SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — They were waiting for their horse, ready to take pictures with cellphones and ready to feed him snacks.
On the morning after a startling upset at the Travers Stakes, a small gathering of fans visited racing’s biggest celebrity. This group on Sunday morning was considerably smaller than the throng of 15,000 that watched American Pharoah take a routine gallop two days earlier.
Still, the Triple Crown winner’s defeat at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday didn’t diminish his legacy or appeal — not in the eyes of the fans and not in the eyes of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who led his prized colt out to be petted and fed carrots before he was sent back to his stall.
“I’m happy with the way he looked today. I could tell he’s not upset,” Baffert said. “You could see when he was out here, he was himself. He was his sweet self.”
American Pharoah had not lost since his career debut last August at Del Mar. Since then, the bay Pioneerof the Nile colt had reeled off eight straight wins, seven of them in Grade 1 races, including his historic sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont this spring.
After a short break, American Pharoah returned with a victory in the Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park. Though owner Ahmed Zayat was intent on the Travers, Baffert preferred to wait until the final workout Aug. 23 before committing to the race.
“If I had to do it again, I would have brought him here. I’m glad I brought him. I think racing needed something like this,” Baffert said. “It’s amazing, what he’s done for racing. Everybody in town afterward, when they saw me they said, ‘We’re sorry. We feel so bad for you, Bob, but thanks for bringing that horse.’ It almost ended well. We almost pulled it off.”
In the Travers, his first try at 1 ¼ miles since the Derby, American Pharoah was pressed from the gate to the top of the stretch by Frosted before getting clear. But he but didn’t have enough left to hold off late-running Keen Ice.
The question now is when, or if, American Pharoah will run again. Zayat said immediately following the Travers the horse would be retired at the first hint of regression. Baffert said he had not seen any sign of that and would prefer to train up to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland, his last scheduled start before going to stud.
“He looks great today,” Baffert said. “He could come back and freshen up and run. I don’t think he tailed off; I think he just didn’t bring his ‘A’ game. If you look at him, he still looks pretty healthy. He doesn’t look like a tired horse.”