OCEANPORT, N.J. — Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is the overwhelming 1-5 favorite in a field of eight 3-year-olds for Sunday’s $1.75 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
This will be American Pharoah’s first race since he swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes and became the 12th Triple Crown winner and first in 37 years.
American Pharoah will leave from the No. 4 post following Thursday’s draw and be ridden by Victor Espinoza. He is owned by Ahmed Zayat of Teaneck, New Jersey, and trained by Bob Baffert.
A winner in seven of eight career starts with more than $4 million in earnings, American Pharoah is not taking on the most formidable field. Upstart, who ran 18th in the Kentucky Derby in his last start, is the second choice at 6-1, and will be ridden by Monmouth favorite Joe Bravo.
Competitive Edge is the third choice at 8-1, followed by Keen Ice (12-1), Mr Jordan (15-1) and Nonna’s Boy, Top Clearance and Dontbetwithbruno, all 30-1.
If American Pharoah is sent off at 1-5, it would match the record for biggest favorite in a Haskell. The others sent off at those odds were Holy Bull in 1994 and Big Brown in 2008. Both won.
Baffert has won the Haskell a record seven times, including four of the last five. In American Pharoah, Baffert is confident racing’s brightest star is set for another big effort.
“He looked great and he’s moving beautiful, and he’s holding his form really well,” Baffert said this week following American Pharoah’s final workout before the race. “It’s amazing what he’s been through (and) is still right there just holding his form. … Hopefully we get some racing luck, and Pharoah will show up.
“I feel confident that he’s going to run a big race, and that’s all — as a trainer — we can do is just have them ready and whatever happen, happens.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher, with three Haskell wins, entered three horses — Competitive Edge, Nona’s Boy and Dontbetwithbruno.
American Pharoah arrived at the Jersey Shore track Wednesday from Del Mar in California. He had a police escort from Atlantic City, and spent the night in trainer Kelly Breen’s barn. He got his first look at the track Thursday morning, jogging a mile.
“He had a very high energy level this morning,” Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes said. “We couldn’t be happier. The first day, we usually do something very light and we gave him a good look at the place.”
On the day American Pharoah arrived, track officials announced a purse increase of $750,000, making this the richest Haskell.
“We feel very positive about this race,” Baffert said.
Mr Jordan is the top local runner, having won his debut here last summer and Monmouth’s Pegasus Stakes last month.
“He’s coming into the race 100 percent,” trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said. “We’re just pleased to be part of this. Needless to say, there is no pressure on us.”
Wayne Catalano was another trainer happy with long shot Top Clearance, who will make his stakes debut. He was not insulted by his colt’s 30-1 morning line.
“We’re taking a shot,” Catalano said. “I thought we’d be 50-1. They’ve got me at 30-1, so I’m jumping 20 points already. One thing I know about horse racing, they got to run the race. We line them up, they load them in the gate and after that tells the tale.”
The field from the rail out: Upstart (Joe Bravo, 6-1), Competitive Edge (Mike Smith, 8-1), Nona’s Boy (TBA, 30-1), American Pharoah (Victor Espinoza, 1-5), Mr Jordan (Paco Lopez, 15-1), Keen Ice (Kent Desormeaux, 12-1), Top Clearance (Abel Castellano Jr., 30-1), and Dontbetwithbruno (TBA, 30-1).