American Pharoah to Haskell: it's 'logical' and 'obvious'
When owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat told ESPN.com's Bob Ehalt that American Pharoah would make his next start in the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth August 2, few could have been surprised.
The 1 1/8-mile contest seemed the natural spot in more ways than one. As a New Jersey resident, Zayat would want to showcase the newly minted Triple Crown winner in his virtual backyard. Even more compelling, his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has only won the Haskell a record seven times, so he's a past master at shipping in to the Jersey Shore.
Although connections only made it official Thursday, their quotes to Ehalt revealed a similar sense that the Haskell was always the preference -- Zayat called it "the logical step," and Baffert pegged it as "the obvious spot."
But after the Haskell, there's not a similarly "obvious" target en route to his likely finale in the October 31 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland. If he remains in his own division, the $1.25 million Travers (G1) August 29 at Saratoga, which Baffert has won just once with Hall of Famer Point Given, or the $1 million Penn Derby (G2) at Parx September 19, could be on the agenda.
One option that's emerging as unlikely, at last report, is the August 22 Pacific Classic (G1) versus older horses at Del Mar.
According to Alicia Wincze Hughes of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Zayat prefers an East Coast-oriented campaign to minimize the amount of shipping.
"If he comes out (of the Haskell) good, then I am actually very much looking forward to wheeling him back at Saratoga," Zayat said. "(If he didn't run in the Travers) the next target would probably be the Pennsylvania Derby. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. It depends on the horse."
In the meantime, there's going to be an epic party at Monmouth on Haskell weekend, dubbed the "Pharoah Phan Phestival."
"We are ecstatic to know American Pharoah will be running in the Haskell," Monmouth President Bob Kulina told ESPN.com's Ehalt. "This will be the biggest day ever in the history of racing in New Jersey. We've been racing for 70 years and this is the first time we will have a Triple Crown champion here.
"I didn't think I would ever say this, but this will be even bigger than 2007 when we hosted the Breeders' Cup."
Whatever the future venues for the American Pharoah tour this summer and fall, the "phans" will surely be out in force.
Photo of American Pharoah winning the Belmont (G1) courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese Photography/David Alcosser.