By Steve Ginsburg
ELMONT, New York (Reuters) - Less than 24 hours after joining the exclusive Triple Crown club, Belmont Stakes champion American Pharoah appeared ready for the next challenge.
"Looking at the horse today, he looked pretty darn good for a horse that just ran a mile and a half," trainer Bob Baffert told reporters on Sunday. "He's a tough horse. Today he looked like he could run back in three weeks."
American Pharoah became the 12th winner of the U.S. Triple Crown by winning the $1.5 Belmont Stakes on Saturday, after claiming the Kentucky Derby on May 2 and the Preakness Stakes two weeks later.
No horse had swept all three since Affirmed in 1978 and Saturday's triumph sent the Belmont Park crowd of 90,000 into hysterics. As jockey Victor Espinoza walked the colt in front of the grandstand after the race, the cheers were at full volume.
After a career-opening loss at Del Mar, American Pharoah is a perfect seven-for-seven, including Saturday's commanding 5-1/2-length victory over Wood Memorial winner Frosted.
"Everybody was on board with this horse," Baffert said of the adoring Belmont Park fans. "This journey with this horse has been incredible since we started it. From the Rebel (Stakes) to the Arkansas Derby, the whole (Kentucky) Derby thing.
"There was a lot of pressure, and then there's the stress. I was really relieved to win the Derby, and I was happy to win the Preakness, and yesterday was very emotional for me."
Baffert's three previous attempts to claim the Triple Crown at Belmont Park ended in heartbreak after losses by Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem.
"I was starting to believe that maybe it was never going to happen," he said. "You have to have a superior horse, and he also has to be tough and be able to handle the grind."
For American Pharoah's curtain call, probably in August, Baffert is looking at the Haskell Invitational, the Jim Dandy, the Travers Stakes, or perhaps the Pacific Classic. But for now, the son of Pioneerof the Nile is getting a well-deserved mini-vacation.
"After we freshen him up, we have options," said Baffert. "We'll have time to figure it all out, and right now we just want to love on him and enjoy him."
The colt's career will likely end in October at the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.
"We want to share him with the fans. He's our Stanley Cup," said Baffert.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)