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American Pharoah will return Aug. 2 for Haskell at Monmouth

Jockey Victor Espinoza celebrates after American Pharoah won

Jockey Victor Espinoza celebrates after American Pharoah won the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 6, 2015 and became the 12th horse in history to win the elusive Triple Crown. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

It's official. Next up for American Pharoah is the $1-million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park.

Trainer Bob Baffert confirmed Thursday night in a phone interview with Newsday that the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 will run in the 11/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds on the Jersey Shore. It will be American Pharoah's first race since he dominated the Belmont Stakes by 51/2 lengths on June 6. first reported the story late Thursday afternoon.

"This horse has got everyone's attention, which is great,'' Baffert told Newsday. "People ask me if I get tired of being constantly asked about him, but it's a lot of fun.

"The Haskell is the first logical spot to bring him back. We just wanted to make sure we were happy with the way he came out of the Belmont. That mile-and-a-half was pretty stiff, but he's doing well.''

The Haskell originally was the heavy favorite for Pharoah's comeback, but on June 18 owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat tweeted that Saratoga's 1 1/4-mile Travers Stakes on Aug. 29 was in the lead.

That was a surprise, because Baffert has won the Haskell a record seven times, including in 2012 with Paynter, whom Zayat owned. Zayat, who grew up in Cairo, is a New Jersey resident. On June 13, while his superstar was being paraded at Churchill Downs, Zayat said the Haskell "sentimentally" was his choice and that "the handwriting was on the wall.'' It appeared as if it might have been in pencil before Thursday's announcement.

"We're overjoyed," Monmouth Park president Bob Kulina told The Associated Press. "I want to thank Mr. Zayat and Bob for picking the Haskell.'' quoted Zayat as saying: "I've decided to do the logical step and run American Pharoah at Monmouth. He added, "We haven't ruled out [also] running at Saratoga.''

Zayat did not immediately respond to a voice message left by Newsday.

A 3-furlong breeze in 36 2/5 seconds Monday morning at Santa Anita convinced Baffert that Pharoah was ready to get back to serious business. It was his first timed workout since the Belmont.

"He worked like a champ,'' Baffert said. "He won't do any serious work until we get to Del Mar, but he's pretty tight right now and ready to go.''

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