Under cloudy skies, light rain and 58 degrees, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Preakness Stakes (GI) winner American Pharoah completed his serious preparation for Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (GI) with a five-furlong breeze over a Churchill Downs track rated “fast” in 1:00.20 with Martin Garcia in the saddle.
With a few hundred spectators on hand, Zayat Stables’ homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile came onto the track at 8:30 a.m. ET after the renovation break during the special 15-minute training period for Churchill Downs-based Belmont Stakes contenders. He broke away from the stable pony Smokey and assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes at the 5 ½-furlong pole and began his breeze at the five-furlong marker.
Churchill Downs clocker John Nichols caught the 3-year-old through 1/8-mile fractions in :13, :25 (:12), :36.60 (:11.60) and 48.60 (:12). After crossing the finish line in :11.60 for his last eighth, American Pharoah continued around the turn and onto the backstretch in 1:13 (:12.80) for six furlongs, 1:26 (:13) for seven-eighths of a mile and 1:39.60 (:13.60) for the mile.
“Everything went really well today,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said outside Barn 33. “I was worried about the rain a little bit but the track was in perfect shape. He went around there really nice and it sort of let up a little bit when he worked so it went just as we thought. He just kept on clicking right along and so now we just play the waiting game. We’ll ship out tomorrow morning and hope everything goes well when we go to the Big Apple.”
On Sunday, Baffert said that he is usually nervous going into a breeze and this morning was no exception.
“[I was] very nervous,” he said. “This morning I saw the rain and the track was really dry this morning, so I think the rain [had] just enough moisture in it to make it have some bounce to it. But the track was in excellent condition. I slept pretty well last night. I didn’t think it was going to rain today and then I woke up went ‘Whoa, where did that come from?’ But had I known it was storming that night I probably would have had a hard time. I didn’t want to work on a sealed track.”
As opposed to going into the workout, Baffert isn’t quite as nervous as far as the race is concerned.
“We’re sort of used to running in these big races, so it’s not like it’s the first time for us,” Baffert said. “We know that as long as we’re prepared and we know what we need to do – that’s the whole thing. The only thing that I would get nervous about would be if things aren’t going well, but so far everything has been right on schedule. There haven’t been any setbacks – no hiccups – so that’s the main thing.”
Baffert has been down this road before having trained three horses to win the Derby and Preakness only to come up short in the Belmont (Silver Charm, 1997), (Real Quiet, 1998) and (War Emblem, 2002).
“I know what I’m walking into,” he said. “I had a meeting with everyone yesterday and said that when we get there it’s going to be pretty crazy, but we’ve been through it. Jimmy [Barnes] has gone through it with Real Quiet and War Emblem, but one thing about is that we know what to expect so we’re not going to be overwhelmed by it because we’re used to the big show.
"The vibe here with this horse has been just to enjoy him. They don’t come around very often so try not to get in his way, prepare him the best we can and get him into position to win. So we’re doing that and try to keep everyone updated. Basically everyone wants to be updated to see how the horse is doing and that’s what the media is about.”
Baffert acknowledged how important a Triple Crown on the line is for racing and its potential to attract new fans to the sport.
“I think it’s big for the sport right now,” Baffert said. “It’s about the sport and the Thoroughbred industry. This is a time where people are tuning in to see if it can happen and I think that’s like any sport. People in this country are sports fanatics [and] will tune in to see if there’s something on the line or some historic thing. And now with social media, people will know what’s going on. But I think the Thoroughbred industry needs a jump to get people involved. That’s how you get people involved, getting more people in that maybe buy and breed horses. If you can’t own a baseball team, football team or basketball team, you own a horse. It’s the same enjoyment.”
In other Belmont Stakes news, Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice galloped two miles over the main track under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar for trainer Dale Romans. The son of Curlin is scheduled to breeze Tuesday morning and will leave at 10 a.m. for an 11:30 flight to New York. American Pharoah will be aboard this same flight.
AMERICAN PHAROAH, KEEN ICE SCHEDULED TO DEPART CHURCHILL DOWNS TUESDAY AT 10 A.M. – American Pharoah will walk the shedrow of Barn 33 Tuesday morning before departing on a van ride to Louisville International Airport at approximately 10 a.m. ET. (Note: the load onto the van will take place at Barn 33). The H.E. “Tex” Sutton Forwarding Co. charter flight Long Island MacArthur Airport, which also will include Keen Ice and other horses for stakes races at Belmont Park, is scheduled to depart at approximately 11:15 a.m. ET with a 12:45 p.m. arrival time.
BELMONT STAKES POSSIBLE FIELD – The possible eight-horse Belmont Stakes lineup (with jockey and trainer): Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner American Pharoah (Victor Espinoza, Bob Baffert); Blue Grass fourth and Kentucky Derby 11thFrammento (Mike Smith, Nick Zito); Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby 4thFrosted (Joel Rosario, Kiaran McLaughlin); Louisiana Derby 4th and Kentucky Derby 7thKeen Ice (Kent Desormeaux, Dale Romans); Peter Pan winner Madefromlucky (Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher); Florida Derby champ and Kentucky Derby 6thMateriality (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher); UAE Derby winner and Kentucky Derby 8thMubtaahij-IRE (Irad Ortiz Jr., Mike de Kock); and Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve (Gary Stevens, Dallas Stewart).
SPECIAL BELMONT STAKES DAY BOX SEAT PACKAGE – Churchill Downs has a special box seat package for the June 6 Belmont Stakes simulcast. For $24, fans can get an undercover box seat, official program, a domestic beer or souvenir soda and a custom, limited-edition Kentucky Derby 141 T-Shirt that features a victorious American Pharaoh. Fans can purchase the package by visiting the online box office at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets.