Trainer Bob Baffert is happy to see the wet conditions at Belmont Park as American Pharoah, who enjoys a muddy track, arrives and prepares for his bid to become first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
Bob Baffert, trainer of American Pharoah, stood under a black umbrella as he waited for his horse to arrive at Belmont Park’s Barn 1 Tuesday afternoon. He wore his signature dark sunglasses and talked about the rain falling from the sky. He maintained that he welcomed a muddy path to the Triple Crown.
“This is Pharoah weather,” he said. “He likes wet.”
American Pharoah, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, seized the stage minutes later.
Shipped north from Louisville via a special transport plane, he touched down at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma shortly after noon and was then loaded onto a trailer and driven to Belmont.
Cameramen lined the back roads by the stables and they trained their lenses as a ramp was set up to ease the horse’s entry. A mat covered with hay was laid down, and Baffert pointed a handler toward the barn. The horse strode in, greeted by owner Ahmed Zayat, who was accompanied by his son, Justin.
“This horse has frequent flyer miles,” Justin Zayat said.
Plenty of horses have come as far in recent years, the most recent being California Chrome last June.
Baffert previously led three horses to the brink of the Triple Crown, the last coming in 2002, but none accomplished the feat. The track at Big Sandy doubled as the burial ground for Triple Crown dreams, its mile-and-a-half distance proving too much for challengers. Baffert and the Zayats expressed optimism, noting that American Pharoah maintained his weight, even adding a few pounds since storming to a muddy win in the May 16 Preakness States. Baffert called him “probably the kindest, sweetest horse” that he has trained.
“We feel good about the horse but we know he’s up against it,” Baffert said.
Forecasters called for a rainy week ahead. It was 55 degrees when American Pharoah came to the park, and the National Weather Service is calling for a high of 75 with a 30% chance of thunderstorms Saturday.
Baffert believed his horse will be ready for all conditions. He expected American Pharoah to take an exercise run Wednesday around 8:30 a.m. The horse ran at Churchill Downs in recent days, displaying the same effortless strides that inspired Baffert and the Zayats to speak glowingly about the way the Triple Crown contender “floats.”
Ahmed Zayat laughed about the expectations and concerns. He said he lost seven pounds, as well as countless hours of sleep.
“He is a once-in-a-lifetime horse,” Zayat said. “It is a humbling, unbelievable privilege.”
American Pharoah will be feted in the coming days. He will be exposed to new settings as his barn is just over a green fence and short row of bushes from the traffic on Hempstead Turnpike. When he exits the barn, to his left, in clear view, are a Wendy’s and a Subway. Baffert turned around and eyed the barn.
“He’s never stayed at a barn like this,” he said. “This place is like the Ritz.”
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