LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Georgie Alvarez has galloped many standout thoroughbreds in the past 22 years for Hall of Fame trainers Bobby Frankel and Bob Baffert. Not only is Alvarez the regular exercise rider for Triple Crown contender American Pharoah, he goes way back with his family. He also got on his grandsire, Empire Maker, and sire, Pioneerof the Nile, in the mornings.
After he galloped the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner 13/16 miles Saturday at Churchill Downs, Alvarez, 39, was asked what makes American Pharoah special.
"The difference between this horse and other horses is he covers a lot of ground," the native of Tijuana, Mexico, said. "He's a very smooth galloper. Sometimes I get in trouble with my boss because he goes too fast and it doesn't feel like that to me."
American Pharoah glided to a seven-length victory May 16 in the Preakness. When lightning crackled, thunder boomed, the clouds opened and the infield was evacuated, Alvarez was among the few in Pimlico's record crowd of 131,680 who was pleased. "I thought he was ready to run a good race anyway," he said. "But when it started raining, I started getting excited because I know he likes mud."
While Baffert is in Southern California, assistant trainer Jim Barnes is in charge, calling himself Pharoah's "caretaker." Barnes said the colt is scheduled to arrive at Belmont Park Tuesday afternoon, June 2, four days before the 147th Belmont Stakes.
"These are just our easy days," Barnes said Saturday. "Just maintenance, keeping him happy and keeping some weight on him. Just so long as things don't go wrong.''
He said Baffert will arrive here Monday night, and that no day has been selected for a timed workout.
American Pharoah left Baltimore the day after the Preakness, and for the next three days, he walked around Barn 33, Baffert's Kentucky home, before taking a seven-minute jog around the mile dirt track Thursday.
"I was expecting a little change, but not at all," Alvarez said Friday. "He came back pretty much the same as he did after the Derby. So far, no difference."
He was asked about the anticipation of going for the first Triple Crown since 1978. "I don't want to think too much about that," he said. "If I find myself doing that, I try to stop."
Alvarez, a former jockey, joined Baffert in 2008 after being based in New York for Frankel, who died in November 2009. One of Frankel's best horses was Empire Maker, who canceled the 2003 Triple Crown bid of the beloved New York-bred Funny Cide. More than 101,000 fans endured a daylong rain at Belmont. After their favorite ran third in the slop, their mood was as miserable as the weather, and the Cult of the Gelding booed Empire Maker.
As Daily Racing Form executive Steve Crist said, "It was as if somebody's dog had died."
Being in the villain's entourage that day didn't bother Alvarez. This time he's on the other side, with millions rooting for Pharoah to be the one to finally pull off the sweep.
Alvarez is very familiar with Belmont Park's main track, aka Big Sandy, which can get very dry and deep. Baffert doesn't plan to give Pharoah a workout there, but Alvarez doesn't think that will matter. As for whether he'll handle the grueling 1 1/2 miles against a rested group of talented challengers, no one can say.
"Every track is different," Alvarez said, "but he's been a great shipper, so I don't think that will be a problem."
He smiled and asked if anybody had seen a long-range forecast. "I hope it rains in New York," he said. Miserable is in the eye of the beholder.
Notes & quotes:Todd Pletcher cranked up three Belmont contenders Friday, when Carpe Diem and Madefromlucky breezed 5 furlongs together in 59.01 seconds, fastest of the morning on Belmont's main track. Materiality did 5 furlongs in 1:00.04.