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.

California Chrome wins $1 million Pacific Classic

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DEL MAR, Calif. — California Chrome won the $1 million Pacific Classic by five lengths on Saturday at Del Mar for his 14th victory in 23 career starts.

Ridden Victor Espinoza, California Chrome ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.13 and paid $4.20, $2.60 and $2.20 as the 3-5 favorite in the field of nine. Espinoza finally won the stakes races in his 16th try.

Horse of the Year in 2014 after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, the 5-year-old chestnut extended his winning streal to five races, including a hard-fought win over Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap on July 23.

Defending champ Beholder returned $3.20 and $2.60, and Dortmund was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third and paid $2.40 to show.

California Chrome added to his North American record earnings with a $600,000 share, moving to $13,252,650. He’s owned by Perry Martin and Kentucky’s Taylor Made Farm.

Irish-bred Mondialiste wins Arlington Million by a neck

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — Irish-bred Mondialiste thrives in the United States.

The 6-year-old won the Grade 1 Arlington Million on Saturday, earning a berth into the Breeders’ Cup when jockey Daniel Tudhope guided the bay horse through a three-wide finish to edge Kasaqui by a neck.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better run really,” Tudhope said. “It was perfect.”

Mondialiste, who went off as the 4-1 third choice, broke from the outside in the 1 1/4-mile turf race outside Chicago. He won the Woodbine Mile last year and finished second in the Breeders’ Mile.

Now the David O’Meara-trained miler has a spot in the Breeders’ Turf.

“We stepped him up to a mile and a quarter at York (in England) and he ran a really good race,” O’Meara said. “Once we saw that he handled the trip OK, we had this race in the back of our mind. We thought we’d bring him over because he performed so well this side of the water last year.”

The son of Galileo paid $10.80, $6.40 and $4.80. Kasaqui of Argentina returned $13.20 and $9.40 and Irish-bred Deauville paid $7.00 to show despite a poor outside draw.

“My horse had a pretty good run,” Deauville jockey Seamie Heffernan said. “He was the only 3-year-old in the race. In a lovely position, got around the two into the straight and two other horses just came and got me.”

O’Meara said they planned to send Mondialiste to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 4-5.

“I don’t see any reasons not to come back again,” he said.

Take the Stand set the pace and still led into the final turn before fading.

Florent Geroux rode World Approval to seventh. French jockey was attempting to sweep the day after winning the three earlier graded stakes races.

Illinois-bred The Pizza Man finished sixth after winning last year.

Riders faced a headwind on the stretch run in the 11-horse race on the firm grass track. Decorated Knight scratched in the morning and Dubai Sky was ordered scratched by stewards when he refused to be reshod after losing a shoe.

The three other grades stakes races belonged to Geroux and his morning-line favorites.

The Chicago resident rode France’s Sea Calisi to a big kick on the stretch run to take the $700,000 Beverly D. for fillies, the 4-year-old’s first Grade 1 victory. Al’s Gal finished 1 1/2 lengths back in the 1 3/16-mile race.

Geroux guided Beach Patrol, like Sea Calisi trained by Chad Brown, past Long Island Sound in a stretch duel in the $450,000 Grade 1 Secretariat for 3-year-olds. The Kentucky colt took the 1 1/4-mile race by a head for his third win of 2016 and his first career graded stakes win.

Geroux rode Da Big Hoss to the lead just past the quarter pole to take the $300,000 Grade 3 American St. Leger, Arlington’s longest race at 1 11/16 miles.

The Kentucky-bred thoroughbred pulled away in the final furlong to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Ireland’s Clondaw Warrior. It was the 5-year-old’s sixth straight win in staked races of more than 1 1/4 miles.

Geroux, who turned 30 last month, couldn’t complete the sweep and take the Million for the second straight year after riding The Pizza Man in 2015.

“I was right there into the first turn,” Geroux said. “When they picked it up, he just spit the bit and couldn’t keep up.”