After leading the American Pharoah victory tour from coast to coast throughout the spring and summer, trainer Bob Baffert thought he had heard every possible question. Nope.
On a conference call Tuesday, he was asked to "look into the soul" of Pharoah. Baffert, hardly ever at a loss for words, didn't know what to say. "That's a pretty heavy question,'' he said. "That's way too heavy for me.''
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When you're the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, you inspire cosmic thoughts. Baffert gathered himself and described his superstar's winning personality and brilliant athleticism.
"He's just got a certain aura about him, plus he's a very kind, very smart animal,'' he said. "He loves people and interacting with them, and he's become kind of a pet around the barn. On the track, the way he moves is so effortless. Genetically, something really clicked when he was made.''
Baffert was speaking from Del Mar in California, about two hours after Pharoah coasted through a half-mile workout in 48.80 seconds. It was his final serious exercise for Sunday's $1-million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, which will be his first race since his 51/2-length runaway June 6 in the Belmont Stakes. An estimated 300 to 400 fans gave him an ovation as he passed the finish line Tuesday.
The long-striding bay colt went his final furlong in a quick 11.60 seconds for his regular work rider, jockey Martin Garcia. "That's all he needs," Baffert said. "He went really nice. It's a soft, deep track, pretty demanding. I think he'll get a lot out of it.''
The 3-year-old superstar is scheduled to arrive Wednesday at about 2 p.m. at Atlantic City International Airport before a police escort will lead him north on the Garden State Parkway to Monmouth. American Pharoah is scheduled to gallop between 7:30 and 7:50 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Baffert has won a record seven Haskells, including the 2012 edition with Paynter, who like Pharoah belonged to owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat. A field of six is expected to be entered at Thursday's draw. Baffert said he's not focusing on the competition, who are seriously overmatched.
"I really just think about Pharoah, and he's at the top of his game,'' he said. "He wouldn't be on that plane if he wasn't doing exceptionally well. I think he's going to run a big race.''
On Monday, Justin Zayat, his father's 23-year-old racing manager, said if American Pharoah came out of the Haskell well, "I would see no reason that he shouldn't run in the Travers'' Aug. 29 at Saratoga. Baffert didn't want to get into that.
"As for his next race, we'll assess and see what he does,'' Baffert said. "I don't want to look beyond the Haskell.''