American Pharoah paused on his way to his stall, directly in line with the large throng of photographers hoping to get a snapshot of the horse who could make history. Ears perked, he faced the cameras fully for a beat, then angled his long face just a few inches to the left for another flutter of shots.
This horse knows his good side.
So goes the celebrity-like excitement surrounding American Pharoah and his attempt at the Triple Crown Saturday at the Belmont Stakes. It means that even ho-hum updates -- the thoroughbred jogged once around the wet track Wednesday on a crisp, nearly autumnal morning -- are a big deal. He was ridden by Jorge Alvarez, his regular exercise rider, and "he looked happy out there," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He loves it."
It was his first go-round at Belmont, and he's expected to gallop Thursday.
Both Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat have stressed again and again that this is a happy, congenial horse, and, Baffert said Wednesday, one of the keys to the big race is that American Pharoah continues to have fun.
"I like what I see if we keep him at this level, where he's happy," Baffert said after American Pharoah's bath.
Suffering from no excessive modesty, the horse's bathing attracted dozens of onlookers.
"That's why when he runs these big races, he enjoys what he does," Baffert said. "He runs with his ears up. He's having fun when he's running . . . That's the difference with him, to keep him happy. He's strong. He's fit enough. He's had all these races, but he looked pretty sharp."
There's a good amount of thought that goes into letting American Pharoah be American Pharoah. He was originally supposed to jog about half the track and then head back, Baffert said, but when he got on there, "he was so strong . . . He was marching right along, full of himself.
"I called an audible."
He enjoys the roomy stalls at Belmont, and he doesn't seem to mind the dreary, misty weather so much. American Pharoah did, after all, win the Preakness in a deluge. Though he's run four races in eight weeks, he's maintained his weight, the trainer said, and doesn't look worse for wear.
"He likes it," Baffert said of the new digs. "Things change overnight, but right now, I don't have any [concerns]. Everything has gone very smooth."