SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - No one was exactly sure when American Pharoah would go to the track Thursday morning, and nobody wanted to miss him, because his every appearance is a media event. By 5:30, shortly before sunrise, reporters and photographers began to cluster around Barn 25 on Saratoga's picturesque backstretch.
At 6:35 on a cool, cloudy morning, a few dozen cameras began clicking rapid fire as the Triple Crown champion emerged. Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, on Smokey the pony, led Pharoah and exercise rider Georgie Alvarez to the main track. A day after arriving for Saturday's Travers Stakes, Pharoah stepped on Saratoga's dirt surface for the first time.
He and Alvarez broke off midway down the backside and galloped about 11/16 miles in two minutes or so. Then it was back to the barn to cool out. After 15 minutes of walking, it was time for the superstar's daily bath. Video cameras from two Albany stations capitalized on the photo opportunity, as did a few dozen journalists and about 40 fans.
Pharoah's usual routine is to jog the day after shipping, but Barnes, with the approval of trainer Bob Baffert, called an audible.
"He was too energetic yesterday, so I thought he needed to gallop," Barnes said. "He was happy on the track this morning, very high energy, just what you want to see. He pretty much floats over any track we take him to. I haven't seen a surface he doesn't like."
Baffert reportedly arrived from Southern California later Thursday. After the gallop, Barnes texted his boss: "Super good, very happy, went over the track very well."
Saratoga is the eighth track visited by American Pharoah, who won at the other seven -- Del Mar, Santa Anita, Oaklawn Park, Churchill Downs, Pimlico, Belmont Park and Monmouth Park.
"He likes the Eastern tracks, the deeper tracks," Barnes said.
Shortly before 11 a.m., Barnes brought Pharoah to the paddock for a brief schooling session. Early arrivals were delighted by the chance to see and photograph their idol up close.
This morning at 8:45, thousands are expected to watch Pharoah gallop at the ancient track that's been renamed Pharoahtoga. A month ago at Monmouth, about 6,000 fans saw him exercise two days before the Haskell. The New York Racing Association capped attendance for the Travers at 50,000, and an overflow crowd is expected for the colt's final tuneup.
"I hope everyone gets a chance to see him [Friday ] that won't be going to the race,'' Barnes said.
Salute to Funny Cide. Twelve years ago, the New York-bred gelding Funny Cide was the toast of Saratoga. The 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was a favorite son, born in Saratoga Springs. A Funny Cide store downtown sold T-shirts, caps and Funny Cide beer.
On Thursday, his former trainer, Barclay Tagg, assistant trainer, Robin Smullen, co-owner, Jack Knowlton and fans reconnected with Funny Cide in the paddock from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The old guy looked great for a 15-year-old.