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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — With a crowd of about 15,000 cheering him all the way, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah went for a glorious gallop around Saratoga Race Course the day before he runs in the $1.6 million Travers Stakes.
The sun was shining and temperatures were in the 60s when American Pharoah walked onto the track Friday with exercise rider Jorge Alvarez aboard at about 8:45 a.m.
Thousands — young and old — lined the fences along pathways from the colt's backstretch barn to the main track. As he ran past the grandstand, thousands more cheered and raised cellphones to capture the moment. After 1 1/2 miles, American Pharoah was eased up and walked back to his barn for a sponge bath.
"We had a nice little gallop today and it looks like everything went smooth," trainer Bob Baffert said after arriving from California on Thursday. "I could tell he really liked the track. He was floating around there like he usually does. He had his ears up, and was moving out there pretty well. I feel very happy with the way he went."
The first Triple Crown winner in 37 years is the 1-5 morning-line favorite in a 10-horse field for the Travers.
Baffert was bowled over by the reception his star horse received for a simple gallop.
"I was pretty overwhelmed. It was pretty incredible," Baffert said. "I know he's got a big backing and has a lot of fans, but it seems like it keeps growing and growing. I feel like it puts more pressure on me, like I'm his guardian. I think it's great younger kids will remember this."
After becoming the 12th horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah was honored all over the country. He was paraded at Churchill Downs in Kentucky before a crowd of about 30,000, showcased at Santa Anita in California in front of some 20,000 fans a few weeks later and then won the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey before a record crowd of more than 60,983. A sellout crowd of 50,000 is set for Travers Day.
Baffert said now that the Haskell is behind him — "deep down, I just didn't want to see him get beat" his first race back — the Pharoah Tour is in full swing at the Spa, where this horse-crazed town is calling itself Pharatoga.
"This is what you want to see in horse racing," Baffert said. "Racing needed a boost. We have some really great horses that run and put on big performances, but sometimes lots of people aren't there to see them. So this is unique ... so many people are here watching him ... through the Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell. A lot of people have been able to follow this horse and latch on to him."
Because American Pharoah handles just about every new situation without a fuss, Baffert says it makes his job easier. However, he knows he's in charge of racing's most valuable jewel. And that makes him nervous.
"We get to take him all over the country," the 62-year-old Hall of Famer trainer said. "He really enjoys what he does. He enjoys the crowd. That's the way he is.
"He's like a pet. He's a superstar pet. And so that's why the pressure to me is to make sure everything is 100 percent, make sure everything is perfect. I feel like I'm protecting the president of the United States and I'm a Secret Service guy making sure nothing happens to him."
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