After Preakness win, American Pharoah's shot at Triple Crown jumps

After Preakness win, American Pharoah's shot at Triple Crown jumps
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, right, leads Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah out of the stakes barn on Sunday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Amrican Pharoah won the 140th Preakness Stakes by 7 lengths. (Garry Jones / AP)

There had to be a morning after at creaky old Pimlico, which needed sandbags for the unprecedented downpour during Saturday's Preakness and needs them now just to hold up the old grandstand.

Sunday morning's hangover had nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with joy and promise for Bob Baffert, the trainer, and Victor Espinoza, the jockey.


After they spent two weeks talking the talk, their horse, American Pharoah, had walked the walk.

Amid a rainstorm that apparently represented Baltimore's annual 15-minute monsoon season, American Pharoah bolted from the rail starting position, was urged forward to a clear path and the lead by Espinoza, and kept right on trucking. When he crossed the finish line, his closest challenger was seven lengths back.

Now, the sports media, in its unwavering quest for the next big thing, will spend the next three weeks tearing down forests for news print and filling broadcast air waves with chatter. Media bosses who don't know a saddle from a saddle shoe will suddenly get all goosebumpy.

And with reason.

Because so much is overdone in sports these days, genuine really big deals don't come easily. The Triple Crown of racing, however, is a really big deal, because there hasn't been one since 1978.

It says here that, in all the quests for Triple Crown No. 12 since then, this one appears to have all the right stuff. It's like one of those promos for a Bruce Willis "Die Hard" movie. This time, it's for real.

Baffert and Espinoza mingled easily Sunday morning at the Pimlico barns with the gathered typists and talking heads. A few yards away, the real hero, American Pharoah, got his morning bath before being tucked away in his blue blankie.

Baffert and Espinoza are far from being new to this. Give them grizzled-veteran status.

Baffert has had three previous shots at the Triple Crown. Espinoza will be riding for it for the second year in a row and third overall. He rode Baffert's War Emblem in the 2002 quest and Art Sherman's California Chrome last year.

Baffert said he felt extremely fortunate to have yet another chance at this historic achievement. He said, "It hasn't sunk in yet."

It probably had, given how he was able to move so quickly into a review of his previous three attempts.

"With Silver Charm [1997 Belmont], Touch Gold just kind of snuck up on us [at the finish line]," he said. "With Real Quiet [1998], he was a jump ahead right before the finish line and a jump ahead after it."

He dismissed his most recent shot, 13 years ago with War Emblem. Espinoza did the same.

"War Emblem, he was a funny horse," Baffert said. "He had to have everything go his way. I kind of knew that going in."


Espinoza said, "That was going to be tough. War Emblem was a front-runner, and I tried to hold him back, going a mile and a half. But he just wanted to run."

Baffert said he has been through the New York thing enough to not only be ready for it, but to embrace it.

"Tickets and media," he said. "Every family member and every friend I have ever talked to will be calling. Everything else is OK."

He said he enjoys New York and the fervor of its racing fans.

"Kids who have been rooting for a Triple Crown for so long," he said, "now have their own kids."

He is even preparing his 10-year-old son, Bode, for the New York temperament.

He told a story about how Bode was taken aback at some boos Saturday at Pimlico, until a reporter told him that getting booed is how you know you've made it big.

"I told Bode, wait until you get to New York," Baffert said. "You won't believe some of the things you'll hear."

It was also clear that he had already started working on his lines for the Big Apple. When he talked about how well Pharoah had done in the water, he said, "He is, after all, the son of Pioneerof [sic] the Nile."

The weather conditions under which American Pharoah won will likely make the 140th Preakness stand out forever with racing fans. Also, the possibility exists that this was one of the last Preaknesses to be held at Pimlico.

Sal Sinatra, general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, has told reporters that it is likely the race will move, in a few years, to nearby Laurel racetrack. The Stronach Group owns both Laurel and Pimlico, as well as Santa Anita.

Sinatra said that Laurel was easier to renovate. So is the Titanic.

Pimlico opened in 1870, and the first big race there was won by a horse named Preakness. Since then, there have been reports of new coats of paint being applied, one as recently as 1911.

On Saturday, with a record crowd of 131,680 on hand, the water went out in parts of the grandstand and was never restored. In one men's room, patrons waited in line to wash their hands in bottled water, poured by an enterprising attendant who had a tip box nearby.

Baffert was asked about the winning time in the Preakness. He said it didn't matter at all, that this was a race solely of survival.

Undoubtedly, many in attendance at Pimlico thought the same thing about themselves.

Baffert said that, despite how the stars seem to be lining up for this Triple Crown try, he was acutely aware of how many things can happen and how difficult it will be.

He also said of his horse's Preakness race, "That was the Pharoah everybody wanted to see."

Same goes for June 6 at Belmont Park.

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes