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Pros and Cons of American Pharoah in Travers

Pros and Cons of American Pharoah in Travers: Confusion came upon racing fans the other week. American Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat went on a radio show and expressed his desire to compete in the Travers Stakes (GI) on Aug. 29, and fans and media assumed it was a definitive statement on the likely Horse of the Year’s schedule. Later on, trainer Bob Baffert stated American Pharoah will tell him when he is ready. Now, according to a recent Blood-Horse article, the trip to Saratoga Race Course sounds more certain.

American Pharoah Travers Stakes 2015

Other options, if American Pharoah bypasses the Travers for any reason, include the Woodward (GI), Pennsylvania Derby, Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and Awesome Again (GI) back in California. Photo: Chelsea Durand, Coglianese/NYRA

Baffert told reporter Lenny Shulman on video, “He owes us nothing, but if he’s really on his game, we’ll try to make (the Travers). If not, we’ll wait for the next one.”

It is a given that a horse’s connections know their horse the best. Baffert will make a decision and this team did win the Triple Crown. From a writer’s perspective though, there are a couple of clear positive and negative points in going to the Travers. The topic is interesting to discuss, regardless of what final decision Baffert and Zayat ultimately make.

Over time, the Travers has been dubbed the “Midsummer Derby,” which gives the race a higher status. Fans regard this race as near equivalent in status to the three races compromising the Triple Crown series (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont). The Travers is supposed to continue the battle between the same stars. Even if the race is restricted to three-year-old horses, people remember the winner because of the Travers’ historical significance.

Furthermore, American Pharoah will face familiar foes, almost guaranteeing a victory except in the case of strange circumstances. This colt won over a variety of distances and dirt surfaces since his maiden loss as a two-year-old colt last summer. He even won a synthetic stakes race after the loss, before switching to dirt and maintaining the winning streak. What a versatile colt. There is little reason to believe, barring disliking the Saratoga dirt track or an unfair bias, American Pharoah can lose.

A track bias is possible. Some handicappers argued the rail was dead last year during Bayern’s attempt at the Travers. After initial pressure from Tonalist and Wicked Strong before the first turn, they backed off and Bayern led until dropping like a rock in the stretch run. He went on to capture the Pennsylvania Derby (GII) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), giving credit to the theory of a dead rail.

American Pharoah never disliked any racetrack so far, but has yet to attempt Saratoga. Sometimes horses detest specific racetracks. They call Saratoga the “Graveyard of Favorites,” although the title seems grounded in myth more than logic. Then again, Secretariat lost here and Baffert himself acknowledged through a NYRA press release this dirt surface is a little different.

“I have to be all in and feel really confident, because if he comes here I know he’s going to have to run hard,” Baffert said. “It’s a tough, demanding racetrack, but he’s handled everything thrown at him so far.”

Maybe American Pharoah will throw in his one clunker on what many believe is a tiring surface.

The final negative point about running in the Travers is the aftermath of losing, if he somehow did lose. If American Pharoah were to run in a race for older horses, fans will shrug off a loss as simply “inexperience versus elders.” On the other hand, a loss in the Travers would result in more people scratching their heads. How can a dominant colt lose while facing the same exact horses?

Other options, if American Pharoah bypasses the Travers for any reason, include the Woodward (GI), Pennsylvania Derby, Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and Awesome Again (GI) back in California. The Jockey Club Gold Cup and Awesome Again are later next month, meaning a mini-break if the connections decide to wait for one of those two races. They traditionally act as prep races for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be run at Keeneland on Oct. 31 this year. One major positive in waiting for the Awesome Again is not needing to travel far before going to Keeneland.

Again, this team won the Triple Crown, and while it takes the right horse to win such a series, maintaining and managing a horse through those races must be difficult. This article merely works as a fun discussion of possibilities. In truth, the likelihood of American Pharoah losing any race remains small, and the victory march will probably go on no matter what path is chosen.