BALTIMORE – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert covered many topics on the morning after saddling American Pharoah for a dominating victory in Saturday’s 140th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course – a triumph that moved him into position to bid for a sweep the Triple Crown.
American Pharoah was Baffert’s sixth Preakness winner and moved him even with D. Wayne Lukas in second place for the most victories. Nineteenth century trainer Robert Walden won the race seven times.
Baffert said that Zayat Stables’ homebred colt appeared to come out of the race in good shape.
On American Pharoah’s condition Sunday: “He’s a little quiet. He’s a little tired, like he’s supposed to be after a race. That’s usually him. Health-wise he looks good. No changes. No surprises.
On his condition on Sunday: “I slept pretty well last night. I was pretty excited. It took me a while to go to sleep. It was easy to get up. It was a long day.
“It’s slowly starting to sink in. I can’t believe that I’ve done this four times, that I’ve got a fourth time to do it. How lucky I’ve been with all the horses I’ve brought here. It usually takes a little while to sink in that we’re on this journey. I’m enjoying it with (wife) Jill and (son) Bode because they have to deal with all my mood swings.
“With this horse it’s gone really smooth, luckily. Other than the Breeders’ Cup, that was the only hiccup we had with him. We’ve got to keep our fingers crossed that we keep him healthy and keep him happy.
On looking toward the Belmont Stakes: “For me, New York, I’ve already been through all that. I know what to expect going in there. I know it’s a little hectic. I don’t want to take him up there unless he’s really doing well. I can tell. If I put him on that plane, that means he’s doing really, really well.
“I’m saying he’s got to be training really well. If he hadn’t been training well here I wouldn’t have run him in the Preakness. I’m just saying he’s got to be training well.”
“I look forward to the Belmont. I know how difficult it is.”
On the fatigue factor going forward: “He was more tired after the Derby. In the Derby he was blowing pretty hard, he was pretty hot. It was taxing on him. But he hadn’t had a hard race. He got a hard race and yesterday he (jockey Victor Espinoza) let him run. He’s hard to gauge because he’s so quiet. He’s not going to come out here jumping around. He’s very mellow. He’s a very intelligent horse. If I take the ear plugs out he’ll jump around.
On the Preakness: “I was watching that race and when he hit that backside I saw those ears come up and he was just stroking it, I thought ‘Wow, he’s in command of this race.’ That’s the American Pharoah we wanted to see the last time and didn’t get to see.
“To be in this position with a horse like him, I don’t know why it’s happened. (Owner Ahmet) Zayat, he’s been giving me these horses and he’s had some pretty good horses. He’s a smart guy. He was funny to watch. After the race, he was jumping up and down. They were like kids. It shows you the passion they have. That’s what I love when you win for somebody who really appreciates it and has the passion for it because it’s so hard to get here.
More on the race and the conditions: “Unfortunately, that rain, I know the fans probably didn’t enjoy it. I’ve never been involved in something (like that); it was crazy. I know our foam pad (under the saddle) was just so heavy. It was just drenched. All the water came out of the boots. And the weights, I was seeing where Gary Stevens (rider of Firing Line) said he weighed 135 pounds with all his stuff without his helmet on. Those horses were packing a lot of weight. We could have put steeplechase riders on them. They were all in the same boat.
“That rain was incredible. For an instant, I thought they were going to delay it or bring them back in or call it off. I haven’t seen rain like that since Prescott Downs. It rained so hard that the track would run off.
More on looking forward to the Belmont Stakes: “It’s hard for me to imagine that I’m going through this again, with a horse like this that just makes my job a lot easier. All I can do is rely on my experience of going to the next one and what to do with him. I learn something about him every time I run him. He’s still a really lightly raced horse. Things that he likes and what he doesn’t like. He does have a good appetite. I’ll just keep him eating and hopefully try to keep that weight maintained. “
On American Pharoah: “He’s a different kind of horse. He’s just so fast. You see the way he moves. He floats. He gets into that stride and does it effortlessly. He just doesn’t give the other horses a chance at all to come to him.”
On facing rested horses from trainers like Todd Pletcher, who skipped the Preakness and is waiting for the Belmont with Materiality and Carpe Diem: “I understand. They figure if they can’t win this, why put them through this. It just shows the respect they have for American Pharoah. They’ll wait and catch him when maybe he’ll be a bit more vulnerable. It’s something that you can’t control. They’re stabled there. It’s their base. It makes it an exciting race.
On the prospect of sweeping the Triple Crown: “You have to earn it. Pharoah, if he’s going to do it, you have to earn it. Just like he had to earn it in that weather. If he’s a great horse he’s got to do it. All the greats that won the Triple Crown they would have done the same thing. But I’ve seen a lot of great horses go down. We’ve seen Smarty Jones, Big Brown, Silver Charm, Real Quiet. I’ll Have Another – he went over there and he looked like he was going to do it – running against the same bunch.
“You just don’t know. That’s why it’s so tough. We always think, ‘Well maybe, this is it.’ I think there’s more pressure to me is those New York fans. They’ve been waiting. The kids that used to go watch have kids. So they’re waiting to see it.”
On what you will do with the horse at Churchill Downs before the Belmont. American Pharoah will fly to Louisville Monday and probably will go to New York on June 3: “We’ll take him back there and give him a light week, just let him get his feet under him a little bit and let him relax. It’s like going to the spa for a week. Let him lie down all day and relax, eat and try to get his weight back on him. He’s a pretty fit horse. He doesn’t need a lot. As long as he keeps moving like he does on the track. When he got here you could tell. He was wanting to do something, ready to do something. I liked the way he acted. He was really quiet and relaxed in the paddock. He didn’t use himself up. In Kentucky he had a meltdown. They got him stirred up. The Belmont is not that. The paddock scene won’t be like that.”
On approaching the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line: “I’m going to take it like I took this race. I just came in here. I thought everything looked good, but you don’t know how they’re going to react until they run. I learned from my other horses, what I did, what I could have done. You’re always thinking what could have happened,”
“He’s a really good horse. My job is to keep his energy up. I don’t want to go up there with a tired horse. I can tell he’s tired right now. He should be tired. He went through a lot with that rain, doing what he did. He was carrying a lot of weight. What a special horse he is. That’s the Pharoah that everybody wanted to see yesterday. After the Derby I was little bit concerned the way he ran in the Derby. That wasn’t him, but he looked great coming out of it. I think a lot had to do with his little meltdown. He wasn’t getting a hold of the track because he had lost a lot of energy. He gutted it out because he’s a good horse. Victor had to be really aggressive to get him there. He didn’t bring his A-game that day. He brought it yesterday.”
On the mile and a half of the Belmont Stakes: “It depends on who you are running with. Pace makes a difference. I’m just hoping for a fast track. It could be weird up there. I want the same track that Secretariat had, that fast track. Give me the same track that Secretariat had.”
“Right now it looks good.”
On Dortmund: “I’m going to get him back. I think he could maybe use a break. He’s getting a little light. I knew he was going to have trouble in the mud. He’s had a pretty tough campaign.”
On the slow time for the race: “Time didn’t matter. That was survival to go through that stuff. That was something.”
On Baltimore: “I had a really nice day. Baltimore is so much fun. I always say it’s my favorite leg of the classic. It’s so easy to get around and people are so nice. It’s exciting. It’s too bad it rained and put a damper on everyone else. Unfortunately, there can only be one happy person and that’s us.”
On failing in the Belmont with his first three Derby-Preakness winners – Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem: “The way I look at it is: it wasn’t meant to happen. We’ll just see. He’s the horse. He’s the best horse so far. He just has to dig it out one more time. I’ve never had a horse win the Preakness like that. My other horses that won were battling pretty good.
“This horse here, he’s something special. He’s fast; he can get out of trouble; he can sit a little bit; he’s not totally one-dimensional; he has the style to do it. Track surface is going to play a bit part of it.
“I told Victor (Espinoza), ‘If the horse fires, you’ll win it. He has to fire. If he doesn’t fire you’re not going to win.’ That’s the whole key. If he runs his race, he can do it. We just have to get him rejuvenated. If he runs that race again, he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Jockey Victor Espinoza spent part of Sunday morning at Pimlico Race Course following his victory aboard American Pharoah in the Preakness. Espinoza appeared with trainer Bob Baffert on the NBC’s Today show and reflected on the victory over a sloppy track during a driving rainstorm.
“It was Espinoza’s third Preakness victory and he became the first jockey to repeat since Pat Day won the race three years in a row, 1994-1996.
“I’m just excited for yesterday. The race went well and American Pharoah, he took the track pretty much good. It seemed like he was having fun before going to the gate. My biggest focus on him was just to make sure he was doing good and happy to go before the gate. It was raining hard for a minute. I think it was the first time I’ve been on the track and on a horse when it rained so much.”
“I didn’t even have any plastics on me so water goes through like crazy. My boots were full of water. I didn’t even feel the stirrups from the saddle. I felt like I was just stepping in water. For me, the most important thing was that the track was safe. As much rain as we had, it felt like it was safe for the horses and that was my biggest thing.”
“It was a little different because when it rains and then it stops, that’s when it gets a little cuppy. Some of the horses like it and some of them don’t. I was hoping it would rain just a little bit, not that much.”
Espinoza said that American Pharoah won the race without a great deal of effort.
“He did it pretty easy. I didn’t have to ride him that hard,” he said. “The only thing is: I had to really encourage him out of the gate because I wanted to get out of that mess in there. It seems like he was good after the race. Hopefully, it won’t take too much out of him for the next race. Now we have a little bit more time than two weeks. He’s a big, strong horse and I think he’ll be able to take it.”
Espinoza said he decided not to rush back to California from Baltimore and was able to visit the colt before his television appearance.
“He looked pretty good this morning,” Espinoza said. “This is the first time I’ve been here in the morning after winning the Preakness. Normally, I take the early flight to go back, but today I decided to stay one more day. Everything is new for me. I’m always learning something.”
“Not in a million years did I dream I would ride the favorite last year and this year. What are the odds? They breed thousands and thousands of horses just to get to the Kentucky Derby and here it comes. Last year with California Chrome and this year with American Pharoah, it’s amazing.”
TALE OF VERVE – Before heading to the airport to catch an 8:30 a.m. flight bound for Kentucky , trainer Dallas Stewart stopped by the Pimlico Stakes Barn to check on his Preakness runner-up, Tale of Verve.
“He looked good. We got him out and gave him a couple of turns (around the shed row) and grazed him,” Stewart said. “He’s going to go to Belmont tomorrow.”
Tale of Verve is bound for the 147th Belmont Stakes (G1), the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown.
Bred and owned by Charles Fipke, Tale of Verve had one maiden special weight win in his sixth and most recent start heading into the Preakness, in which he came from dead last to pass horses in the stretch and finish second, one length ahead of Lexington (G3) winner Divining Rod.
“He ran so big yesterday,” Stewart said. “He’s a tremendous horse.”
Stewart-trained horses have now finished second four times in Triple Crown races – 39-1 Macho Again (2008) and 28-1 Tale of Verve in the Preakness and 34-1 Golden Soul (2013) and 37-1 Commanding Curve (2014) in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Macho Again did not run in the Belmont , while Golden Soul and Commanding Curve each ran ninth.
Of his four Belmont starters, Stewart’s best finish came with his first, Dollar Bill, who ran fourth in 2001.
“We’re looking forward to getting it done next time,” Stewart said. “We think this horse will love a mile and a half.”
DIVINING ROD – Trainer Arnaud Delacour said Sunday morning that he was delighted with Divining Rod’s third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes.
“I was very happy with that,” Delacour said. “At the quarter-pole, it looked like he would be able to try and come by American Pharoah. Obviously, American Pharoah is a special horse, so there is no shame in finishing a little bit behind those horses.”
Delacour said the Lael Stables’ homebred was shipped back to Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. Saturday evening and appeared to come out his first Grade 1 race in good condition.
“As far as the future with him, I’m not quite sure,” Delacour said. “We’ll see how he comes back. I don’t think he wants to go a mile and a half anyway, so I’m not considering the Belmont Stakes. There will be plenty of other nice races in the summer for him.”
DANZIG MOON – The sixth-place Preakness finisher stood quietly in his stall Sunday morning, his heavy coughing spells after Saturday’s race in the slop having substantially subsided.
“He seems fine,” said trainer Mark Casse as he prepared for a flight back to Canada. “There were a lot of horses coughing in the stakes barn after the race. We scoped him and the vet said he had half the race track in his throat.”
Owner John Oxley’s son of Malibu Moon will be off the American Triple Crown trail and ultimately head to Canada with a different Triple Crown in his sights. Casse said Danzig Moon’s next start would likely come in the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine on July 5 if all goes well.
“We’ll regroup,” Casse said. “We’re going to fire another one at him (American Pharoah). We’ll try a new bullet next time (in the Belmont Stakes). We’re hoping to run Conquest Curlinate in the Belmont. He was just second in the Peter Pan and second in the Illinois Derby. He’s a tough horse. We may take a run at him there.”
The untimely thunderstom that arrived moments before the Preakness was Danzig Moon’s first experience with wet weather in his seventh career start.
“Somebody asked me just before the race if there was anybody in the field that had any slop form,” he said. “I said, ‘Yeah, American Pharoah.’ He’s run on it at Oaklawn and he just skipped across it. You know what, he’s a great horse. Maybe we’re going to have a Triple Crown winner.”
FIRING LINE – Carlos Santamaria, assistant to trainer Simon Callaghan, reported Sunday that Arnold Zetcher’s Firing Line came out of his seventh-place Preakness finish in good shape.
Santamaria said jockey Gary Stevens had concerns about Firing Line’s chances in the Preakness after the Kentucky Derby runner-up left the saddling area to warm up for the race in a driving rain.
“Even when they were warming up, he was looking around, like he was saying, ‘What? Are we going to run on this track?’ Gary was like, ‘Uh-oh, maybe he isn’t going to run any good,’” Santamaria said. “At the break, after the stumble, he was pretty much done. He wasn’t comfortable on the track.
“There was nothing we could do about it, weather-wise. I’m not disappointed in him. I’m pretty sure he would have run his race if the track was good. If you look at him today, he looks terrific. He’s happy. It just wasn’t his day. He’ll be back.”
Firing Line is scheduled to return to Southern California Monday
BODHISATTVA – Owner/trainer Jose Corrales’ Bodhisattva, who was eased by jockey Trevor McCarthy and finished last after losing contact with the Preakness field, was scheduled to be vanned back to his regular headquarters at Laurel Park later Sunday.
“He’s doing good,” said Corrales, who saddled his first Preakness runner Saturday. “Trevor said as soon as he stepped out of the gate he had nothing. He just gave up the whole thing completely. I had trained him once on a wet track and he didn’t like it. I thought he got hurt or something, but nothing happened.
“I wish he could have run his race in the Preakness,” Corrales said. “We had a great week except for the race. That was disappointing, but it’s just racing. What can you do? Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. American Pharoah is a great horse.”