LOUISVILLE, Ky. - By 9 a.m. Sunday, Jimmy Barnes was back at his hotel and the Alpha male in Barn 33 was conked out in a pile of hay. It had been a short sleep for the assistant trainer after a stressful evening for the Triple Crown star. Never did a noble thoroughbred or his devoted caretaker deserve a nap more.
"He just walked today," Barnes said. "He had a long night, and there's nothing pressing right now."
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During Barnes' rare absence, a man packing a revolver on his right hip focused on stall 28. He's part of the three-shift, 24/7 security crew guarding the world's most famous horse.
American Pharoah got the day off after being paraded before a crowd of 28,968 at Churchill Downs. After being led up and down the stretch by exercise rider Georgie Alvarez and groom Eduardo Luna, they circled a mobbed paddock six times, with Barnes walking shotgun the last two. Adoring fans standing 20 deep chanted "Pharoah! Pharoah!" and took thousands of photos.
Six weeks after the first Saturday in May, it was a Groundhog Day night for the superstar born Feb. 2. He stood in the same stall, No. 18, amid the hooting and hollering that got him hot and bothered on Derby Day. This time, the noise-sensitive colt took it in stride.
Justin Zayat is the son and racing manager of Ahmed Zayat, Pharoah's owner and breeder. "I never thought how big it would be until it actually happened," the recent NYU graduate said. "I'm walking around New York City and people are going, 'Yeah, it's horse boy.' You see how mainstream it is, and it's great that a horse can do this."
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, 79, has won a record 14 Triple Crown races, two more than his longtime friend Bob Baffert. "Because of the 37-year drought since the last Triple Crown, he's captured the imagination of the American people," Lukas told Newsday. "And that's the most important thing right now."
On Thursday, Pharoah and Barnes will return to Santa Anita and come full circle after a historic journey through Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland and New York. The grind of four races in eight weeks ended with a 5 1/2-length triumph June 6 in the Belmont Stakes.
"Justin is 23," his father said, laughing. "How can he ever top a Triple Crown?"
Ahmed Zayat said Pharoah's next race will be the Haskell on Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park.
"I feel more pressure training him now," Baffert said. "I feel like putting him in Bubble Wrap. I just want to share him with everyone."
Baffert, who believes in omens, spoke of a cosmic one Saturday morning on a radio show hosted by Churchill media executives John Asher and Darren Rogers. A few days before the Derby, in which he also ran undefeated Dortmund, Baffert encountered six nuns at a breakfast place.
"One of them gave me a holy card with Jesus' picture on it," he said. "She told me, 'It's blessed, and it's for American Pharoah.' I was thinking, 'Where's the Dortmund card?' But those nuns were already on Pharoah."