SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Hail to the king.
A van carrying American Pharoah rolled into Saratoga's backstretch at 2:59 p.m. on Wednesday after a 10½-hour trip from Southern California. Three minutes later, approximately 200 media and fans watched assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes lead him down a ramp.
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There was almost reverential silence as the Triple Crown winner drank from a water bucket hung on an oak tree. Then Pharoah perked his ears and struck a pose for his adoring followers.
"He loves it. He's a big ham," Barnes said. "He hears the cameras and he gets all puffed up.'"
The world's most popular horse will try to win his ninth consecutive stakes race in Saturday's 146th Travers. For weeks there had been doubts about whether trainer Bob Baffert would send him here, but Barnes said he expected it all along.
"I always thought in the back of my mind that if the horse was doing well, [the Travers] was the obvious spot," Barnes said. "It's such a prestigious place and it's such a big race."
The son of Pioneerof the Nile is the 1-5 morning-line favorite in the 1¼-mile Midsummer Derby. He drew post 2 in a field of 10 that includes Belmont Stakes runner-up Frosted, the 6-1 second choice, and Jim Dandy winner Texas Red (8-1).
"There's a lot of tough horses in there," Baffert said Tuesday. "It will be like running in the [Kentucky] Derby."
Pharoah's moving day began when he boarded a van at 1:30 a.m. PT at Del Mar. Also accompanying him was his buddy, Smokey the buckskin pony, who recently recovered from a minor leg injury. Smokey's friendship with Pharoah has made him a celebrity, and the pony's Facebook page features 17,496 likes, and counting.
After a 100-mile trip to LA/Ontario International Airport came a refueling stop in Lexington, Kentucky. Coming aboard was Funny Cide, the 2003 Derby and Preakness winner who lives there at the Kentucky Horse Park. The popular New York-bred gelding will parade in the paddock today from 11:45. a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
From Lexington it was on to Albany International Airport, where the plane landed at 1:53 p.m. State troopers escorted the van up the Northway.
"There was a large reception at the airport, and on the freeway, people were pulled over," Barnes said. "We're used to it. This is just how it is when you travel with the Pharoah.
"It was a good trip. He ships very well. He's done it so many times, he handles it like a pro." Saratoga is the eighth track he's visited, and this was his 13th flight since March. Barnes has been on every one.
American Pharoah will be bedded down in Stall 11 of trainer John Terranova's Barn 25. Terranova, 45, was born in Syosset, where he lives with his wife, assistant trainer Tonja Terranova, and their two daughters. Paulina, 14, and Giana, 9, were destined to be horse girls, and both ride.
"They're excited about seeing Pharoah again," their father said, "but I think they're more excited about seeing Smokey the pony."