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American Pharoah Fever Climbs In Saratoga Ahead Of Travers

Lucas Willard

The Triple Crown winner is heading east, and now we know what awaits him on Saturday. A crowd gathered in downtown Saratoga Springs Tuesday night for the draw for the 146th Travers Stakes. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief was there along with hundreds of fired up racing fans to see where their favorites will start in the summer's biggest race.

What else but a bugle to open the draw for the Mid-Summer Derby. Saratoga Race Course announcer Larry Collmus, who is preparing to call his first Travers, stood at the podium to call the post position of each of the 10 entrants.

The crowd waited in near silence for the first pick.

“OK, let’s get going, here are the horses in order. Frosted.”

Frosted, fourth in the Kentucky Derby and winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, was picked to start at the sixth position with morning line odds of 6-1, second only behind the horse many were anxious to see.

“American Pharoah…here we go,” said Collmus. “Number two. Post two for American Pharoah – the Triple Crown Winner owned by Zayat Stables, trained by Bob Baffert with Victor Espinoza. American Pharoah will break from post number two.”

The favorite was given odds of 1-5.

Only one horse has won both the Triple Crown and the Travers Stakes, and that was Whirlaway in 1941. American Pharoah is the first to take the Triple Crown in 37 years and excitement is running high for a possible win this Saturday, especially after Pharoah took the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park earlier this summer.

Tickets for the race, capped at 50,000, sold out two weeks in advance, days before even the announcement that Pharoah would come to the Spa.

“Hey, Bob, it’s Andy Serling, how are you?
NYRA TV analyst and handicapper Andy Serling called American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert after the No. 2 pick.

“Just judging by the crowd we have here tonight, a lot of people in Saratoga and I think everybody in racing are very excited and looking forward to you coming, and we wish you the best of luck and can’t wait to see you and American Pharoah, as well as the Zayats, in Saratoga,” said Serling.

Baffert responded, “We’re looking forward to coming. It’s exciting and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Baffert says his main concern now is making sure the champion horse is safely transported.

Owner Ahmed Zayat was also called up. He thanked American Pharoah’s team and called this racing season a “Cinderella story."

“We’ve done it the hard way so to speak with a team, I think, Bob Baffert and Victor, are worthy of it. So to have it happen to all of us after all these years is not just only enjoyable but it’s a once in a lifetime experience and it’s an incredible lasting memory.”

Third choice Texas Red, who bested Frosted in the Jim Dandy, will take the fourth position at 8 to 1 odds.

Fourth choice Keen Ice, who has challenged American Pharoah three times this season, was given number 7 at 12-1.

After a rough ride at the Triple Crown, third at Belmont, and second at the Haskell, trainer Dale Romans said he hopes Keen Ice will continue to climb.

“He’s one of the few horses I’ve had I think that improved every day of training in his life since I had him. He just keeps getting better and better. He gets a little closer every time. Eventually, maybe we’ll catch him,” said Romans.

Also in the 10-horse field at the rail is Upstart at 15 to 1. Mid Ocean is in the third position at 50 to 1, Frammento in the fifth at 30 to 1, and Tale of Verve at 30 to 1 in the eight. Number nine will be King of New York at 50 to 1, and Smart Transition will break from the outside at 20 to 1.

As the city of Saratoga Springs has buzzed during a strong racing season, mayor Joanne Yepsen said bringing American Pharoah to the Spa comes after an outpouring of support from the community.

“We’ve been planning for weeks with the business community and with NYRA to make sure that this goes well and we want the owners and the trainer to be happy and to feel very welcome here in Saratoga Springs, but this is not the first time for American Pharoah to be here,” added Yepsen. “As you recall, he was bought and sold here, right at Fasig-Tipton, and so we feel like this is his lucky city.”

All that remains now, after months of buildup, is the two-minute race itself.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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