SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — American Pharoah can run. But can he fly?
By now, everyone knows American Pharoah glided through the Triple Crown — overcoming stormy weather, too — won the Haskell Invitational this month and is the 1-5 betting favorite for the $1.6 million Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
On his way to eight straight victories after a career-opening defeat, American Pharoah not only has run nearly 10 miles, he's racking up frequent flyer miles as fast as George Clooney in the movie "Up in the Air."
Upon arrival in Saratoga Springs, American Pharoah's air miles are above the 18,000-mile mark, with several hundreds of miles chalked up in horse van rides from tracks to airports and back again. And again and again
It wasn't until Sunday — after a solid workout at Del Mar Racetrack in California — that Bob Baffert decided American Pharoah was in tip-top condition for another cross-country flight and a rugged race.
"He had to really show us he was still really on his game, still has his energy level, especially with what he's gone through," Baffert said Friday morning after his star colt galloped 1 1/2 miles over the main track in front of about 15,000 fans. "You have to be really careful when you are flying back and forth."
Even Baffert has a hard time keeping track of his star's travel log.
"That's a lot of mileage, and he's had tough races," Baffert began. "He went to Arkansas twice. And then he went to Kentucky, Maryland, back to Kentucky, New York, back to Kentucky, back to California."
A pause: "... Jersey, back to California back ... I mean ... You don't see a horse do that. You have to be really special to do that. I think you can see a lot of it is (because) he's a very kind and gentle horse. He's got a great mind. He knows when to turn it on and when to turn it off. There's no wasted energy."
His itinerary went something like this during the week: a van ride Wednesday morning from Del Mar to the LA/Ontario airport for a horse transport flight to Lexington, Kentucky, and then on to the Albany, New York, airport, followed by a police escort van ride up I-87 to Saratoga. Distance traveled approximately 2,900 miles.
It's a good thing he flies as well as he runs.
"He's pretty used to shipping. So far it hasn't affected him," Baffert said. He then referred to the pony that accompanies American Pharoah, saying, "I mean Smokey probably doesn't ship as well as he does."
The first horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness (in a downpour) and Belmont Stakes in 37 years will be challenged by nine other 3-year-olds. Among them are Jim Dandy winner Texas Red at 8-1 and Belmont and Jim Dandy runner-up Frosted at 6-1.
Most everyone agrees if American Pharoah, under Victor Espinoza, runs his race — a good start that places him on or near the lead — he will be tough to beat. However, the Spa is not known as the "Graveyard of Favorites" for nothing.
Some of racing's biggest upsets took place at Saratoga, including losses by two Triple Crown winners — Gallant Fox to 100-1 shot Jim Dandy in the 1930 Travers and Secretariat to Onion in the 1973 Whitney Handicap.
Also, Baffert does not have a strong record at the track. He's 1 of 5 in the Travers, having won in 2001 with Point Given. His record in graded stakes is 8 of 59, a 13 percent clip, according to Equibase.
"It's a mile-and-a-quarter, and American Pharoah's most difficult race was in the Derby going the mile-and-a quarter," trainer Rick Violette, who will send out Upstart in the Travers, said. "I know even Bob Baffert is concerned when the traveling and the long, steady series of training and performances might catch up to him. Obviously, he thinks he's got his 'A' game or he wouldn't have brought him, but sometimes you don't know until the afternoon."
Says Baffert: "You can't be afraid to get beat. ... We'll just lead him over there. I think that's what true racing's all about, to witness big performances."
The Travers Day undercard features six other graded stakes races: the $750,000 Personal Ensign; $500,000 Ballerina, $500,000 King's Bishop, $700,000 Forego, $1 million Sword Dancer and $400,000 Ballston Spa. Winners of the Personal Ensign, Ballerina, Forego and Sword Dancer earn automatic spots in a Breeders' Cup race in their division.
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