OCEANPORT, N.J. - To get American Pharoah off his game, maybe his opponents in today's Haskell Invitational should wear flip-flops instead of horse shoes.

Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes confirmed Saturday morning that the unfamiliar sound of someone running in flip-flops on a hard floor spooked the Triple Crown winner as he was being led toward Monmouth Park's paddock Friday afternoon. The startled colt bucked and reared up near a 4-foot metal gate, and when Georgie Alvarez tried to control him, the exercise rider lost his balance and fell. The only injury was to Alvarez's pride.

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"When we got to the tunnel, somebody was running in flip-flops, and the noise echoed and was magnified in the enclosed area," Barnes said. "These things happen. That's why he wears [cotton] earplugs, but they don't keep out all the noise.

"There was no panic. I just stepped over [Alvarez] and kept going to the paddock."