America’s newest hero, American Pharoah, made his debut on NBC’s “Today” show Sunday morning.
In a surreal scene, the Triple Crown winner was standing between jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Bob Baffert, who were both seated, while held in hand by assistant Jimmy Barnes.
“Early in the race, probably in the first turn, I already knew that American Pharoah was going to do it,” Espinoza told TODAY’s Erica Hill, adding that he “didn’t want to celebrate until we passed the wire.”
American Pharoah became horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner since 1978, ending a 37-year drought with he captured the Belmont Stakes on June 6 by 5 1-2 lengths.
“The Pharoah, he’s golden,” said the 62-year-old Hall of Fame trainer. “You can count on him. I’m enjoying the moment. I don’t know if this will ever come around again. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another horse of this caliber.”
Jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Bob Baffert are on the ‘Today’ show with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
American Pharoah left Belmont Park on Sunday morning and will head to Baffert’s barn at Churchill Downs in Louisville for a week before finally returning to Baffert’s headquarters at Santa Anita Race Track in Southern California.
Churchill Downs will honor American Pharoah and his connections on Saturday, presenting them with engraved Kentucky Derby winner’s trophies.
As for when American Pharoah returns to the racetrack, there is no exact date, although Baffert mentioned it would likely occur at the end of July.
The $ 1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2 would seem the heavy favorite as owner Ahmed Zayat lives in Teaneck, N.J., and Baffert has won the Haskell a record seven times in his career, including four of the last five years.
The $ 1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar Race Course on Aug. 22 and the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 1 are also possibilities but are considered longshots.
“We’re going to sit down and figure something out,” Baffert said. “I’ve seen Triple Crown horses come back and get beat. I don’t want that happen. If this horse gets beat next time, Jill (Baffert’s wife) will never forgive me for it, so he’ll be ready.”
If American Pharoah doesn’t start in the Jim Dandy Stakes, don’t expect to see the colt in Saratoga for the $ 1.25 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 29.
“To me, you have to win the Jim Dandy if you want to win the Travers because the Travers track (Saratoga) can be sort of a little gimmicky,” the trainer said. “It can be weird.”
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah gets up close with the cameras.
Baffert indicated that the little bay colt with the short tail came out of the Belmont in good shape and could race him back in three weeks if he had to.
“He’s pretty solid this horse,” he said. “He can run in a couple of weeks, I mean it (the Belmont) wasn’t really taxing at all on him.”
The ultimate goal for American Pharoah will be the $ 5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic to be run this year at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky on Oct. 31.
“We think we’d probably run him three more times,” the trainer said. “The Classic is the goal.”
Before the Triple Crown began, Zayat sold the breeding rights for the horse to Coolmore Stud for an undisclosed figure, some say the deal was worth $ 30 to $ 50 million dollars.
Zayat retained control of the horse during his racing career, which is scheduled to end this year.
“Money plays an important factor in this game,” said Zayat, who indicated he’d like to race the horse as long as he possibly could. “I know with Bob, the horse always comes first with him.”
Baffert, who spent Saturday night with his family having “a little, quiet meal,” remembers the roar of the fans.
“When he straightened him out I knew it was going to happen,” he said. “I just sat there listening to the crowd, to the call and the roar. The roar was insane. It’s just something that I’ll always remember, the roar of the crowd. They kept yelling past the wire, they were so happy. That’s the happiest I ever made anybody in my life. It was pretty exciting.”
It sure was.
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