Baffert insists 'tough' Pharoah can cope with Grand Slam tag
Two days of incessant rain, the tail-end of which was so heavy it even confined US Triple Crown hero American Pharoah to walking around his barn under cover yesterday morning, have cast something of a damper on the build-up to the 32nd Breeders' Cup, that begins in Keeneland, Kentucky tomorrow.
America's 'world championships' are, after three years in Santa Anita where it has not rained for four years, paying their first visit to the very heart of America's thoroughbred industry and what Californians would have given for yesterday's weather.
While the world's official best horse kept dry and his trainer, Bob Baffert was delayed by a puncture after hitting something 'concrete-ish,' the world's second-best horse, by just 1lb, Golden Horn, had the equivalent of a cold shower during a spin on the all-weather training track under Frankie Dettori. "Please stop raining," implored the jockey as he came off the Polytrack.
The racecourse, on the outskirts of Lexington, is surrounded by the rolling acres and white painted rails of Calumet Farm, where eight Kentucky Derby winners have been bred, two of which, Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948), went on to win the Triple Crown.
The 'Grand Slam' as it is being billed, the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup Classic, was not available to those great horses in the 1940s. "I think they should have called it the Quadro," mused Baffert. "Grand Slam sounds like tennis."
Although the big colt's arrival caused a ripple of excitement, the rain ensured it failed to whip up the Hollywood A-lister's reception that was accorded Zenyatta on her final start in the 2010 Classic. That may come when the skies brighten.
Silver-haired Baffert, 62, whose Bayern gave him a first Classic last year, reckons he has American Pharoah fresher than he was for the Travers Stakes in August when he suffered only his second defeat.
"I have had horses which have been really fast but their window of sustaining a top performance is short. They run well for a month or two and four or five races. He has been shipped all over the country though. Most can't do that and sustain what he has done.
"He's tough. In the old days they used to call that hickory. He's like the old time thoroughbred; you could run them every week."
Reflecting on when he first realised his colt's potential, Baffert added: "I could tell from the way he moved when I started breezing him. The real special horses, when you breeze them, get stronger at the end of the work." (© Daily Telegraph, London)