When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
That is the message trainer Bob Baffert tried to get across all week ahead of American Pharoah’s search for a ninth successive win, in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in the early hours of Sunday morning UAE time.
Nine rivals take on American Pharoah in the 2,000-metre Grade 1 dirt contest, including Texas Red, who American Pharoah beat last year, and Godolphin’s Frosted, who found Texas Red too hot in the Jim Dandy Stakes this month.
American Pharoah has displayed an extraordinary constitution throughout his tour of America this season.
Since he embarked on his Triple Crown campaign six months ago he has criss-crossed the country to clock up an estimated 16,000 miles.
Trips to Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, as well as regular returns to his California base, has made his final season akin to a pop band on their farewell tour.
Yesterday an estimated 10,000 people turned out at Saratoga, a spa town in northern New York, just to see the champion stretch his legs down the straight that has seen some of the biggest names in American racing falter and fail.
The “graveyard of champions”, they call it.
Man O’War must have needed the nearby mineral springs after he suffered his only loss in what ended up a near-flawless 21 starts at Saratoga in 1919, while Triple Crown greats such as Gallant Fox and Secretariat also felt the sting of defeat at Saratoga.
Only Whirlaway in 1941 managed to augment his Triple Crown win with a victory in America’s Midsummer Derby.
American Pharoah has been brought along steadily since his effortless performance in the Haskell Invitational 27 days ago, and having been given the green light just a week ago the champion stands on the cusp of another success under Victor Espinoza.
America Pharoah is rated the best horse in the world, and now has little competition for the accolade after English Derby winner Golden Horn suffered his first loss, at York last week.
American Pharoah just keeps on going.
“Most horses can give you a great performance but he’s the only horse I’ve ever had that’s given me just six great performances in a row,” Baffert said by teleconference.
“I mean, the mileage, it’s unheard of for a racehorse. Even my wife keeps asking me because I’m always telling her they can only ship so many times and then finally it catches up to them.”
Only one horse has managed to pull off the Haskell/Travers double in the 21st century and that was Baffert’s Point Given in 2001.
Point Given was also a horse that had an iron constitution, but where Point Given was as ferocious off the track as he was as a competitor on it, Baffert is always at pains to point out the differences between his two stars.
“You couldn’t spoil Point Given,” Baffert said.
“You couldn’t get in there. You couldn’t bring an infant up to the stall and let him nuzzle, where Pharoah will nuzzle an infant. He won’t bite it.”
The champion will need more bite than nuzzle tonight.
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