The morning before his scheduled flight to Long Island, American Pharoah took off at Churchill Downs.
The Triple Crown contender could not have looked any better Monday in his final timed workout for Saturday's Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner breezed 5 furlongs effortlessly in 1:00.20 for jockey Martin Garcia, including a final eighth of a mile in an extremely fast 11.60 seconds. In workouts, the finish is what matters most, and rarely does a thoroughbred close so quickly in a race, let alone during the morning.
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"Everything went really well today," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He just kept clicking right along, and so now we just play the waiting game and hope everything goes well when we go to the Big Apple."
Track clocker John Nichols had American Pharoah going 13 seconds for a furlong, 25 seconds for a quarter-mile, 36.60 for 3 furlongs and 48.60 for a half-mile in a light rain on a main track that was rated fast. The long-striding bay colt was still full of energy after his serious business was over, galloping out eagerly with his ears up in 1:13 for 6 furlongs, 1:26 for 7 furlongs and 1:39.60 for a mile.
"I was worried about the rain a little bit, but the track was in perfect shape," Baffert said. "He went around there really nice."
The son of Pioneerof the Nile is expected to gallop this week at Belmont Park, where he never has raced or trained. Six consecutive wins at five different tracks give Baffert confidence he will handle this one.
American Pharoah is expected to leave Churchill at 10 a.m. Tuesday for a brief van ride to Louisville's Standiford International Airport. An equine transport plane is scheduled to take off at 11:15 a.m., with an anticipated 12:45 p.m. arrival at Islip's MacArthur Airport. A van carrying the colt and his connections should reach Belmont by early in the afternoon, when a large media contingent will greet them.
The New York Racing Association announced there will be no media coverage permitted at MacArthur, and that no member of the colt's traveling party will speak to reporters until after the van arrives on Belmont's backstretch.
The Triple Crown trophy has been unclaimed since Affirmed swept the series in 1978, and Churchill Downs executive Darren Rogers will accompany it to New York, as he did last year. Baffert will try for a record fourth time to grab it, so although it's not exactly business as usual, he knows the drill better than anyone ever has.
"I know what I'm walking into," Baffert said. "I had a meeting with everybody yesterday and said that when we get there, it's going to be pretty crazy, but we've been through it. So we're not going to be overwhelmed by it because we're used to the big show."
American Pharoah is the 14th horse to come to the Belmont with a chance to become thoroughbred racing's 12th immortal. After so many failed, including "sure things" Spectacular Bid (1979), Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008), there's widespread disbelief that it ever will happen again.
"I think it's big for the sport and the thoroughbred industry right now," Baffert said. "People in this country are sports fanatics, and now with social media, they'll know what's going on. They'll be tuning in to see if something historic can happen."
Notes & quotes: Belmont Stakes rival Keen Ice galloped two miles. He is scheduled to work out Tuesday before flying to Islip with American Pharoah and other horses who will run in stakes over the weekend in Elmont.