07/31/2015 12:52PM

Haskell kicks off Act 2 for American Pharoah

Ryan Denver/Equi-Photo
An estimated 5,000 fans watch American Pharoah train at Monmouth on Friday for the Grade 1 Haskell, his first race since winning the Triple Crown.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – There’s an appreciation for American Pharoah for what he has done, what is still left to do, and for how finite the remaining time frame is on his racing career, making his appearances all the more precious.

There were approximately 5,000 people here Friday morning at Monmouth Park, track officials estimated, merely to watch him train. There will be well more than 10 times that here Sunday, when the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years embarks on the encore portion of his career in the Grade 1, $1.75 million Haskell Invitational.

The Haskell, at 1 1/8 miles, is the first of no more than four starts American Pharoah will make before he is retired from racing at year’s end to begin stud duty. If all goes well, his last start will be in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31. His popularity is soaring. A record crowd is expected at Monmouth on Sunday, and the race – with a post time of 5:52 p.m. Eastern – is being televised live by NBC beginning at 5 p.m. This transcends horse racing. This is a major sporting spectacle.

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American Pharoah is the 12th Triple Crown winner but the first since 1978. An entire generation has passed since there was the opportunity to see a Triple Crown winner race. Anticipation is high. Monmouth Park opened the grandstand for free during training hours Friday, and there was a long line of cars turning into the parking lot a half-hour before American Pharoah came out for his gallop. The fans showed their appreciation for the champ with a rousing cheer as he galloped through the lane.

“I had people coming up to me afterwards saying, ‘Thanks so much for doing this,’ ” said John Heims, the director of media relations at Monmouth Park.


The Haskell is the 12th race on a 14-race card that begins at 11:30 a.m. There is a $400,000-guaranteed pick four ending with the Haskell as well as a $100,000-guaranteed pick five on the final five races.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 4 American Pharoah. Trainer Bob Baffert is 7-4-2-0, with a $4.02 ROI over the past five years at Monmouth Park, with all four wins coming in the Haskell. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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American Pharoah will be a prohibitive favorite, and while the vast majority of bettors and fans will be looking for a coronation, it is, after all, still a race. He has to do it. And there are several runners entered in the hopes that he won’t, including Competitive Edge and Upstart, both accomplished 3-year-olds in their own right.

A field of eight was entered in the Haskell, but only six may start. Trainer Todd Pletcher entered Competitive Edge as well as Dontbetwithbruno and Nonna’s Boy, but only Competitive Edge is certain to start.

Competitive Edge is making his first start around two turns and his first since suffering his first defeat. And he’s running against American Pharoah for the first time.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 2 Competitive Edge. Trainer Todd Pletcher is 7-0-3-0 over the past five years going sprint to route on dirt in Grade 1 stakes following a layoff of 45 days or more. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

“It’s a huge task, but the horse is doing very well, he’s only been beaten one time, and we felt like if we were going to try stretching him out and see how he handles the added distance, the Haskell is a big purse and a prestigious race, and we’ll see where we stand,” said Pletcher, who said Competitive Edge will try to outgun American Pharoah into the first turn.

“We’ll come out running, then it’s going to be up to Victor Espinoza on American Pharoah to decide how much pressure he wants to put on Competitive Edge,” Pletcher said.

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Upstart is making his first start since finishing last in the Kentucky Derby. Earlier in the year, though, he won the Holy Bull Stakes and crossed the wire first in the Fountain of Youth Stakes before being disqualified in a controversial decision.

Keen Ice futilely chased American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby, when seventh, and the Belmont, when third. Keen Ice was on the track Friday morning when American Pharoah was out, with trainer Dale Romans watching from the backstretch. When a cheer went up from across the way, Romans cracked, “Keen Ice must have got over there.”

Mr. Jordan is the best local hope. He has won both of his starts at Monmouth, including the Pegasus Stakes, this track’s prep for the Haskell.

But, as Romans conceded, “We know that if everybody does their best, no one’s going to beat” American Pharoah.

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All indications are that American Pharoah is continuing to thrive. Even Romans admitted as much when American Pharoah galloped past on Friday morning.

“Damn, he still looks good,” Romans said. “I was hoping there would be a little wear and tear on him, but he looks super.”

Jim Barnes, the assistant to trainer Bob Baffert who has been at American Pharoah’s side through all his travels this year, said American Pharoah “is pretty much the same wherever he goes.”

“He seems to ship and travel well,” Barnes said Friday.

Before leaving Del Mar this week, Baffert marveled at how well American Pharoah was doing.

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“It’s amazing for what he’s been through,” Baffert said. “He’s getting stronger, maturing, like most horses as they get older. The horse loves to run, loves to train. I’ve never had a horse that moves as effortlessly, jumps as far, enjoys it as much. As long as he shows me he’s at that level, he’ll run. The minute I see he’s not like that, not training like he usually does, he’s not gonna run. But as long as he’s sitting on go, he’ll run.”

It’s go time. Baby, he was born to run.

– additional reporting by David Grening