American Pharoah wins final race, claiming Breeders’ Cup Classic and Grand Slam

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Triple Crown champion American Pharoah took charge out of the gate, winning the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by 6 1/2 lengths Saturday in his final race before retirement.

The 3-year-old colt ran 1 1/4 miles in a track-record 2:00.07 as the sentimental 3-5 favorite among the crowd of 50,155 at Keeneland. Fans stood 20-deep all along the rail, cheering and snapping cellphone photos of the superstar horse and jockey Victor Espinoza.

Except American Pharoah didn’t hear them. He wears ear plugs to muffle any sounds that might startle him.

“This was for Pharoah,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “We wanted him to go out the champion he is.”

He paid $3.40, $3 and $2.40.

Effinex, a 33-1 shot, returned $14.20 and $6.60. Honor Code was another 4 1/2 lengths back in third and paid $3.40 to show.

American Pharoah took on seven rivals after Smooth Roller and champion mare Beholder dropped out. Beholder had the speed and the class to potentially make the race a contest, but a lung ailment sidelined her on Thursday.

It probably didn’t matter how many faced American Pharoah on a cloudy, cool day in the cradle of American horse country.

He smashed the old track record of 2:05.36 by more than five seconds.

It was a feel-good moment for a sport that has been battered and bruised – all the troubles of declining attendance and drug controversies were wiped away in two magical minutes.

“It’s a horse racing fairy tale and I just happen to be in it,” Baffert said.

After easing across the finish line, Espinoza took the colt far up the first turn before slowly walking past the grandstand to the winner’s circle, accompanied by raucous cheers all the way. The champion even had his own military escort walk him back to his barn.

The fans knew they had just witnessed history, the final chapter in a story that may never be repeated.

American Pharoah put an exclamation point on a brilliant career in which he lost just twice – in his debut and again in the Travers on Aug. 29.

Keen Ice, who vanquished him at Saratoga, finished fourth in the Classic. Tonalist, the 2014 Belmont winner, was fifth, followed by Hard Aces, Frosted and Ireland-bred Gleneagles.

Frosted unexpectedly pressed American Pharoah on the lead in the Travers, leaving him vulnerable to the rally by Keen Ice.

This time, no one could keep up with the champ.

“It’s a lot of pressure to train a horse like this because I didn’t want to let the horse down and I didn’t want to let the fans down,” Baffert said. “I’m just so proud of him; it’s like watching my child out there.”

American Pharoah won nine of his 11 career starts, including the first sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years this spring. He earned a total of $8,650,300 for Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian-born owner who chose to keep his popular horse in training so fans could see him run.

“We wanted him to go out as a winner,” Zayat said. “He is a winner.”

Next up for American Pharoah is a new career as a breeding stallion at a farm in Kentucky bluegrass country near Keeneland.

The colt became the first horse to win the Triple Crown and the Classic in the same year, and the only one to have such a chance since the Breeders’ Cup didn’t begin until 1984.

Patriots Rule rallies to win California Dreamin’ Stakes

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Long-shot Patriots Rule rallied from last to beat Ambitious Brew by a half-length Sunday in the $150,000 California Dreamin’ Stakes at Del Mar.

Patriots Rule ran 1 1/16 miles on the turf course in 1:41.78 and paid $35.80, $12.40 and $6.60 his sixth victory in 21 starts. The 5-year-old earned $85,500 to push his total to $421,730.

“She broke well and I had a beautiful trip,” jockey Joe Talamo said. “I got over to the fence and tried to save all I could. When you’re coming from last, you’re looking for spots to get through. I didn’t want to have to go six-wide and lose all that ground. I got lucky with that and he had a good kick late. I like the way this turf course is playing. It’s fair. You can win on the front end, or you can win coming from the back – like I did.”

Patriots Rule was making his first start in almost a year for owner Charles Garvey and trainer Robertino Diodoro,

“Since we gave this horse a well-deserved rest, he’s come back working so well,” assistant trainer Sean Williams said. “Everything we’ve done with him has been a prep for this and it worked out perfectly.”

Ambitious Brew returned $6.60 and $4.60 in the race for California-bred horses.

“This horse tries hard every time,” jockey Flavien Prat said. “He’s a nice horse. This just might have been a little too far for him.”

Boozer paid $4 to show. Alert Bay was fourth, followed by Somethings Unusual, Soi Phet, Poshsky and Avanti Bello.

Hard Aces won the Grade 3 $100,000 Cougar II Handicap, beating Quick Casablanca by a half-length to end a nine-race losing streak that dated to the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Santiago Gonzalez for trainer John Sadler, the 6-year-old Hard Aces ran 1 1/2 miles on the dirt in 2:30.55 and paid $2.80 and $2.10. He had seven victories in 33 starts with earnings of $999,645.

“He’s a grinder and a hard horse to ride because he pulls himself up and never wins by much, but he got a very good ride today,” Sadler said. “We’ll look at maybe something long on the grass near the end of the meet and we’ll obviously look at the Pacific Classic.”

Quick Casablanca returned $2.80 to place in the four-horse field. Favored Hoppertunity was scratched Friday morning.

California Chrome wins San Diego Handicap

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) California Chrome beat Dortmund by a half-length Saturday at Del Mar in the Grade 2 $200,000 San Diego Handicap, the 1 1/16-mile prep for the Grade I $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 20.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza for trainer Art Sherman, the 2014 Horse of the Year was making his first start since winning the world’s most lucrative race, the $10 million World Cup in Dubai on March 26.

“I saved something for the end. I knew I’d have to,” Espinoza said. “I have a lot of respect for Dortmund and he made me run hard. I could see he (Dortmund) was running so hard. When we came down the stretch, I was concerned. This horse was carrying a lot of weight; that was the challenge. But he was a runner all the way today. What a terrific comeback race for him. He’s back. He’s such a special horse.”

California Chrome finished in 1:40.84 and paid $3.60, $2.20 and $2.10. The 5-year-old has 13 victories in 22 starts with earnings of $12,652,650.

Dortmund returned $2.40 and $2.10, and Win the Space paid $2.10 to show.

Mokat won the $201,725 San Clemente Handicap for 3-year-old fillies. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Mokat won by almost four lengths in 1:35.23 for the mile on the turf course.

Mokat paid $16.40, $7.20 and $4.80 for her second victory in nine starts. Lady Valeur returned $9.60 and $5.60, and Stays In Vegas paid $3.80.