After American Pharoah was upset in Saturday’s Travers (G1) by Keen Ice — a rival he’d roundly beaten in all of their prior meetings — owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat let his emotions speak for him and suggested that his Triple Crown champion might be retired. In the heat of the moment, it wasn’t a surprising reaction, so hopes were that a more reasoned approach would be taken in the morning.
And on Sunday, trainer Bob Baffert provided some temporary reassurance that no such decision has been made, and we could still see the stable star in the October 31 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland.
“Mr. Zayat is a very emotional man,” the Hall of Famer said. “We were all pretty disappointed. We were like in shock. We were surprised he got beat. We weren’t really prepared for a losing speech. When we hit it, it was like, we’ve just got to get through this.
“Basically, we’ll let the horse tell us what he’s doing. I really don’t know what the thought is. I know (Zayat will) be going back and forth. He brought him up here. You really have to thank him. He wanted to share him. He’s a sportsman for bringing him up here and sharing him with Saratoga. He did it for racing, and it didn’t work out.
“I wasn’t disappointed with his race. We were all sad. We really wanted him to win. He’s been so great to us; that’s why I’m not disappointed in him. He tried. If I had to do it again, I would have brought him here. I’m glad I brought him. I think racing needed something like this.
“It’s amazing, what he’s done for racing. Everybody in town afterward, when they saw me they said, ‘We’re sorry. We feel so bad for you, Bob, but thanks for bringing that horse.’ It almost ended well. Almost. We almost pulled it off.
“The horse was just valiant in defeat and he was trying so hard. He was empty, empty, at the top of the stretch and he was still trying to win. I still thought there was a chance.
“It’s unfortunate when you get beat like that. I thought he tried so hard under the circumstances and he was still trying to win. He could have given it up. He could have done like Bayern and said, ‘Adios. I’ll see you in the next dance.’ He just dug and dug.
“Sometimes, you feel like he’s invincible, but they all get beat. There’s no horse that’s ever done it like he’s done it. I’ve never had a horse that could bring performance after performance after performance. I’ve had horses throw a big performance, but they can’t keep it going. He almost did it.
“We’ll just get him back there (in California) and let him chill for a little bit. He needs to chill. He’s been running, and he got a little hot yesterday, which he usually doesn’t get hot. Sometimes it means the racing might be getting to him a little bit. As you saw, the way he looks today he looks pretty good.
“We’ll just play it by ear. Ahmed Zayat, it’s his horse. My job is if I see something, if he were to come up with something I didn’t like, then I’d tell him. Nothing has shown up today. We’re glad that he looked fine and he’s healthy. I didn’t see any problem there.
“I’m happy with the way he looked today. I could tell he’s not upset. You could see when he was out here, he was himself. He was his sweet self.
“He looks great today. According to the sheet guys, he was the play against. He was supposed to bounce, which he did. That’s what they do.
“He could come back and freshen up and run. I don’t think he tailed off; I think he just didn’t bring his ‘A’ game. If you look at him, he still looks pretty healthy. He doesn’t look like a tired horse.
“I think we’re all going to cry (when American Pharoah leaves the barn for his new life at stud). We just don’t know.
“I think Ahmed was very emotional. It was tough to see him lose. It’s going to be tough to let go. But, we’ve both said that if we see something where he’s just tailing off or something like that, that he needed more time, that we’d make that call. Right now, I just haven’t heard.
“He could have won (the Travers) and he could have pulled the plug. There’s a lot of rumors out there but I don’t hear any of those.”
Photo of American Pharoah on Friday courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography/Susie Raisher.