For the first time since his Preakness runaway, American Pharoah was asked to do some serious exercise, and it looked like he was having fun.
With trainer Bob Baffert watching, his Triple Crown contender had his first timed workout for the 147th Belmont Stakes, breezing a half-mile in 48 seconds under Martin Garcia on Tuesday morning over a fast track at sunny Churchill Downs. Garcia yelled, "Whoa, buddy, whoa!" as he pulled him up.
Baffert, who arrived Monday from California, said: "He had a lot of energy, and I really like the way he went. Today he was pretty spectacular out there. I could tell he was really enjoying it. When the horse is enjoying it, your work is done."
The leggy, long-striding bay colt galloped out two extra furlongs in 12.40 and 12.80 seconds, according to clockers. His first three splits were 12.20 seconds (an eighth of a mile), 24 seconds (quarter-mile) and 35.80 seconds (three-eighths) before going a final furlong in 12.20.
"I'm really happy with what he did," Garcia said. "He came back like it was nothing. He loves to run. Before, he was green and really didn't know what was going on. He's getting more mature, and he likes it. He's learning really well."
Baffert was scheduled to return to California on Tuesday night before backtracking to Louisville for the weekend. Baffert said Zayat Stables' superstar will have another half-mile work Sunday or Monday, his last serious training move for the Belmont. He is scheduled to arrive Tuesday afternoon at Belmont Park, four days before the 1 1/2-mile Triple Crown finale.
Garcia rides frequently for Baffert, and they teamed to win the 2010 Preakness with Lookin At Lucky. Garcia was aboard Pharoah in his only defeat, a fifth-place finish in his debut last Aug. 9 at Del Mar. He lost the mount because he had committed to another horse for the Sept. 3 Del Mar Futurity before Baffert decided to enter American Pharoah.
"Things like that happen," Baffert said recently. "But I believe in fate, so it was supposed to happen."
Victor Espinoza rode Pharoah to a 43/4-length win in the Futurity, the first of their six consecutive stakes triumphs by a combined margin of 301/4 lengths.
Despite no longer riding American Pharoah in the afternoons, Garcia is on him in the mornings for workouts. For the rest of his training, exercise rider Georgie Alvarez is the guy. Alvarez jogged and galloped the colt the previous five mornings at Churchill.
American Pharoah is the 14th horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes since Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner in 1978. Twelve lost the Belmont, including Baffert's Silver Charm (second, 1997), Real Quiet (by a nose, 1998) and War Emblem (eighth with Espinoza, 2002). Three years ago, I'll Have Another was withdrawn because of a career-ending tendon injury the day before the race.
"Before, I felt there was more pressure," Baffert said. "But now I've been through it and I know what to expect. You need a good horse and he has to be doing really well. Today, I didn't see any regression, but he's still going to have to run a top race."
War Story out. Drf.com reported that Derby also-ran War Story will skip the Belmont for the Ohio Derby on June 20. The list of Pharoah's challengers is nine: Tale of Verve, Frosted, Materiality, Carpe Diem, Madefromlucky, Conquest Curlinate, Keen Ice, Mubtaahij and Frammento . . . Garcia also worked last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Bayern, 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 for the Met Mile on Belmont day.