No ordinary champion: Baffert, Zayat prepare to say good-bye to American Pharoah

It is normally not the best of ideas to let a throng of people rush towards an animal with fight-or-flight instincts. But it is also fact at this point that American Pharoah isn’t anything close to a normal horse.

So it was that trainer Bob Baffert let fans that had gathered in Keeneland’s Rice Road barn area Sunday morning surround the 12th Triple Crown winner en masse for a similar – if not more harried version – of the meet and greet the Hall of Famer signed off on the morning after the Belmont Stakes.

The son of Pioneerof the Nile never flinched as a sea of hands reached out and fingers stretched in an attempt to touch the horse who moved a sport.

It was one more amazing act on his end, one last parting shot that left everyone awestruck.

“What I did with him, you can’t do to other horses,” Baffert him. “If I did this with other horses, you would have people heading to the hospital with broken ribs.”

At 8 a.m. on Monday, a van is set to pick the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner up from Keeneland and take him just over 11 miles down the road to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud where he will begin stallion duties in 2016.

Before the emotional send off, Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat spent another morning basking in the surreal nature of their champion colt as he concluded his 11-race career with a 6 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

From the time he first had his first timed breeze, American Pharoah has been as close to the perfect racehorse as anything Baffert has laid hands on in his Hall of Fame career. There is the obvious, history making feat of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Yet even that statistic doesn’t fully illustrate how uniquely exceptional the bay colt was on the track.

Of his nine career wins, all but one came in Grade I company. And each of those eight Grade I triumphs came at different tracks, beginning with him breaking his maiden in the Del Mar Futurity last September 3 to his uncontested canter around Keeneland Saturday evening.

His career earnings of $8,650,300 make American Pharoah the fourth richest North American-based racehorse of all time and the $8,288,800 he earned this year alone is a single-season North American record.

“I know how good he is because I’ve trained some pretty good horses, we’ve had some really good horses run through here,” Baffert said. “They were fast but they just couldn’t sustain it like he could. With him, he was just a very gifted animal. I think his mechanics are the most important thing.

“He is just so good, he  withstood everything. He was tested and when he runs, I think those other horses know and go ‘Screw it’. That’s what he does. He has that, there is something about him And these horses are smart, they know.”

After American Pharoah’s runner-up finish to Keen Ice in the Grade I Travers Stakes, Baffert said he initially wasn’t even sure he was going to bring the surefire future Hall of Fame to the Breeders’ Cup stage.

“The first couple of weeks…I didn’t feel good about it and still until 3 weeks ago, he was not going to run in the Breeders’ Cup,” Baffert said. “He had to show me something. Then I started tightening the screws and jamming on him. Once I started that, he liked it. He was ready for anything that was going to be thrown at him yesterday.”

Ready or not, the racing world has to now let American Pharoah go to begin his second career. While the stud fee has yet to be announced, it figures to be on par with the lofty standard the colt has established.

Mile winner Tepin bound for Ocala
Tepin, who joined the elite ranks of females who beat the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, was bright-eyed and in good order Sunday for trainer Mark Casse.

Casse, who was 0-for-23 in Breeders’ Cup races coming into the week, scored two Breeders’ Cup wins as Catch a Glimpse took the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday. Casse said that Tepin will head to Ocala for a freshening  before heading to Palm Meadows Training Center to gear up for her 5-year-old campaign.

Runhappy in good order
Trainer Maria Borell said Sunday morning that Runhappy, who set a track record in winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, returned to The Thoroughbred Center on Saturday and “got a good night’s sleep in his own stall.

“He came out of the race well,” Borell said. “We don’t have exact plans; we wanted to see how he comes out of the race. We will figure it out in a few days.”

Effinex to stay in training
The James Jerkens-trained Effinex was reported to have come out of his second-place  Classic finish behind American Pharoah in fine shape.
The 4-year-old son of Mineshaft is scheduled to stay in training next year.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.