The race, date and place are set for American Pharoah's next start: the Haskell Invitational, Aug. 2, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey.
Perhaps the coolest part of Thursday's announcement involves Bruce Springsteen possibly performing at the track just a few furlongs from his hometown of Freehold.
"I want to approach Bruce Springsteen about coming to the track; he's a Jersey guy," says Ahmed Zayat, the owner of racing's first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. "Monmouth is a beach town, geared to a younger crowd. It's a party. It's festive. I think there's more spark (for the sport) by coming here."
Haskell tradition has Springsteen's "'Born to Run" anthem played over the sound system as the horses enter the track before the race. To maybe have The Boss play live? Nice touch.
Here are a few Springsteen-inspired reasons it's a good thing for Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to make his next start in the Haskell:
Not exactly his hometown, but American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert has had nothing but good luck in Oceanport. Not only has he won a record seven Haskells — all since 2001 — but he won two Breeders' Cup races at Monmouth Park in 2007. He doesn't often show up for the Haskell, but he'll be there for this one. His sunglasses will come in handy since the beach is nearby. Owner Ahmed Zayat also lives about 60 miles north of the track in Teaneck. He and Baffert won the 2012 Haskell with Paynter. Springsteen, it should be mentioned, has a home — mansion — in Rumson, about seven miles away.
With or without Bruce, Monmouth Park is anticipating a record crowd for American Pharoah's show. All 13,000 reserved seats were sold a few weeks ago, and the current mark stands at 53,638, when 2003 Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide showed up. Track officials are planning all sorts of concerts, contests and giveaways for the race (on a Sunday) — and are billing the three-day weekend "The Pharoah Phan Phestival." Even NBC — not NBCSN — is in and will televise the race as part of its Breeders' Cup Challenge series. Zayat hopes the race will attract entertainers, athletes and politicians. Along with Springsteen, he mentioned Jon Bon Jovi, Kobe Bryant and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Also possible? Track officials are reaching out to Springsteen's daughter Jessica, a world-class show rider, about leading the post parade.
The day after American Pharoah won the Belmont on June 6, Zayat pledged to keep his Triple Crown winner racing until the end of the year. While there are those who think there's nothing more to prove on the track, and wonder why he would risk injury (even though Zayat has insurance), the owner won't surrender for money only. "This is about the horse and the fans," he says. "I want to celebrate this special athlete. As I've said before, sports without stars are not sports. I want to enjoy him as much as the fans do."
THE PROMISED LAND
In this case, we're talking Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky. It's where American Pharoah will be retired when his racing career ends — after the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, on Oct. 31. It's hopefully where he'll produce future champions. On the way there, the parade stops in Jersey, then possibly Saratoga in upstate New York for the Travers on Aug. 29, or the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing on Sept. 19, or the Awesome Again at Santa Anita on Sept. 26. Not only is the horse headed to a promised land, the owner won't be doing too badly, either. Zayat sold breeding rights to his horse to Ashford Stud for what reportedly could be in the $30 million range and also retains a percentage of the horse once he's retired.
HANUKKAH SONG PART TWO
We stray, but who can resist bringing Adam Sandler into the discussion? In the second version of his comical Hanukkah song, there's a line about Springsteen: "Bruce Springsteen isn't Jewish, but my mother thinks he is." Zayat is an Egyptian-born Jew. His family is Orthodox, and they observe Jewish rules by not driving or riding in a vehicle on Saturday, when most big races are held. With the race on a Sunday, those travel restrictions are eliminated.
Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap