Rejoice, Pharoahites. Your hero is sticking around.
Owner Ahmed Zayat announced Thursday morning that Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, who finished second Saturday in the Travers at Saratoga, will not be retired yet. He will be pointed to the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland. All along, the 1 1/4-mile Classic was projected as his finale before he begins his stallion career next year at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky.
"I have decided to continue to race American Pharoah," Zayat said in a statement released to ESPN.com and the Daily Racing Form. "The champ deserves another chance. He won the Triple Crown and deserves to be in the sport's premier year-end event."
Zayat said he was "very confident in my decision" and that Pharoah came out of his first loss in his past nine races "in good order." He said he took input from trainer Bob Baffert, his son and racing manager Justin Zayat, assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes and jockey Victor Espinoza.
Minutes after Pharoah fell at "the Graveyard of Champions," Zayat hinted it may have been his last race. "My gut's saying if the horse showed me he's tailed off, that he's not the Pharoah I know, then there's no question in my mind that the right thing is to retire him," Zayat said. "He doesn't owe me or anybody anything."
The next morning, Baffert downplayed Zayat's comments, saying he's "a very emotional man" who spoke in the heat of the moment.
American Pharoah has transcended his sport to be a mainstream obsession. The first sweep of the classics in 37 years riveted millions who had never paid attention to racing. Even his morning exercise is a destination, with an estimated 18,000 watching him gallop last Friday at Saratoga.
"I was overwhelmed by the crowd," Baffert said. "It's amazing, what he's done for racing."
Pharoah has run at eight tracks, winning at seven - Del Mar, Santa Anita, Oaklawn Park (twice), Churchill Downs, Pimlico, Belmont Park and Monmouth Park. Starting in March, he logged almost 19,000 miles on 14 flights. "It wasn't the track that beat him," Zayat said. "We were asking him to be bionic, and I'm cursing myself for it."
He still showed grit in the Travers, when Frosted hounded him relentlessly for 1 1/8 miles. After Pharoah regained the lead and shook him off inside the eighth pole, Keen Ice pounced late to deny him by three-quarters of a length.
"We almost pulled it off," Baffert said. "He has been doing the impossible. Sometimes you feel like he's invincible, but they all get beat."
Keen Ice's trainer, Dale Romans, agreed.
"American Pharoah's legacy is not tarnished in any way," he said. "Secretariat got beat. Seattle Slew got beat. Affirmed got beat. He ran a great race today."
Zayat said it was uncertain whether Pharoah would have a prep or would train up to the Classic. On Sunday, Baffert said, "I don't know if I'd want to put him on another plane [before the Classic]."
If he gets a tuneup, the likeliest spot is the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 26 at Santa Anita, Baffert's base for most of the year.
Four days before the Travers, Baffert considered life without Pharoah. "When he's gone," he said, "I think I'll probably look back and think I should have slept at the barn and spent more time with him."
For another two months, he'll have that chance.