In a moment that was 37 years in the making, owner Ahmed Zayat, his wife, Joanne, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza pulled together on a cord Sunday morning and unveiled a banner.
Before American Pharoah charged into history in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, many thought racing had seen its last Triple Crown hero. But Zayat's blue and yellow silks hung from the ceiling on Belmont Park's fourth floor beside the colors of the other 11 Triple Crown winners: Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.
Pharoah's 5 1/2-length runaway made the bay colt that rarest of creatures: a living immortal. Zayat reiterated his intention to have his superstar's millions of fans see him in the flesh again. They'll have their first opportunity Saturday night at Churchill Downs, where he will be paraded down the stretch. Zayat told Newsday he will be there to receive his Kentucky Derby trophy.
Zayat said that instead of retiring Pharoah, he wants him to do more than walk down the stretch again. "I've sold his breeding rights," the New Jersey-based owner-breeder said. "Money is an important factor in this game. But it is my genuine desire, as a fan, as someone who loves horses, to race him as long as we possibly can, at least until the end of this year. We owe it to the sport to do the right thing."
Baffert mentioned the Jim Dandy on Aug. 1 at Saratoga and the Haskell Invitational the next day at Monmouth Park as possible spots for Pharoah's return. The picturesque track along the Jersey Shore has been an ATM for Baffert, who has won the Haskell a record seven times. Zayat's Paynter won it in 2012, and Monmouth is only a 90-minute drive from the owner's home.
Zayat acknowledged the risk of injury and high insurance premiums as reasons not to run American Pharoah again. He's already a lock for Horse of the Year, and the Triple Crown guarantees he'll attract the best-bred mares. Even if he won the Haskell, the Travers and the Breeders' Cup Classic, his value for Ashford Stud would rise very little.
Baffert still was trying to process the day before. "I've never seen a horse run like that," he said. "He just flew home. When he passed the wire, the crowd erupted."
It was a 90,000-person lovefest for a colt who enjoys posing and being petted. "It was amazing," Baffert said. "I never saw one heckler, nobody saying, 'Not today, Bob.' Everybody was on board."
Pharoah left Belmont Sunday at 8 a.m. and was back in Louisville by early afternoon. A short van ride with a police escort took him to Baffert's Barn 33. "For a horse who just ran a mile and a half, he looked pretty darn good today," Baffert said. "He's a tough horse. We'll give him a couple of days off."
American Pharoah was the 14th Derby and Preakness winner to come to Elmont since the 1978 sweep by Affirmed. Twelve lost in the Belmont, and in 2012 I'll Have Another was scratched the day before the race. Baffert endured three disappointments, including Real Quiet's defeat by a nose in 1998.
"For a while, I was starting to think maybe it was never going to happen. 'It's changed, it's too tough . . . maybe it's the breed,' '' he said before adding: "It's not the breed. You just have to wait for a really superior horse, and he's got to be tough.
"The Pharoah, he's golden. You can always count on him."