American Pharoah to race again in Breeders’ Cup Classic

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NEW YORK (AP) A few days of indecision over, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is back on schedule for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and a chance for a magical career-ending race.

After a tough loss in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course last Saturday, American Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat said his “gut feeling” was to retire rather than race on as planned.

On Thursday, following hours of talks with trainer Bob Baffert and the rest of Team Pharoah this week, the owner decided against retirement because “the champ deserves another chance.

“I am very confident that this is the right decision for American Pharoah,” Zayat said in a statement released to The Associated Press and several other media outlets. “He loves to race. He has provided my family, racing fans, and general sports fans with great thrills this year.

“He won the Triple Crown earlier this year, and he deserves the chance to be in the sport’s premier year-end event.”

Zayat says after conferring with Baffert, assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, jockey Victor Espinoza and his son and racing manager, Justin Zayat, that American Pharoah came out of the Travers “in great shape.” His initial read was perhaps the chiseled bay colt was tiring from the grind of shipping more than 20,000 miles by air and horse van and running in seven tough races since March.

“I believe there were a combination of factors that prevented American Pharoah from running his absolute best on Saturday,” Zayat said without elaborating. “I have every confidence that he can run to his best again.”

Since the loss to Keen Ice in the $1.6 million Travers, American Pharoah was returned to Baffert’s home base at Del Mar Racetrack in California. He is to be paraded before fans at the track this weekend, and then on to Santa Anita to continue training.

There’s also a chance he could travel to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, for training in the weeks leading to the Classic at nearby Keeneland in Lexington on Oct. 31. Also, there’s an outside possibility of a race before the Classic.

The reception at the Spa also may also have played a part in Zayat’s decision to keep going. An appreciative crowd of 15,000 showed to watch American Pharoah gallop the day before the race, and a sellout crowd of 50,000 tried to cheer him to victory.

Zayat has said he wants to share the horse with racing fans, and even after the loss he was impressed with the support. Some fans called out to him and Baffert, “Thanks for bringing him here.”

The buildup to the BC Classic surely will be bigger than ever. In addition to the Triple Crown winner, the field could include two-time champion mare Beholder, who beat the boys in the Pacific Classic last month, Travers winner Keen Ice and Whitney Handicap winner Honor Code.

Breeders’ Cup President Craig Fravel said he usually doesn’t comment on individual horses considering the event, but “we want to acknowledge the Zayat family on their decision to keep American Pharoah in training, and look forward to his continued engagement with the fans who have so genuinely connected with the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.”

American Pharoah’s breeding rights were sold to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud for an unknown fee, likely in the tens of millions of dollars. Since the horse is still racing, a stud fee has not been announced.

American Pharoah has won eight of 10 races and earned nearly $6 million. The loss in the Travers was his first since Aug. 9, 2014 – his first career start.

The son of Pioneerof the Nile won the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Aug. 2 in his first race since sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.