SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The American Pharoah road show will roll into Saratoga Wednesday, when the Triple Crown champion will be greeted like the conquering hero he is.
"To see him means a lot to people," trainer Bob Baffert said Tuesday on a conference call. "It's the Pharoah tour, and it's pretty incredible. I feel like I'm bringing the Beatles to town.
"Racing needed some good news, and he was the good news."
Sunday's announcement that Pharoah would run in Saturday's 146th Travers Stakes thrilled the locals and the New York Racing Association.
American Pharoah was made the 1-5 morning-line favorite and drew post 2 in a field of 10. His opponents, with odds, from the rail out: Upstart, 15-1; Mid Ocean, 50-1; Texas Red, 8-1; Frammento, 30-1; Frosted, 6-1; Keen Ice, 12-1; Tale of Verve, 30-1; King of New York, 50-1; Smart Transition, 20-1.
Owner Ahmed Zayat and Justin Zayat, his father's 23-year-old racing manager, were eager to run in the Midsummer Derby, but Baffert was giving off vibes that he wouldn't have minded staying in Southern California this week.
For the past few weeks, Baffert looked for clues that his superstar was not his usual self. A brilliant 7-furlong workout Sunday at Del Mar convinced him Pharoah was still at the top of his game. Baffert admitted he'd been looking for an excuse not to come to Saratoga but said he couldn't find one.
After the Belmont Stakes, Ahmed Zayat said the rest of the year would be all about adding to Pharoah's legacy. The Travers' prestige and tradition made it an obvious goal, especially after the colt's romp Aug. 2 in the Haskell at Monmouth Park.
When asked Tuesday if the Zayats had talked him into coming to Saratoga, Baffert said no.
"They left it up to me," he said. "They said, 'If he's not a hundred percent, don't run him in it.' The Travers has always been a major race to win, so we figured if Pharoah was doing well, we'd let him take a run at it."
American Pharoah's theme song could be "Travelin' Man," a Stevie Wonder hit from 1967. Wednesday's flight will be his 13th long trip since March, when he made the first of two round trips from California to Arkansas. Since then, he's gone from California to Kentucky to Maryland, back to Kentucky, on to New York, back to Kentucky again, then to California before flying to New Jersey and back to California.
After the Haskell, Baffert said Pharoah was "wiped out" by the Jersey Shore's heat and humidity and the long return trip. Gary Stevens, who will ride long shot Tale of Verve in the Travers, called the long-distance travel "Bob's biggest worry."
"It's not ideal, but this horse is really tough, and he can handle it," Baffert said. "He ships really well."
Pharoah will face a solid field that includes Texas Red, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, and Belmont runner-up Frosted. They ran 1-2, respectively, in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, and four of the last six Jim Dandy winners took the Travers. "Horses for courses" is a powerful angle up here, where a race over the track means a lot.
Point Given, the 2001 Horse of the Year and Baffert's only Travers winner in five tries, is the last to complete the Haskell-Travers double.
"I think you're better off running in the Jim Dandy coming into the Travers,'' Baffert said. "But I think with horses like Point Given and Pharoah, you can get away with it because they're so talented.''