(Reuters) - Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has seen it all during his illustrious career but he knows that an extraordinary chapter will close at the Breeders’ Cup Classic in Kentucky on Saturday with American Pharoah’s final race.
The Baffert-trained 3-year-old will be looking to sign off in Lexington with a ninth win in 11 starts, and cap a stunning season highlighted by a rare Triple Crown success before heading off to nearby Versailles to begin a stud career.
“This horse reminds me why I’m in this business,” Baffert told reporters on Friday after American Pharoah had completed his final pre-race gallop on the main track at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington.
“If I’m having a bad day, I’ll see him and he picks my head up. He’s the champ. Now I’ve got to find another one.”
Baffert, whose horses have collectively won four Kentucky Derbies, six Preakness Stakes, two Belmont Stakes and two Kentucky Oaks, said American Pharoah was in peak form for his hugely anticipated racing farewell.
“He’s there,” said the silver-haired, 62-year-old trainer. “He’s peaked already, but the good thing is he’s holding it. That’s what makes him such a good horse.
“He has been through an incredible schedule, with shipping and running, and shipping and running, and going everywhere — and he’s still there. He’s incredible.”
American Pharoah has been installed as the 4-5 favorite for Saturday’s $5 million Classic and will break from the fourth post in a field reduced to nine runners after champion mare Beholder was withdrawn on Thursday because of health reasons.
Winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2012 and the Distaff in 2013, Beholder had won all of her five starts this season and the 5-year-old had been widely viewed as American Pharoah’s greatest threat.
“When I heard that, I cringed because I know it can happen to any of us,” Baffert said, referring to the bleeding that was discovered in Beholder after her morning gallop on Thursday.
“That’s why when we come in here we’re always on pins and needles the whole time. It (a late scratch) always gets horses and you never know who it’s going to be.”
Tonalist, the 4-year-old who dashed California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in 2014 with a thrilling victory at the Belmont Stakes, is the second choice at 4-1 for Saturday’s Classic in the absence of Beholder.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue