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American Pharoah's popularity keeps growing coast to coast

American Pharoah runs his way to the Triple

American Pharoah runs his way to the Triple Crown in the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park Race Track in Elmont on Saturday, June 6, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

For a living immortal, the love never ends.

Since sweeping the Triple Crown at Belmont Park on June 6, American Pharoah has been paraded and petted throughout the land. From Belmont to Santa Anita, from Churchill Downs to Del Mar, adoring crowds have saluted him. The ultimate prize: a photo op with Pharoah, a gentlemanly conqueror who nuzzled the hair of a thrilled 8-year-old on Churchill's backstretch as her mom snapped away.

"He loves selfies,'' assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said, even though he doesn't have his own selfie stick.

The Pharoah is a ham who without prompting will provide head-on and profile shots for The Cult of the Colt.

"Ooh, he's even cuter than George Clooney,'' a middle-aged woman gushed. Even Vogue magazine, that bastion of elegant fashion, thinks so, giving the superhorse a photo spread in its August issue along with a long feature that trotted out the adjectives "exultant," "monumental" and "historic.''

The Triple Crown's "petting zoo" afterglow has dimmed, and American Pharoah is back doing what he does better than any other thoroughbred: run quickly and effortlessly. He's been training like a demon at Del Mar, the Southern California track "Where the Surf Meets the Turf,'' as the old Bing Crosby song goes. On Wednesday, he'll be flown to Monmouth Park, where he'll make next Sunday's $1-million Haskell Invitational a mainstream event.

An overflow crowd of more than 60,000 is expected, and NBC will televise the race from 5-6 p.m., with post time at 5:52. Pharoah's recent workouts have made trainer Bob Baffert confident it will be must-see TV.

After zipping 6 furlongs in 1:11.40 July 18 at Del Mar, Pharoah provided a faster encore (1:11 flat) Thursday. Baffert said his horse of a lifetime gave him "goose bumps.''

"He needed to get back to the track,'' the 62-year-old Hall of Famer said. "If I wait too long with him, he starts to get antsy. He needs to get out there. The track here is a little demanding, but he doesn't make it look that way.''

Baffert is among the best big-race trainers of all time, and the only one to send four horses to the Belmont Stakes with a chance for a Triple Crown. American Pharoah, the first to seize the sterling-silver trophy since Affirmed in 1978, will be a 1-9 favorite, and maybe even 1-20, in a projected field of six to extend Baffert's record of seven Haskell victories.

On Tuesday, just to take the edge off before heading for the Jersey Shore, Pharoah will work "an easy half-mile.'' His charter flight is scheduled to land at Atlantic City International Airport at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, and the obligatory police escort will lead his van up the Garden State Parkway. After turning right at Exit 105, the triumphal procession will cruise a few miles down Route 36 to Monmouth, where the 3-year-old king will settle in at trainer Kelly Breen's barn.

Pharaoh is scheduled for routine gallops between 7:30 and 7:50 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when the clubhouse will open at 7 to welcome the Jersey chapter of Pharoahites. A schooling session before Friday's first race will acquaint him with Monmouth's paddock and walking ring.

"He's right on course,'' Baffert said. "No excuses. He'll be ready to go there.''

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