For just one moment during a hectic week that could turn historic with the right amount of speed, someone connected with American Pharoah basically said, "Not so fast."
Ahmed Zayat, the horse's owner, interrupted trainer Bob Baffert's news conference Thursday to caution everyone against buying Baffert's attempt to downplay his own passion.
This occurred after American Pharoah took what Baffert called "a very positive gallop" around the long, sandy Belmont Park track, and after the trainer tried to sound serenely philosophical about the horse becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. "I've had my career. I'm just finishing it off," he said at a lectern in the clubhouse. "I've never set any goal for myself."
At that point, Zayat, standing beside him, approached the microphone and told the media: "Don't believe a word he said. I can tell you about this guy. He is the most competitive guy I have ever known in my life. His goals are extremely high and lofty and he wants to go down in history, for his career, as one of the best that America knew. For me, he is the best.
"Yes, of course, he wants to win the Triple Crown. He's just being humble and enjoying the moment," Zayat said, "because it means something to him."
The owner emphatically believes that Baffert's career is not behind him, and is optimistic that the trainer's crowning achievement is ahead of him, at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Bitter experience tells Baffert how hard it is to go three-for-three in racing's classic events, which no horse has done since Affirmed in 1978.
"I got beat [by] a nose. I came the closest," Baffert said, referring to 1998 when Real Quiet -- like American Pharoah, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner -- was mystifyingly ahead of Victory Gallop just before and just after the Belmont finish line, but was behind right at the wire. "That's a nasty bob. Those things happen. You scratch your head, like how can that be? You go a mile-and-a-half and you get beat by a couple inches."
What you do is refuse to revisit the pain, and try not to conjure new angst. Baffert and his wife, Jill, were at dinner Wednesday night and found themselves talking about what might happen Saturday. They agreed to change the subject.
His job this week is to take stress off Pharoah and the people around him. "I don't even think about the history part of it," Baffert said Thursday before heading to a tourist-type afternoon in Manhattan. "Right now, I'm just focused on getting him up there, putting a saddle on him, listening to the song 'New York, New York.' And then he's on his own."