert’s barn before going out to work more horses. He said American Pharoah went “easy, really easy.”

American Pharoah will have two more works here at Santa Anita before leaving for Kentucky either Oct. 25 or Oct. 27. Wednesday was “a key, key work,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah will have another strong work early next week. “One more stiff work, then an easy half,” Baffert said. “That’s it.”

Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
It's not easy for an exceptional three year old to beat an exceptional older horse. Ten out of thirty-one Classics have been won by three year olds. They include Hall of Famers Curlin, Tiznow and Sunday Silence. Seattle Slew beat Affirmed and Affirmed beat Spectacular Bid. If Pharoah wins the Classic, then he will have secured his status as a very special thoroughbred, despite only eleven career starts.
Bradford Solomon More than 1 year ago
Very true and probably why he will be an underlay
Bradford Solomon More than 1 year ago
Would like to see him win as a fan though. Grand Slam!
Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
I hope that he wins. (Aside: Unless I have a sizable bet against him!) If he should lose and not at least be in the race at the sixteenth pole then we would suffer decades of arguments over how good he was, since he would have lost his last two of the eleven starts and his only race against older horses. But the decision of Pletcher to run speedster Liam's Map in the dirt mile instead of the Classic leaves AP as the only apparent speed in the race, unless Frosted decides to challenge him again on the front end. This strategy didn't work well for Frosted in the last race. As things look now, Pharoah should bust out of his pole position in front and never look back.
Richard More than 1 year ago
Too bad this is happening to two nice horses, pride and greed kill. they both AP and Beholder will suffer this one...
Richard More than 1 year ago
THE PAST WILL TAKE ITS TOLL ON AP AND BEHOLDER, NEVER SAY THEY CAN'T BE BEATEN ....SOOO MANY TIMES GREED AND PRIDE GET MIXED UP AND IT COSTS THE HORSE, TAKE WHAT THEY GIVE AND RUN WE DON'T NEED TO KILL THEM...
Bradford Solomon More than 1 year ago
Um you know it's horse racing. They are race horses. They race in horse races. This is what they do.
Lawrence MacSelwiney More than 1 year ago
There's a new gun out west and he showed what he's capable of when he minds his manners. I'll pass on the usual suspects and take a shot with Smooth Roller.
Bradford Solomon More than 1 year ago
Not the worst stab if 15-1
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Lawrence, they all get beat , the good ones that is. But in this case, negative. AP wins going away. Give Big bad Bobby time to get them ready for the richest race in America, He's not getting beat ....and we all love a price to win it.....not this time....
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Keep in mind that its not about who did what in the past its about the future ..who will be best in two weeks..who is improving enough to be a menace. You have the proven TONALIST who everybody now realizes he's a better horse at Belmont and loves the slop. but hes never run at keenland so who's to say he wont like it there.im not a believer. then there's BEHOLDER in my opinion she's more than capable of beating this field .and i think im entitled to that opinion after getting on her bandwagon after her first start and arguing with all who questioned her ability and staying power.the problem is that she does not travel well and gets a little nervous around big crowds.then theres HONOUR CODE he went from being my early derby horse to getting injured to tricking me into believing he was a one turn deep closer ,then he wins a two turn route for fun then throws a clunker in the mud and now im off the bandwagon thinking he's a one turn closer again. AMERICAN PHAROAH well there's no doubt he's the best 3 yo and as such is supposed to improve so go to the window right.not so fast ...there was a little hiccup called zayatt in the mix and the reparations for this were not ideal .not for a triple crown winner who flew back and forth from west to east and back again several times then went to saratoga against his reluctant trainers wishes. Had he skipped the travers he would have been very tough and still might be .but to me the 2 most likely improvers are KEEN ICE (who i did not like at all until 3 days before the travers ,thank god i changed my mind ) and FROSTED who I've liked all along..these two are likely to be getting bigger and stonger at this time of year and FROSTED has had an easier campaign than AP or KEEN ICE. so right now hes my top pick.but we still have two weeks and fine tuning will take place by watching the final workouts and how these horses adapt at keenland.
Bradford Solomon More than 1 year ago
Nice analysis. I think AP and Beholder would have been better off with Liams Map (What chickens the owners are) in there as a target. With no main speed they may start battling early and set it up for a closer just like the Travers.
Frank More than 1 year ago
I love this race -- yea people jump on the bandwagon -- AP all the way!
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
For those that think American Pharoah will go off at odds as high as 2/1.....you've lost your mind. He'll be pounded by the betting public...who truly have no clue. Frosted, however, will be a great bet at much higher odds than he should be......I truly believe Frosted will turn the tables in this years Classic. No matter what it will be a great race. Beholder shouldn't even run in the Classic. Greed will cost them. If she goes in the Distaff she'll win....if she goes in the Classic , she'll get trounced.
Steven Jezyk More than 1 year ago
The Owner of Beholder is a billionaire and they are not doing it for the money. Stevens said she is the best horse he has ever ridden. You should be thrilled that she is running in the Classic. American Pharoah will be the favorite, but not odds on. Frosted will be running for show money behind those mentioned above.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
I am happy she is running in the Classic. I never said I wasn't. I just think it's a mistake.
mike More than 1 year ago
Tell me,did you ever consider cutting back on drinking? You don't think greed cost AP's owner? I posted for a month-prior to the Travers he shouldn't ship twice in less than a month. Some horses should be lucky to have Beholder's trainer.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Mike, once again you prove your ignorance. So, let me get this right...because we disagree I must be a drinker. Ugh. You truly have no class. As for AP's owner, I actually agree with you. I do however think both AP and Beholder have great trainers. Beholder is a very nice mare. I just think she'll get beat in the Classic and the owners don't have to run her in it. That's all. No more , no less.
Scott Samuel More than 1 year ago
Frank, I certainly do not think you are a drinker from your comment and I agree with you that Beholder has no chance. Stevens rode Point Given. He must have forgotten that. Point Given would have blown Beholder away. If she wins, I lose. In regards to AP's owner, I think that it was more of being too ambitious rather than greed and Baffert let Zayat push him into running AP. It was the whole notion of running at Saratoga in the "Midsummer Derby." Zayat should have just listened to Baffert and not pushed him. This time around,, Baffert is making all of the calls. While I think that Frosted will likely run second and I will use him in all exotics, I do not think that he can make up the ground on AP. I am just hoping that AP is healthy, gets a nice gallop over the surface and gets safely into the starting gate. After that, it is all over and I'll be waiting at the window to cash, even if he goes off at a stroke.
mike More than 1 year ago
Frank,you'd be suprised how many important individuals would differ with you regarding "my lack of class". lol As usual you take yourself much too seriously. Let's see what tune you're singing regarding Beholder after the Classic. It's between her and AP. I'm an Honor Code fan,but don't see it happening.
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Mike... that's not really necessary or polite on a Discussion Board. People get "emotional" about their "favorite" horses, however; I said the same thing about AP going to Saratoga (MORE than a month before the race). Does this make you less intelligent (or an "imbecile") about Baffert starting a horse on a course known for being a "Graveyard" for Favorites? No, it doesn't. As far as Steven's remark about Beholder being "the best;" he never rode Zenyatta either. This is an emotional game and we should all just enjoy the moment. AP has demonstrated that he truly is the Class of this field because he has won and shipped more than any other horse in the field. He has won on more surfaces than any other horse in the field. Let's all be honest; none of us have ever witnessed what's about to happen (a Triple Crown winner running in the BC Classic). Let's be civil and have some fun, win some $$$$$, and hope that our horses get home safe.
mike More than 1 year ago
Jack, Point taken,. Now,shouldn't you say the same to Frank regarding "polite"? Right.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Agreed about Beholder Franko.. Frosted a good horse and a horse that will be always on the ticket but not good enough to win this. AP, the peoples choice yes will be the favorite at 8/5 and will win going away.
mike More than 1 year ago
Sorry to break it to you,but "Franko" didn't exactly hang the moon. He couldn't be more incorrect regarding Beholder.
Union_Rags More than 1 year ago
He will ship on the 25th. So will I.
Scott Samuel More than 1 year ago
Baffert is fine tuning him. If he stays healthy and gets out of the gate, they are all running for second. If I can get 2-1 on him, which may happen given that horses like Honor Code and Tonalist are going to take a lot of money (DRF columnists - please start talking more and more about Honor Code and Tonalist and say how AP has not faced older horses), I'll unload on him and wait at the window to cash. I'm counting the days until the race as this is one that is likely going to be one for the ages. It will be nice to see him finish up his racing career with his best race of his career. That would be a fitting ending to this racing year.
Vince Piscitelli More than 1 year ago
He will have to run about 3 lengths better than his fastest race to ein. Ultimate sucker bet. Vince P
Scott Samuel More than 1 year ago
Vince, If you know about handicapping, at this time of year, this is the perfect time for Pharoah to be facing older horses. Additionally, Pharoah's Belmont and Haskell, in the event Beyers were not biased, would win the Classic without a doubt. His Belmont was the 7th fastest in history and he was not all out. He could have gone sub 2:26 which only Big Red has done. In the Haskell, he was geared down and was close to the track record. He only lost the Travers because he had just won the Triple Crown, won the Haskell and made 2 cross country journeys in the span of three weeks. Look at the other Crown winners, they lost after winning the Crown. Plus, Saratoga is the "Graveyard of Favorites." Going against Baffert when he trained a horse, in the modern era, to become the first Triple Crown Winner in 37 years is not a smart proposition. Baffert will have the horse ready to have a peak performance or he will not run. That said, Vince, please go bet on Tonalist, Honor Code and Beholder. Please take everything you have and place it on those three horses. It would be much appreciated.
john g More than 1 year ago
AP is going to be tough to beat.But, value wise, I will try some with Tonalist and Honor Code. If anybody beats him in the Classic, I think it will be an older colt. Shaping up to be a great race!
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
John G - AP will be like any other horse in this race. Probably none of them have run on Keeneland's newer surface and we all know that Keeneland is a difficult track to run on... and worse to Handicap for.