I start today’s column with this horse racing news: “American Pharoah is STILL racing!”
I’m going to keep saying this for the next two months until his final start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
If you remember the first season of “Saturday Night Live,” you’ll know where this comes from. Comedian Chevy Chase used the catch phrase “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is STILL dead” during his “Weekend Update” segments.
What spurred this on is that his owner, Ahmed Zayat, in an emotional response after the loss at the Travers Stakes on Saturday, said he was considering retiring the horse.
Zayat, who wears his emotions on his sleeves, has been as open, honest and generous as an owner can be in horse racing. But the bitter pill of defeat got the better of him after the Travers.
Now Zayat has told the Daily Racing Form that American Pharoah “deserves the chance to be in the sport’s premier year-end event.”
He won’t get any argument here.
American Pharoah did not lose respect after the Travers; he gained it. He had a lot going against him, which I pointed out in last week’s column.
This was the first time he had been hooked from start to finish in a race. Frosted shadowed American Pharoah for nine furlongs. But the Travers’ distance is 10 furlongs.
When both horses accelerated after a slow first half-mile, they blistered a third and fourth quarters that left them both spent and vulnerable. Meanwhile, Keen Ice sat in a garden spot and passed the two tired warriors late.
The first thing we learn about horse racing history is this: All the great ones lose races. Secretariat, Affirmed, John Henry, Zenyatta — the list is endless. Obviously, they win much more than they lose, but they do lose.
A steady hand in all this has been Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. He has tasted the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in horse racing. He understands that when things happen for a reason it’s best to take a step back and stay calm.
If American Pharoah came out of the Travers 100 percent healthy, albeit tired, then retirement would have been premature. This horse has more to give.
If Team AP decides to train American Pharoah up to the Classic, there is no better trainer to do that than Baffert. This horse does not need another prep race.
What he needs is time to recharge his batteries. He’ll need to, because the Travers will look like a picnic compared to what awaits him in the Classic.
The Travers is a restricted race to 3-year-old horses. The Classic is for all comers. It will look like WrestleMania in a steel cage match.
What potentially awaits American Pharoah at Keeneland are the likes of champion mare Beholder, older horses Honor Code, Liam’s Map and Tonalist, plus Travers graduates Keen Ice and Frosted. It will be a full field with few throw-out horses.
Two months is enough time to prepare the horse for his final career start. But most important, “American Pharoah is STILL racing!”
$10,000 TWIN QUINELLA — Station Casinos will offer a $10,000 Twin Quinella every Saturday in September. This is twice the normal amount. So if you like to bet a little to win a lot, then this is for you.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.