(Reuters) - Rainy weather in Kentucky this week has had no effect in dampening the mounting excitement ahead of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s hugely anticipated racing farewell at the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday.
The Bob Baffert-trained 3-year-old will be looking to cap his stellar career with a ninth win in 11 starts, and many are talking about a unique ‘Grand Slam’ for the bay colt should he go on to triumph at the Keeneland Race Course in Lexington.
Installed as the early 6-5 favorite, American Pharoah will break from the fourth post in a 10-runner field and Baffert is already preparing for a highly emotional send-off on Saturday before his prized race horse retires to stud.
“I feel like his father ... so I want to make sure he goes out there and puts on a good performance,” Hall of Fame trainer Baffert told reporters on Wednesday after deciding to keep American Pharoah in the safe confines of the barn rather than send him out to jog on Keeneland’s sloppy main dirt track.
”It will be sad. It’s going to be emotional. It started hitting me about a month ago, and it hits me when we talk about it now.
“Just watching him train now is (emotional) because I’ve never had a horse that looked like him. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to train him.”
Baffert, who finally won his first Breeders’ Cup Classic last year with Bayern after several close calls in North America’s richest horse race, senses that Saturday will feel a little different.
”When I send him out there, there is always a little pressure,“ he said. ”This is different. I just want him to run his race.
“As long as he brings his ‘A’ game ... if he gets out-run, he gets out-run. I‘m just giving him his opportunity. If he runs his race, we know how tough he is.”
American Pharoah, who will have jockey Victor Espinoza in the saddle, is expected to face a strong challenge from Beholder in the showpiece Classic.
The 5-year-old mare, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2012 and the Distaff in 2013, has won all of her five starts this season, including the Pacific Classic at Del Mar against male rivals over the Classic distance.
With Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens on board, Beholder will start the Classic from the 10 hole as a 3-1 choice.
“She continues to do just great,” trainer Richard Mandella said of Beholder who, like American Pharoah, stayed away from the rain-sodden track on Wednesday and instead was ridden for half an hour along the shedrow.
Tonalist, the 4-year-old who dashed California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in 2014 with a thrilling victory at the Belmont Stakes, is at 6-1 for the Classic -- along with exciting stretch-runner Honor Code.
In the feature race on Friday, the $2 million Distaff, 5-year-old mare Wedding Toast has drawn post seven as the 4-1 favorite in a field of 14 runners.
“She’s doing fabulous ... she’s never been better,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of Wedding Toast, who has won her last three races -- most recently the Beldame at Belmont Park.
“We hope she breaks well and is on the lead, but she doesn’t have to be on the lead. If someone else goes, we can lay second or third, but she will be forwardly placed.”
The Breeders’ Cup, a 13-race meeting worth a total of more than $26 million, will be run on Friday and Saturday.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue