American Pharoah's owner, Ahmed Zayat, considers Saratoga Race Course "The Summer Place to Be" for his Triple Crown star. Yet unless he's "100 percent," trainer Bob Baffert doesn't want to run him at "The Graveyard of Champions."
Baffert was in Saratoga Springs on Monday for the yearling sales Tuesday night and Wednesday night, and he visited Saratoga's backstretch in the morning. Inevitably, he was asked whether Pharoah will ship from California to run Aug. 29 in the 1 1/4-mile Travers Stakes.
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"We're trying to make it," Baffert said, "but he's going to have to really convince me. I have to be all in and really confident, because I know if he comes here, he's going to have to run hard." That would be a 180 from the Haskell on Aug. 2, when Pharoah cruised by 2 1/4 lengths.
"It's a tough, demanding racetrack," Baffert said of Saratoga, "but he's handled everything thrown at him so far."
Unlike almost everybody else, Saratoga is not Baffert's happy place, although he did win the 2001 Travers with Point Given. He's 1-for-5 in the Midsummer Derby, finishing third with Roman Ruler (2005) and out of the money with Coil (2011), Liaison (2012) and Bayern (2014).
"He's been such a special horse and he has this following now," Baffert said. "I want to make sure I do the right thing. I know there's always that pressure that we want to run."
Much of it is coming from Zayat, who has said he wants to run in the Travers if Pharoah is thriving. Anticipation is high at the Spa, where posters call it "Pharoahtoga." Zayat said the decision is up to Baffert, but it's clear which answer he wants to hear.
"I've been pressured into bringing other horses here and they didn't do well, but this horse is different," Baffert said. "Point Given is the only one I brought in for the Travers that had a chance to win. The other ones, I was just trying to make something happen."
Pharoah galloped for the second consecutive morning Monday at Del Mar. Baffert said he "looks great" and will breeze "maybe Sunday," which would be his first timed workout since the Haskell. If he's his usual brilliant self, maybe the Travers will be a go.
"If he were to come [to Saratoga] and train and I didn't like something, we would scratch him," Baffert said. "If he comes, that means he's doing really, really well."