(Reuters) - Triple Crown winner American Pharoah has been installed as the early 6-5 favorite and will break from the fourth post for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in Kentucky on Saturday in his hugely anticipated racing farewell.
The Bob Baffert-trained 3-year-old will be looking to cap his stellar career with a ninth win in 11 starts, having finished a shocking second in his most recent outing — in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August.
“We were 50-50 as to whether or not we were going to run in that race,” Baffert told reporters about the Travers Stakes. “Unfortunately, he didn’t really run his race and coming out of it, I could tell everything ... had kind of taken its toll.
“He needed the 60 days (preparing for this week’s Classic). This horse, he runs well fresh.”
According to Baffert, American Pharoah has displayed very impressive form in recent weeks while working out at his home track in California before being shipped to Kentucky on Tuesday.
“Sometimes I get a bit excited, the way he does things so easily. He looked fantastic (in training) and I really feel good about the way he’s coming into this race,” said Baffert.
American Pharoah entered the pantheon of U.S. thoroughbred racing’s all-time greats by winning the Belmont Stakes wire-to-wire in June to become the first horse to capture the coveted ‘Triple Crown’ in nearly four decades.
In winning a seventh straight race, American Pharoah became the 12th horse and first since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
With jockey Victor Espinoza in the saddle, American Pharoah will arrive at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington as the favorite for the showpiece Classic but is expected to face a strong challenge from Beholder.
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.
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.
British raider Golden Horn, a rare winner of the Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for trainer John Gosden, will break from the rail in a field of 10 for the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf, the penultimate race on Saturday.
With his regular jockey Frankie Dettori aboard, Golden Horn is the 4-5 favorite as he aims to improve his outstanding career record to eight wins in nine starts.
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