NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A few days of indecision over, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is back on schedule for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and a chance for a magical career-ending race.
After a tough loss in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course last Saturday, American Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat said his “gut feeling” was to retire rather than race on as planned.
On Thursday, following hours of talks with trainer Bob Baffert and the rest of Team Pharoah this week, the owner decided against retirement because “the champ deserves another chance.
“I am very confident that this is the right decision for American Pharoah,” Zayat said in a statement released to The Associated Press and several other media outlets. “He loves to race. He has provided my family, racing fans, and general sports fans with great thrills this year.
“He won the Triple Crown earlier this year, and he deserves the chance to be in the sport’s premier year-end event.”
Zayat says after conferring with Baffert, assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, jockey Victor Espinoza and his son and racing manager, Justin Zayat, that American Pharoah came out of the Travers “in great shape.” His initial read was perhaps the chiseled bay colt was tiring from the grind of shipping more than 20,000 miles by air and horse van and running in seven tough races since March.
“I believe there were a combination of factors that prevented American Pharoah from running his absolute best on Saturday,” Zayat said without elaborating. “I have every confidence that he can run to his best again.”
Since the loss to Keen Ice in the $1.6 million Travers, American Pharoah was returned to Baffert’s home base at Del Mar Racetrack in California. He is to be paraded before fans at the track this weekend, and then on to Santa Anita to continue training.
There’s also a chance he could travel to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, for training in the weeks leading to the Classic at nearby Keeneland in Lexington on Oct. 31. Also, there’s an outside possibility of a race before the Classic.
The reception at the Spa also may also have played a part in Zayat’s decision to keep going. An appreciative crowd of 15,000 showed to watch American Pharoah gallop the day before the race, and a sellout crowd of 50,000 tried to cheer him to victory.
Zayat has said he wants to share the horse with racing fans, and even after the loss he was impressed with the support. Some fans called out to him and Baffert, “Thanks for bringing him here.”
The buildup to the BC Classic surely will be bigger than ever. In addition to the Triple Crown winner, the field could include two-time champion mare Beholder, who beat the boys in the Pacific Classic last month, Travers winner Keen Ice and Whitney Handicap winner Honor Code.
Breeders’ Cup President Craig Fravel said he usually doesn’t comment on individual horses considering the event, but “we want to acknowledge the Zayat family on their decision to keep American Pharoah in training, and look forward to his continued engagement with the fans who have so genuinely connected with the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.”
American Pharoah’s breeding rights were sold to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud for an unknown fee, likely in the tens of millions of dollars. Since the horse is still racing, a stud fee has not been announced.
American Pharoah has won eight of 10 races and earned nearly $6 million. The loss in the Travers was his first since Aug. 9, 2014 — his first career start.
The son of Pioneerof the Nile won the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Aug. 2 in his first race since sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)