08/30/2015 11:30AM

Zayats search for answers following American Pharoah's Travers loss

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Barbara D. Livingston
American Pharoah and trainer Bob Baffert stand together Sunday morning, a day after American Pharoah finished second in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

A long walk back to the hotel followed by a ride to the airport and a cross-country flight to San Diego gave Ahmed Zayat, the owner of American Pharoah, plenty of time to reassess the gut reaction he had Saturday immediately following the Travers Stakes, when he raised the possibility of retiring the Triple Crown winner, but when the plane touched down, he still was leaning the same direction.

“I’d say it’s 60-40,” Zayat said, though he added he wants to discuss the matter with trainer Bob Baffert and assistant Jimmy Barnes after they and American Pharoah all returned from Saratoga.

If he does stay in training, American Pharoah can only race through the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland. After that, Coolmore takes possession, and American Pharoah heads to stud in Kentucky.

Zayat said if American Pharoah were pointed toward the BC Classic and if he were to have a prep, he’d prefer to do it at Churchill Downs, which he said is among the tracks that have offered to card a race for American Pharoah in advance of the Breeders’ Cup.

“If he runs again, I’d rather run at Churchill Downs,” Zayat said. “I don’t think he likes Santa Anita. He could run [at Churchill], then go to Keeneland.”

On Saturday night, Zayat debriefed jockey Victor Espinoza, who did not offer an opinion on American Pharoah’s future but did go into detail about the Travers, and there were aspects of Espinoza’s summary Zayat said concerned him.

Specifically, Espinoza said American Phaorah washed out going to the gate before the race, which is not normal. Espinoza said American Pharoah wasn’t dragging him the initial part of the race, unlike his aggressive behavior in his prior start, the Haskell. Espinoza said when the field turned into the stretch, American Phaorah “didn’t have his same kick.”

“He gave me a little, but I could see the wire was too far away,” Espinoza said.

Espinoza said when the race was over, American Pharoah did not gallop out with the same enthusiasm as prior races.

“Usually, I can’t pull him up,” Espinoza said.

So what did it all mean? Zayat went through a litany of possibilities, including whether “I pushed the envelope too much” with American Pharoah’s schedule.

Zayat was eager to run in the Travers from the time American Pharoah won the Haskell. Baffert preferred a wait-and-see approach. After American Pharoah’s first work at Del Mar following the Haskell – two weeks after the Haskell and two weeks prior to the Travers – Zayat thought the horse had gone too slowly, and according to Zayat, he told Baffert he didn’t want to run in the Travers. Baffert, Zayat said, talked him down from the ledge.

After American Pharoah had his second workout in advance of the Travers – a brilliant seven-furlong move six days before the race – they decided to go.

American Pharoah lost the Travers by only three-quarters of a length, following a punishing second half-mile in 46.78 seconds while pressured by Frosted. He eventually won that battle but lost the race to Keen Ice. A few little things can easily add up to three-quarters of a length, and Zayat pondered how much – if at all – several things might have contributed to the loss.

Did Zayat, as he wondered, push the envelope? Was the long trip for American Pharoah from California, which included a stopover in Lexington, Ky., to pick up Funny Cide, a factor? What about the strong gallop American Pharoah had Friday morning, when energized by a large, enthusiastic crowd? Was that too much the day before the race? Did any of it matter? Did all of it matter?

Justin Zayat, Ahmed’s oldest son and the stable’s racing manager, thought American Pharoah, feeding off the crowd energy Friday, might have done too much that day. But he added American Phaorah was “second best” in the Travers.

“Keen Ice has been chasing us the last couple of times, and he got us today,” Justin Zayat said. “You have to be a big boy about it. You just can’t take the glory when you win.”

The Travers was the 11th race on a 13-race card. By the time the Zayats were done with their media requests, it still was not sundown. As observant Jews, they will not take motorized transportation or use electronic equipment from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. So, just before the last race was to be run, they walked through the streets of Saratoga from the track back to their hotel, retracing the path they took to the track earlier in the day.

On the way out of the track, several well-wishers came up and thanked the Zayats for bringing American Phaorah to the Travers. Several cars slowed, their occupants shouting thanks or beeping horns during their 20-minute walk.

“I feel like I let the fans down,” Zayat said to his family as they walked.

Once sundown came, the Zayats – Ahmed and his wife, Joanne, their four children, and their son-in-law – hopped into a van with Espinoza and headed to the airport in Albany for their flight home.

They knew their direction – west to San Diego. The path with American Pharoah was less certain.

Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
They should have pointed to the PA Derby instead of the Travers. Easier race to win and more time for American Pharoah to rest. If you have a great horse you challenge him by putting him in difficult races. After winning the Triple Crown Secretariat. But after that it was all older horses: The Whitney at Saratoga (upset by Onion/Jerkens), The Marlboro Cup at Belmont (beat two tough older horses, Cougar II and Hall of Famer Riva Ridge), The Woodward at Belmont (defeated by ProveOut) and on the turf in the Grade 1 Man O' War (easily wired six others). Losing two of the four dirt races did nothing to tarnish Secretariat's reputation. Seattle Slew, only three weeks after winning the Belmont Stakes, shipped out to California for the Grade 1 Swaps Stakes and was handed his first career lost when J.O.Tobin, the horse who would win the Eclipse for champion sprinter the following year, shot out of the gate and wired the field. Slew, who was probably eased, lost by 14 lengths. But in the as a 4yo he established his greatness by defeating Hall of Famers Affirmed and Exceller. Affirmed following his TC win went to Saratoga to run in the Jim Dandy and the Travers. He was famously disqualified after winning the Travers for coming out and impeding arch-foe Alydar. He then raced against tough older horses in the fall and lost. But he came back for a sensational 4yo campaign in which he won six straight Grade 1s to finish his career. If AP had retired before ever facing older horses he would have been ranked forever behind Seattle Slew and Affirmed. As for the need for more rest before running in the Travers, Affirmed had eleven day to rest after winning the Jim Dandy and running in the Travers.
Thomas Nicholson More than 1 year ago
Was at the Spa to watch the horse of the year run in the TRAVERS. What a bummer. The whole of this very special race track and the very special 3 year old who ran his heart out Saturday afternoon. What a great race he ran. Thanks AMERICAN PHAROAH you are one of the greatest race horses of all time. You showed that in defeat, you stamped your ticket to greatness in defeat !!!!!!!!!! What a heart this great 3 year old has !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
They should have pointed to the PA Derby instead of the Travers. Easier race to win and more time for American Pharoah to rest. Ego got in the way as it usually does and the owner trumped the trainer. I would bet that Bob Baffert would have pointed to the PA Derby instead where Bayern won last year. Also the Parx track surface would have favored American Pharoah as well. American Pharoah still a champ, it was the humans that made the mistake. Hope a more rested AP runs in the Classic as that would be the greatest way to pay tribute to the new American Champion.
DavidM9999 More than 1 year ago
It was a big time race certainly one of the more memorable in 2015 so far. I am not criticizing Zayat for racing a race horse, maybe other things he has done but not racing AP. So he races the horse he gets criticized. He rests the horse he gets criticized. He retires the horse he gets criticized. I suspect the horse was fine possibly a touch below his absolute best due to the campaign but fine. If AP could talk he probably would have said let’s get it on. AP is chasing equine immortality at this point. Achieving that kind of stature will mean you have to compete, beat older while racing with a target on your saddle cloth plus likely being asked to win when possibly not at your absolute peak. If the connections choose to move forward I suspect we will see AP run superior races. It won’t be easy as classy Beholder, Silky Sullivan-esque Honor Code and the quickly improving Keen Ice will be waiting at Keeneland in the BC.
Frank Friel More than 1 year ago
If AP doesn't run the BC then I can see Keen Ice winning it. That horse has the best late race speed I've seen in a long time. It's almost as if the farther you keep him back early, the faster he wants to run late, and that may have been how he won the Travers. Had Keen Ice's jockey held him back a little more and let him break a little later in the Haskell he might have caught AP there too as he may have run the last 2 furlongs much faster. I can't wait to see the rematch though. It's going to be epic.
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
very simple,he was about 75% of what he was during the triple crown,they are not machines(fav cliche) add to the fact that lezcano pulled a jerry bailey on espinoza and a month ago before the haskell ap would have had enough to hold off keen ice. i just cant figure why lezcano went after ap so soon.in a world of ifs,what if rosario didnt get hurt and would have kept the mount,he was always able to relax frosted and would have he moved so soon at the 5/8's pole or waited for a well timed rolex ride the last 1'4,tht is what makes this game so great. i truly believe if lezcano would have waited like rosario did in the wood and the belmont,frosted had an outside shot of winning at worst be second and the topic of conversation would be totally different today.you still have to give ap credit for repelling a real good horse in frosted and he did best him
Michael Jacob More than 1 year ago
dont forget Javier Castellano won the race. He is one of the best jockeys in the big races. who would even think Frosted would try to gun for the lead. AP still ran the race of his life.
Frank Friel More than 1 year ago
Keen Ice ran that last half at a blistering pace!
mike More than 1 year ago
What race will you order AP to next week Zayat?
Frank Friel More than 1 year ago
Don't be silly. AP will run a warmer at Churchill middle of Sept. prior to the BC. Possible he won't even run him again before the BC, no real need to as the horse loves the Kentucky tracks and would do just as well with a couple of 7f training runs. I really hope he runs the BC though just to see the rematch with Keen Ice.
mike More than 1 year ago
Stated for two months Travers shouldn't be on the dance card. Also,stated after shipping to the Haskell,would be unwise to ship TWICE in less than a month. The weasel Zayat got greedy. His goal is aspiring to be the loudest in the room. Newsflash Zayat-he's a horse.not a friggin machine.
Frank Friel More than 1 year ago
Well, he's still in the company of horses such as Secretariat who also lost the Travers, so he hasn't done too bad dummy.
mike More than 1 year ago
You're the dummy Frankie. I'm defending AP. I think he's a great horse,who shouldn't shipped twice in less than a month. Get your head outta your a**
Paula Higgins More than 1 year ago
You didn't let anyone down Mr. Zayat. It was a great race and he showed the heart of a champion. Send him to the BCC if he stays healthy. He deserves the chance to go out on a high note and so do you. He just needs a little rest and then training up until the BCC.
Frank More than 1 year ago
I'd love to see him go in the BC -- will make the odds for the true winner much better -- it will also give Honer Code something to run at. They will retire him guaranteed.
Mike More than 1 year ago
Amazing the horse had a easy race at Monmouth - sparkling workout last week and was full of energy Thursday & Friday before the race - Now open the flood gates of excuses.
mike More than 1 year ago
No excuse-just facts! Several factors played into AP's loss.