LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Behold the immortal.
At 7:01 Friday morning, for the first time since Affirmed in 1978, a Triple Crown winner returned to the racetrack. American Pharoah worked up a sweat for the first time since crushing the Belmont Stakes by 51/2 lengths six days earlier.
The long-striding bay colt galloped a mile at Churchill Downs for exercise rider Georgie Alvarez and was back at trainer Bob Baffert's Barn 33 by 7:11. In seven minutes, it was bath time, and when you're a living legend, even getting hosed down is a media event. Five video cameras recorded every soapy scrub before dozens of riveted fans.
Then Baffert held court for reporters, as he has done constantly and very well since late April. On the wall outside his stable was a sign saying "American Pharoah, 2015 Triple Crown winner" in green and gold letters.
"I never thought I'd ever stand in front of a sign like that," he said. "I'd had three good horses [Silver Charm, Real Quiet, War Emblem] go for the Triple Crown and it didn't happen.
"This time, people thought, 'It's got to be done. It's about time, it's been too long.' And Pharoah did it the right way. He's a baby around the barn and a beast on the racetrack."
The world's favorite horse is likely to return Thursday to Santa Anita. Baffert said he has no plans for his next race, with the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on Aug. 1 and the Haskell the next day at Monmouth Park possibilities.
Pharoah's most distinguished visitor on a sunny, steamy morning was Dr. William McGee. The 98-year-old retired veterinarian not only has witnessed 11 of the 12 Triple Crown winners but also treated eight of them, all except Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935).
"No, I haven't seen all of them," McGee said. "I don't go back that far. I'm only 98."
Another of his patients was Man o' War, the original "Big Red," who suffered from fainting spells. He once keeled over and fell on McGee, who embalmed the 30-year-old in 1947.
McGee was 23 when he moved from Montana to Kentucky in 1940, the year before Whirlaway swept the classics. He was a head case called "Mr. Long Tail," while Pharoah is a sweetheart with an inordinately short tail. Baffert led him to McGee, who sat in a wheelchair and fed small carrots to the remarkably placid colt.
A lifetime of working with temperamental thoroughbreds taught McGee to be wary around them. With Pharoah, that's not necessary. As McGee petted his forehead, he said, "My God, I've never seen a horse that could stand as much loving as he does."
Then came picture time, and as Baffert held Pharoah's shank, children and adults posed. No pony rides, but maybe next time.
"I'm waiting for the genetic experts to tell me why he can run that far," Baffert said to McGee. "I guess it has to be the trainer, don't you think?"