OCEANPORT, N.J. - When you're considered a sure thing, there's more pressure, right? Not necessarily.
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah will be a 1-9 favorite in Sunday's Haskell Invitational. Yet trainer Bob Baffert said he was more worried on the first Saturday in May than he will be on the first Sunday in August.
"I think there was more pressure for the Kentucky Derby," Baffert said Tuesday. "We just couldn't let that race get away, and the Derby is always crazy, with a 20-horse field. I don't feel pressure now, because we know how good he is. This is just the icing on the cake."'
Monmouth Park put a $750,000 cherry on it on Wednesday, when it announced the Haskell purse had been raised from $1 million to a record $1.75 million.
"The Haskell has been called the fourth jewel in the Triple Crown," track president Bob Kulina said in a release. "With the Derby purse at $2 million and the Preakness and Belmont going to $1.5 million, it's only fitting we join that mix. We've all waited a long time to see a Triple Crown winner.''
It's the first time the 48-year-old race has had one.
American Pharoah's charter flight from Ontario, California, landed at 2:09 p.m. Wednesday at Atlantic City International Airport. His van, accompanied by a police escort up the Garden State Parkway, arrived at Monmouth, sirens blaring, at 4 p.m. Approximately 40 media and perhaps 100 others watched assistant trainer Jim Barnes lead Pharoah off the van at 4:05, about 11½ hours after they left Del Mar at 1:30 a.m. PT.
"It's a long trip, but he's a professional, and he always ships well," Barnes said. "He makes it easy for all of us."
Although Pharoah enjoys people, he's at the Jersey Shore for business. He won't be paraded and petted as he was at Churchill Downs, Santa Anita and Del Mar. Baffert doesn't want him getting distracted and wasting energy, especially in the brutal heat. The temperature was in the mid-90s on Wednesday, and the humidity made it feel like South Florida.
"We've had similar weather at Del Mar," Barnes said. "I don't think it will bother him."
Baffert expects Pharoah will give an overflow crowd and an NBC audience what they want: another runaway by the world's most popular thoroughbred.
"He's moving beautiful and holding his form really well, which is amazing considering all he's been through," Baffert said.
As long as Pharoah runs, Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat each will collect a $75,000 bonus -- $25,000 apiece for winning the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. It will be a major shock if they don't pocket the $1.05-million winner's share, too.
The draw is noon on Thursday. Possible challengers include Upstart, rerouted from Saturday's Jim Dandy at Saratoga; Keen Ice; Competitive Edge; Stanford; War Story; Tekton; Mr. Jordan and Top Clearance. Baffert isn't focusing on them.
"I think Pharoah will run a big race," he said. "Hopefully, he'll break well, get racing luck and the real Pharoah will show up."