BALTIMORE (AP) — American Pharoah wins on dry tracks, wet tracks, any tracks.
He’s won from the rail and he’s won from an outside post, and now, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.
So, Bob Baffert, what kind of track surface would you prefer for the Belmont Stakes on June 6?
“I want the same track Secretariat had,” he joked on a humid Sunday morning just outside the Pimlico stakes barn. “Give me a Secretariat track. I’ll take that.”
Of course, Baffert was referring to the 1973 Triple Crown champion who won the Belmont by a mind-boggling 31 lengths.
The 62-year-old trainer will try for an unprecedented fourth time to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, while jockey Victor Espinoza will be the first rider with a third chance to pull off the feat.
Baffert stood next to American Pharoah as the colt had the white wraps around his legs hosed off. All seemed well with the Triple Crown hopeful. The ear plugs? Still in.
“He looks fine. He’s a little quiet. He’s a little tired, like he’s supposed to be after a race,” Baffert said after he and Espinoza appeared on the “Today Show.” ‘’That’s usually him. Health-wise he looks good. No changes. No surprises.”
Baffert said American Pharoah would be sent to Churchill Downs on Monday for a week of rest and relaxation and resume training at the Louisville, Kentucky, track before traveling to New York. His arrival date is scheduled for Wednesday, June 3.
“It’s hard for me to imagine I’m going through this again,” said Baffert, back in the Triple chase for the first time in 13 years, when War Emblem lost his chance when he stumbled at the start of the Belmont and finished eighth. “I can’t believe this is the fourth time I’m doing this, and how lucky I’ve been.
“All I can do is rely on my experience going to the next one. I know what to expect; I know how difficult it is. With a horse like this it makes my job a lot easier. You see the way he moves. He just floats. He’s effortless.”
American Pharoah won the Preakness by seven lengths over a sloppy track in a driving rainstorm. Baffert’s take? “He’s by Pioneerof the Nile, and it was like he was running in the Nile.”
The track was drenched. Baffert said jockey Gary Stevens, who was aboard seventh-place finisher Firing Line, told him with all the water in his boots and soaked into his saddle pad, he weighed 135 pounds after the race. With equipment and rider, horses carry 126 pounds for the Preakness.
While American Pharoah is scheduled for the Belmont, Baffert said the colt has to be perfectly sound before making the trip to New York.
“Everything has gone really smooth, other than that hiccup in the Breeders’ Cup,” Baffert said, referring to a leg injury that kept American Pharoah out of the BC Juvenile. “So we just got to keep our fingers crossed, keep him healthy and keep him happy. I don’t want to go up there with a tired horse. Right now, he’s tired. He went through a lot with that rain and all that and still doing what he did carrying a lot of weight. He just showed what a special horse he is.”
Dortmund, American Pharoah’s stablemate, is headed for a break after finishing fourth. So will third-place finisher Divining Rod.
The Belmont field will likely include a group of Derby also-rans who skipped the Preakness.
Among them are Frosted (fourth), Materiality (sixth), Keen Ice (seventh), Mubtaahij (eighth), Carpe Diem (10th) and Frammento (11th). Also probable is Peter Pan Stakes winner Madefromlucky.
“I understand,” Baffert said of the potential spoilers. “It just shows the respect they have for American Pharoah. It’s something you can’t control. You have to earn it, just like he earned it in the weather yesterday. I’ve seen a lot of great horses leave here and (lose) in the Belmont — Smarty Jones, Big Brown, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Funny Cide. I’ll Have Another (in 2012). You just don’t know.”
Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve will take another shot, too. Trainer Dallas Stewart said Sunday his horse is headed to Belmont Park on Monday.
‘He ran so big yesterday,” Stewart said of his 3-year-old who has only a maiden win on his resume. “He’s a tremendous horse.”
This will be the third Triple Crown try in the past four years. I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before the 2012 Belmont with an injury and California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth last year.