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American Pharoah has options in Breeders’ Cup run-up

The joy of being a sports fan is ingrained in being a “Monday Morning Quarterback.” It’s easy to second guess what an owner, coach, general manager or player should do when you have no skin in the game other than being a fan.

Now horse racing fans have their own chance to be a MMQ when it comes to Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. The question is: Where should he race next?

His bravura win Sunday in the Haskell has fans dreaming of all sorts of races between now and the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Oct. 31.

Owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert no doubt will consider them all. The list includes the TVG Pacific Classic (Aug. 22), Travers (Aug. 29), Pennsylvania Derby (Sept. 19), Awesome Again (Sept. 26) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (Oct. 3).

Zayat has made his preference known on social media. He would like American Pharoah to run next in the Travers at Saratoga. Zayat wears his emotions on his sleeve and stated the horse’s legacy is more important than earning more money.

Of course, with the rich purses involved, it is possible to do both.

Baffert has played it closer to the vest, which has been his style throughout his Hall of Fame career. He is old school in the fact he wants his horses to tell him when and where to run and not the reverse.

Zayat, to some degree, has painted his own trainer into a corner. Both seem to agree the Pacific Classic is just too soon after the Haskell. The Travers is four weeks after the Haskell but at a track where Baffert does not have a lot of luck. Zayat, and many other pundits, have used the legacy card with the Travers. But I counter with this.

How many horses have won the Travers and the Breeders’ Cup Classic? None. And that’s important because I am guessing Baffert believes the Classic is American Pharoah’s legacy race.

It was for Zenyatta. Twice. Zenyatta is not vilified for not racing back east at Belmont Park and Saratoga. I was among many who thought she should have gone to New York.

But her trainer, John Shirreffs, did the right thing. He pointed for the Classic, twice, and worked her schedule backward to get there at her peak.

If Baffert does the same thinking in theory, then the best race for American Pharoah is the Pennsylvania Derby. It is seven weeks after the Haskell and six weeks before the Classic. Baffert used a similar schedule last year with Classic winner Bayern.

For purists, racing American Pharoah at Parx is downright distasteful. Plus, its takeout rates are absolutely disgraceful. But if Zayat and Baffert opt for a more ambitious schedule, they risk asking this horse to do too much after such a grueling Triple Crown campaign.

* HAMBLETONIAN — The Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks, the premier 3-year-old trotting races in the country, are Saturday at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Hambletonian drew 19 horses, which will be divided into two elimination heats (races No. 8 and 9 on the card), with the top five from each heat moving on to the final in race No. 13.

I like Pinkman for trainer Jimmy Takter. He drew a tough Post 10 in his heat. but should be able to advance to the final. Pinkman has had a fine season in winning six of seven starts and more than $1.1 million in earnings.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him: @richeng4propick

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