American Pharoah did not look ready to run as he walked around the paddock prior to Sunday’s Haskell Invitational. Although it was not an especially warm day at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, 84 degrees, the Triple Crown winner was sweating at the neck and shoulders.
More alarmingly, kidney sweat was rolling down his left thigh.
Kidney sweat is a sure sign a horse is not in his fittest condition, though white drippage between the legs is not something track announcers like to talk about.
“In the paddock he got a little stirred up,” was about all trainer Bob Baffert had to say about the sweating issue. Baffert felt the colt was nervous because he hadn’t raced in two months after winning horse racing’s first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. “He’s used to running back in two weeks,” Baffert said.
As he stepped onto the track to the tune of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” American Pharoah clearly was not at his best. But he did not need to be.
He toyed with the seven-horse field, pulling away to a 5 ½-length lead in the stretch and then downshifting to an easy gallop as Victor Espinosa tightened the reins, to save energy for another day – perhaps the Travers on Aug. 29 at America’s loveliest track, Saratoga Springs. The bay colt’s last race is expected to be the Breeder’s Cup Classic on Oct. 31.
Officially, American Pharoah won the William Hill Haskell by 2 ¼ lengths, but the rider of second-place Keen Ice, Kent Desormeaux, was not fooled. He said the winner “was being pulled up the entire race. The jockey never let him run.”
Monmouth Park, which bills the 1 1/8-mile Haskell as the Fourth Triple Crown race, bumped the purse from $1 million to $1.75 million to make the second-place finish worthwhile so a field would show up to challenge the greatest racehorse since Secretariat in the 1970s.
Indeed, there was much reluctance on the part of horsemen to enter the arena against a horse who had won seven races in a row, all but one (the Kentucky Derby) by multiple lengths.
For a Grade I stakes, it wasn’t much of a field, just good enough to attract interest – an all-time largest crowd of 60,983.
The Phavorite was 1-9 on the tote board. The second choice, Competitive Edge, is one of the country’s fastest milers but had never run farther than that.
Assuming he was healthy, about the only way American Pharoah could lose would be to hook up in an early duel with the Todd Pletcher-trained Competitive Edge. With the local runner Mr. Jordan another pace stresser, the possibility loomed for the back door opening for Keen Ice, the third-place finisher in the Belmont, or Upstart, who was first in the Florida Derby before being disqualified to second in a controversial decision.
But AP is such a versatile runner and Espinosa such an experienced rider that there was actually little chance of a front-end burnout.
As it turned out, American Pharoah calmed down by the time he was in the gate, and though Competitive Edge gunned to the front, as Pletcher said he would, the opening quarter of 23.22 seconds was not torrid enough to wear down the champion.
Competitive Edge was done at a mile, so the final furlong was a romp for Pharoah, even though Keen Ice, according to his jockey, “ran the race of his life.”
Upstart finished a never-threatening third, three lengths behind Keen Ice.
So the Haskell confirmed that even when he’s a bit off his game, and even when the next best horse runs the race of his life, American Pharoah is all but unbeatable.