10/14/2015 12:16PM

Breeders’ Cup Classic: Pharoah gets serious

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.”