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Friday, June 19, 2015

When Will American Pharaoh Run?

The suspense is killing me. When will American Pharoah run? Just tell me, please, when and where will he run?

The horse racing world is abuzz this week as fan speculation on the whereabouts of Pharoah’s next race is being fueled by a considerable amount of old-fashioned lobbying. Since thoroughbred owner Ahmed Zayat’s initial statement two days after The Belmont Stakes, the odds-on favorite for the Triple Crown winner’s next race was The Haskell at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. However, a June 18th social media posting by Zayat turned the racing world upside down when the horse owner cryptically tweeted, “right know Saratoga is in the lead. Head of Haskell.” (sic).

That post might have the folks at TVG, known as America’s #1 online horse wagering and TV network, scrambling for a PR flack re-write as the broadcaster had previously issued a press release, complete with Betfair odds on Pharoah’s next run, which stated:

4-to-5 - August 2 - Haskell Invitational, Monmouth Park (NJ)
4-to-1 - August 1 - Jim Dandy Stakes, Saratoga (NY State)
4-to-1 - August 22 - TVG Pacific Classic, Del Mar (San Diego, California
7-to-1 - August 29 - Travers Stakes, Saratoga 
16-to-1 - September 26, Awesome Again Stakes, Santa Anita
20-to-1 - August 29 - Mystic Lake Derby, Canterbury Park (Minnesota)
20-to-1 - September 19 - Pennsylvania Derby, Parx (Bensalem, PA)
33-to-1 - September 26 - Jockey Club Gold Cup, Belmont (New York)
10-to-1 - “The Field” also known as Any Other Race

“American Pharoah won the nation’s heart when he crossed the finish line at the Belmont Stakes to end the 37-year wait for a Triple Crown champion,” said Kip Levin, CEO of TVG. “His time in the spotlight is hardly over, however, as he is expected to hit the track once again. The real question on everyone’s mind is, ‘Where will he race next?’”

As American Pharoah was shipped from Kentucky to California for a “promotion and appearance” at Santa Anita, the speculation swung mightily from Monmouth to Del Mar to Saratoga over a 24-hour span of time.

“I’m intimately involved with all the goings on,” said Dennis Drazin, advisor to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association to Stephen Edelson of the Asbury Park Press. “It’s a lot of money. But at the end of the day, what I would say is that (trainer Bob) Baffert is a top horseman, and regardless of the money, you have to do the right thing for the horse. And the right thing for the horse is to run at Monmouth Park against straight 3-year olds. You don’t want to attack older horses at this point.

“The ultimate goal is the Breeders’ Cup Classic and you have to plan for him getting to that race,” said Drazin to the APP. “The Haskell, although it’s not a walkover, it’s the right kind of race. It’s straight 3-year olds on a track he’ll love. Baffert’s been a winner seven times (at The Haskell)."

Immediately after the perfectly-timed Zayat social media post, the twitterverse went wild with further speculation and Drazin declined comment to his Asbury Park pundit.

American Pharoah is now looking at his non-racing public appearance at Santa Anita in California for the track’s Gold Cup day on June 27. Importantly, the colt’s breeding rights have already been secured by Ashford Stud in central Kentucky’s bluegrass country and his stud fees will range between $175,000 and $200,000, placing a conservative $17.5 million for annual fees, according to numerous published reports.

The question for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat will remain secret as they field requests from “all kinds of tracks,” according to Baffert. Last weekend, American Pharoah returned to Churchill Downs, site of the colt’s Kentucky Derby win, and was applauded by 30,000, just for a stroll in the park.

“We won’t know for a few weeks,” said Baffert to the Asbury Park Press. “We want to do what’s best for American Pharoah, not what is best for the racetracks.”

Certainly, what is best for all, including the Triple Crown winner, is to continue to fuel interest in the sport of kings while his keepers fuel speculation and keep the industry in the national news. But, as they decide what is best, the victims of that campaign might just be race track ticket buyers who scramble for admission and attempt to make their summer travel plans, whether it be to Monmouth, Saratoga or maybe, Del Mar,

Get your rider’s up!

(This column is among those which regularly appear in The Daily Payoff. Please visit HERE).

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