BALTIMORE – For the third time in four years, Belmont Park will play host to a Triple Crown hopeful when American Pharoah attempts to add the 147th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 6, the final and most demanding leg of the series, to his victories in the Kentucky Derby and in yesterday’s rain-drenched Preakness.
It will mark the 14th time since Affirmed swept all three races in 1978 that a horse has had a chance to join the 11 Triple Crown champions; none have succeeded. Three of those attempts have been by American Pharoah’s Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, who won the first two legs in 1997 with Silver Charm; 1998 with Real Quiet and 2002 with War Emblem. Two previous attempts were also made by jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode California Chrome to a fourth-place finish last year, and was also aboard War Emblem.
On a humid Sunday morning, Baffert stood outside American Pharoah’s barn at Pimlico Race Course and reflected on the events that brought him, along with Espinoza, owner Ahmed Zayat and the handsome bay colt, to the brink of racing immortality once again.
“It’s hard for me to imagine I’m going through this again,” said Baffert, who is sending American Pharoah back to Kentucky on Monday for a light week before he returns to training and comes to New York on June 3, the Wednesday before the Belmont.
“I can’t believe this will be the fourth time I’m doing this, and how lucky I’ve been.” He added. “All I can do is rely on my experience going to the next one. I know what to expect; I know how difficult it is … with a horse like this it makes my job a lot easier. You see the way he moves; he just floats. It’s just effortless.”
Although American Pharoah looked unbeatable in two races over a sloppy track – the Rebel at Oaklawn Park and the Preakness – Baffert said he was hoping for a fast track at Belmont.
“Like the one Secretariat had,” he said jokingly. “I’ll take that.”
American Pharoah could face as many as eight competitors in the Belmont, the centerpiece of the expanded three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival featuring 17 stakes races and purses of more than $10 million. Among them are Tale of Verve, who was second in the Preakness, and a gaggle of horses from the Derby who skipped the Preakness including Frosted (4th), Keen Ice (7th), Mumtaahij (8th), and Frammento (11th).
Also awaiting American Pharoah is a trio of contenders from Belmont-based trainer Todd Pletcher: Materiality and Carpe Diem, who were 6th and 10th, respectively in the Derby, and Grade 2 Peter Pan winner Madefromlucky.
“I understand,” said Baffert of the fresh competition. “It just shows the respect they have for American Pharoah. It’s something you can’t control. It will make an exciting race. You have to earn it, just like he earned it in that weather yesterday. I’ve seen a lot of great horses leave here and [lose] the Belmont – Smarty Jones, Big Brown, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Funny Cide, I’ll Have Another [in 2012] … you just don’t know.”
Espinoza can well understand, having lost the Belmont to Tonalist last year and finishing eighth aboard the front-running War Emblem, who lost all chance in the 2002 Belmont when he stumbled coming out of the gate.
“I come this year with a different mind now,” said Espinoza. “It’s not easy, but American Pharoah, if he can do it, I’m there.”
Attendance for the Belmont, which will be supported by nine other stakes, will be limited to 90,000 this year. With more than 90 percent of reserved seating and hospitality sold out, any remaining seats and dining options for Belmont Stakes Day are available for purchase exclusively through Ticketmaster at ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000. Tickets are no longer available by calling, emailing or faxing NYRA, or by visiting NYRA’s box office.
Print-at-home General Admission Tickets for Belmont Stakes Day are available for purchase while supplies last on Ticketmaster.com.
“The men and women of the New York Racing Association offer our heartfelt congratulations to American Pharoah and his connections, and we look forward to welcoming them to beautiful Belmont Park for the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 6; the crown jewel of thoroughbred horse racing’s iconic Triple Crown,” said Christopher Kay, Chief Executive Officer and President of NYRA.
“American Pharoah’s run for horse racing immortality will be the anchor of this year’s expanded Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, featuring 17 graded stakes races and more than $10 million in purses. New, post-race concerts led by O.A.R. on Friday, and the GOO GOO DOLLS on Saturday will also complement an expanded array of hospitality options for fans of all ages.
“We encourage our fans to purchase their tickets in advance, and join us at Belmont Park as New York prepares to kick off the summer season.”