American Pharoah’s second-place finish in the Travers provoked his owner, Ahmed Zayat, to say he was leaning toward retiring his colt immediately.  Naturally, he was emotional about the loss and later, upon reflection, changed his mind.

American Pharroah’s setback in the Travers was not unusual–the best of horses lose races.

Unlike American Pharoah, three of the twelve American Triple Crown winners (Sir Barton, Omaha, and Seattle Slew) lost their very next race after the Belmont Stakes.  Although Assault won his next start following the Belmont, he subsequently lost six races in a row before winning again.  Gallant Fox, like American Pharoah, came up short in the Travers.  Among the Triple Crown champions, only Count Fleet never raced again after the Belmont.

With respect to running American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Mr. Zayat and his team should be concerned with two issues in particular.

First, American Pharoah may be on the tail end of a fitness cycle that began its ascent with his Kentucky Derby win in early May and began its descent after his Haskell win in early August.  Whether the colt can be brought back to the top of his game by the Classic is problematic.

Second, American Pharoah’s running style is not ideal for taking on older and more mature horses in the Classic at 10 furlongs, especially if a few horses press him early and often.  When Frosted shadowed American Pharoah in the Travers for most of the race, American Pharoah gamely put away his challenger but weakened late and Keen Ice was able to pass him, reminiscent of Invasor overtaking the 3-year-old Bernardini in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

To win the Classic on Halloween night, American Pharoah will need every edge he can get.  The first step in gaining an edge–or at least not conceding one—is to transport American Pharoah to Keeneland now and let him get use to the track surface, Eastern time zone, and much cooler autumn weather–and train up to the race without another start.

Flying American Pharoah back to California after the Haskell at Monmouth Park and then weeks later flying to Saratoga for the Travers had to be detrimental.  Human athletes or even cross-country travelers know that it takes a while to acclimate to a 3-hour time difference and weather vagaries, which often affect sleep, eating habits, and one’s overall sense of well-being.

Maybe American Pharoah is good enough to train in California, travel to Keeneland the last week of October, never have a work over the racetrack, and take on some formidable upper classmen in the Classic.  But his brain trust need not take the risk.

Come Breeders’ Cup week, if American Pharoah has worked over the Keeneland racetrack for nearly two months and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert says the colt is physically fit and on his game, the Triple Crown champ should be given his chance to go out a winner.  On the other hand, if Baffert expresses reservations, the colt can be scratched and vanned the short distance to his new home at Ashford Stud.

Mr. Zayat recently said he was seriously considering sending his charge to Churchill Downs to train for the Classic. That’s a vast improvement over the California option, but Keeneland would be even better. If American Pharoah does not train in Kentucky and he loses the Classic, his connections will always wonder what might have been.

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