Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to race at Saratoga

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is on his way to the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, where a sold-out crowd is likely to turn one of racing's most historic tracks into a festival to remember.

"Saratoga, here we come!" owner Ahmed Zayat said Sunday, moments after American Pharoah came off the track at Del Mar in California from a workout termed "absolutely brilliant."

Before making the highly anticipated decision, Zayat and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert wanted to see this workout -- seven furlongs in 1 minute, 23.20 seconds. It came a week before Saturday's 1-mile Travers.

"He's showing zero wear and tear. In fact, he's more mature, even getting better," Zayat said. "He did it so easy the exercise rider couldn't even pull him up. Bob needed to see that."

About 2,000 fans showed up for American Pharoah's workout.

"He always works well, but we wanted to make sure if he still has that energy level," Baffert said. "It was an incredible work, though. He is a pretty incredible horse."

New York racing officials capped the crowd at 50,000 for Travers day, and all tickets have been sold. If American Pharoah starts, the purse increases by $350,000 to $1.6 million. The horse is scheduled to arrive at Saratoga on Wednesday.

American Pharoah is the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. His first encore came in the Haskell Invitational in New Jersey on Aug. 2, where he rolled to an easy 2-length victory.

He will be bucking history in going for his ninth straight victory in the Travers. Of the previous 11 Triple Crown winners, three ran in the Travers, and just one -- Whirlaway in 1941 -- came away the winner.

"We're elated to be coming to the Travers," said Zayat, who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. "We want this to be America's horse, and I promised two things after he won the Triple Crown: We would open our barn to everyone, and if he's happy and healthy, we'd keep racing him. We are happy to be taking him to the Mid-Summer Derby and to one of the most desirable races and tracks you can go to."

The post-position draw is Tuesday night, and as many as 10 3-year-old rivals could line up to challenge American Pharoah. Among them is Texas Red, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and looks to be in top form following his most recent win in the Jim Dandy on Aug. 1 at Saratoga.

Other contenders include Keen Ice (second in the Haskell, third in the Belmont), Frosted (second in the Belmont), Tale of Verve (second in the Preakness) and West Virginia Derby winner Madefromlucky (second to American Pharoah in the Rebel).

The other Triple Crown winners who ran in the Travers -- Gallant Fox, Whirlaway and Affirmed -- faced no more than three rivals.

Saratoga is known as the "Graveyard of Favorites" for the huge upsets that have occurred, including one in the 1930 Travers when 100-1 long shot Jim Dandy beat Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox.