My gut feeling? Pharoah won’t run in Travers

He’s not coming. If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last.
American Pharoah
American Pharoah

He’s not coming.

If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last.

The yoyo-ing will continue by us outsiders who are contemplating whether Triple Crown winner American Pharoah will run in the Travers at Saratoga Race Course.

He’s coming. Looks like he isn’t. Well, there’s this. Yeah, but what about that? Why shouldn’t he run? No chance in hell he runs.

This has been going on for weeks, months, and it continues even though the Travers is just a scant 10 days away.

My favorite rumor is that the New York Racing Association has been building a secret barn just to house American Pharoah for a few days leading up to the Travers.

I’ve finally reached the point where I don’t believe American Pharoah will run in that race.

There are plenty of concrete reasons not to do it, but my position is mostly rooted in a gut feeling that the Travers is enough of an awkward spot for the horse that trainer Bob Baffert will pass. Running in the Travers seems like forcing the issue, and Baffert appears to have reached the point where he will tread lightly and err on the side of caution.

If you have a race somewhere with a bunch of tomato cans lined up, then it isn’t forcing the issue so much, but the Travers will be a hard race at a place where it’s tough to win, even if you’re a heavy favorite.

All credit to the horse for enduring a difficult campaign and coming into and out of every race as if he’s just playing around, toying with the competition, then recovering in remarkably stout fashion.

It’s easy to notice how smooth his action is and how fast he is on the track, but American Pharoah has the additional quality of weathering everything that has been thrown at him, which includes a rigorous travel schedule from his home base in southern California.

They haven’t treated this colt like a fragile porcelain figurine, because they had no choice once he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Baffert can be choosier now, though. The Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 31 is the only objective that is mandatory at this point. Between now and then, the objective is to just get American Pharoah to that race fit, happy and healthy, then let the horse do his thing.

Running 27 days back from the Haskell, then putting yourself in a position to map out what to do in the lead-up to the Breeders’ Cup (race again or just train?) seems like a decision Baffert would prefer not to have to make. There are better spacing options on the calendar.

When he was in town last week for the Fasig-Tipton yearling sales, he said, “I don’t know what planet this horse is from,” referring to the horse’s ability to have handled the races, travel and extra attention.

When will all those miles finally catch up to him?

Since March, American Pharoah has flown from California to Arkansas twice, then from Arkansas to Kentucky to Baltimore to Louisville to Long Island for the Triple Crown.

He left New York the morning after the Belmont Stakes to get some recovery time in California, then flew from there to New Jersey for the Haskell on Aug. 2.

If he runs in the Travers, he’ll probably fly here next Tuesday or Wednesday, if Baffert chooses to repeat the Haskell schedule. He’s scheduled to breeze at Del Mar on Sunday.

Granted, air travel for racehorses is not what it used to be. The H.E. “Tex” Sutton Forwarding Co. has perfected the practice, customizing stalls and providing qualified equine workers to fly with the animals.

American Pharoah’s ride of choice is “Air Horse One,” a Boeing 727 fitted with all the accommodations a horse would need on a cross-country flight. The leg from Louisville to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip takes just an hour and a half of airtime, for instance.

Also, lest we forget, American Pharoah continues to train and race with a shoe on his left front foot that is fitted with an aluminum plate to protect his frog. That’s the section of tissue on the underside of a horse’s hoof that serves as a shock absorber and also as a pump pushing blood back up a horse’s leg every time its foot hits the ground.

The horse seems invincible, unbeatable, but none of them are.

Short of that, Baffert will settle for keeping him unbeaten this year.

I’m not saying American Pharoah shouldn’t run in the Travers, I’m saying he won’t.

Categories: Sports

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