American Pharoah Takes Haskell With Ease

By BloodHorse.com
The crown didn't prove heavy for American Pharoah.

Looking every bit like his Triple Crown-winning self Sunday, Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park | BloodHorse.com Track Profile">Monmouth Park, American Pharoah won the $1.75 million William Hill Haskell Invitational (gr. I) with ease cruising home 2 ¼ lengths in front of Keen Ice while wrapped up by Victor Espinoza. Watch Replay  

In his first race since sealing the Triple Crown with a 5 ½-length score in the Belmont Stakes Presented by DraftKings (gr. I) and following several weeks of parading and greeting fans, the Zayat Stables colt most assuredly remembered his first calling Sunday, easily winning the richest race contested at Monmouth since the 2007 Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

In the 1 1/8-mile Haskell, American Pharoah tracked early leader Competitive Edge through fractions of :23.10, :46, and 1:09.30, moved effortlessly outside the leader on the final turn, and distanced himself from the rest of the field in the stretch before being geared down, thrilling a record Haskell crowd of 60,983.

“The crowd was insane,” said trainer Bob Baffert. “They were as loud as the Belmont.”

The early going proved crucial when jockey Victor Espinoza opted to track a length behind the speedy Competitive Edge, winner of last year’s Hopeful Stakes (gr. I).

“Competitive Edge wanted the lead and I didn’t want to go head to head,” Espinoza said, confident American Pharoah would soon have his say. “He did everything by himself; it was pretty easy, pretty impressive.

“He’s always a champion; there’s not a Triple Crown winner who’s not a champion. He showed it again.”

Baffert, who picked up his eighth Haskell victory and fifth in six years, said he was nervous going into the race. But those nerves would quickly be alleviated. Baffert looked at the half-mile time of :46.14, glanced at American Pharoah just galloping along within himself, and marveled.

“Competitive Edge is a very fast horse. Victor had a hold of (American Pharoah) and they looked like they were going in :48 or something,” said Baffert, shaking his head in amazement at the depth of the Triple Crown winner’s talents.

It was about that point that Zayat Stables racing manager Justin Zayat turned to Baffert for an in-race assessment.

“I looked at Bob and he said, ‘We’re good,’” Zayat said. “That’s when I started yelling, ‘Unleash the beast,’ and Victor just let him go.”

It almost seemed unfair when Competitive Edge dug in to complete a third quarter in :23.46 while American Pharoah galloped along, staying just one length behind through six furlongs in 1:09.6. Then the show would really begin.

American Pharoah would surge past the front-runner—setting off a Jersey Shore roard—open a five-length lead in the stretch, and waltz to the finish to complete 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.95 on a fast track.

“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Where did he come from?’” Baffert said. “I’ve had some really nice horses over the years but what he does is just incredible.”

Among horses not named American Pharoah, Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice would put together a nice finish in his first start since finishing third in the Belmont to claim second, three lengths ahead of two-time grade II winner Upstart. Competitive Edge faded to fourth.

Making his first start in 57 days, both Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat confessed being nervous before the race, saying they didn’t want to let the fans downs. American Pharoah would deliver, becoming the eighth Triple Crown winner to win their first start back after the classics.

The victory gives American Pharoah five straight grade I victories and eight straight graded stakes wins—seven of which are grade I scores. He won two grade I races last year to secure champion 2-year-old male honors and is a lock for champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year this season.

American Pharoah returned $2.20 to win, $2.10 to place, and $2.10 to show, while Keen Ice returned $4.80 and $2.80. Upstart paid $2.40 to show.

The Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race but the connections will first consider a start before the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Keeneland. But Baffert and the Zayats said they’ll return to Southern California and make their decision.