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.

Steps taken to improve horse safety after 17 deaths NY track

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) Additional safety measures are being implemented at Saratoga Race Course after the deaths of 17 horses on the grounds so far this year.

The New York state Gaming Commission announced Monday the enhanced measures include more veterinarians at the track during training hours.

The agency says the steps are being taken along with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct.

The 17 horse deaths as of Monday are one more than the 2016 total. This year’s deaths include eight on the main track or turf course and at the Oklahoma Track, the training facility.

Eight others have occurred during races since the season began July 21. The other death was a non-racing fatality.

Collected holds off Arrogate in $1 million Pacific Classic

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Collected beat 3-5 favorite Arrogate by a half-length in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Saturday, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a 1-2 finish at Del Mar.

Ridden by Martin Garcia, Collected ran 1 1/4 miles for the first time in 2:00.70 at the seaside track north of San Diego. He paid $8, $2.80 and $2.20 as the 3-1 second choice.

The 4-year-old chestnut colt held off the furious late rush of Arrogate, the richest thoroughbred in racing history who was trying to bounce back from a stunning fourth-place finish in the San Diego Handicap last month on the same track. That defeat snapped Arrogate’s seven-race winning streak.

“It was just a mistake to run him in the San Diego,” Baffert said. “I was so eager, like everybody else, to watch him run again.”

Arrogate returned $2.60 and $2.10 as the overwhelming 3-5 favorite. He has seven wins in 10 career starts and earnings of over $17 million.

Accelerate, who beat Arrogate by 15 1/4 lengths in the San Diego, was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third. He paid $2.20.

Baffert earned his fifth Pacific Classic victory, one behind the late Bobby Frankel. He watched the race on the big video board in the paddock rather than in the stands and stared at the screen with arms folded when Arrogate came up short yet again.

“He ran a good race, but we expect to see something else,” Baffert said.

Collected led all the way, while Accelerate chased him in second and Arrogate stalked them both in the third spot.

Coming down the stretch, Arrogate rallied hard with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith furiously working his whip on both sides.

“Better than the last one, but it’s not good enough,” Smith said. “He’s not running his A race. I’m not even sure he’s running his B race, to be honest with you, and he’s still only getting beat a little bit.”

Collected became the first 4-year-old to win since Richard’s Kid in 2009. The colt is 4-0 this year.

Curlin Road, co-owned by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, finished fourth in the seven-horse field. Hard Aces was fifth, followed by Royal Albert Hall and Donworth, who was second in the San Diego.

In other stakes:

– Hunt found a hole on the rail and rallied to win the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap by 3 1/4 lengths to earn a berth in the BC Turf in November. Ridden by Flavien Prat, Ireland-bred Hunt ran 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:14.93 and paid $8.80 to win at 3-1 odds. Itsinthepost, the 5-2 favorite, was second. Flamboyant was another head back in third.