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    It’s been 37 years since we’ve had a Triple Crown winner, so what happens next is a relative unknown for many race fans. But what is known for Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness (G1) and Belmont (G1) winner American Pharoah is that he will make his first start since clinching the Triple Crown June 6, in Sunday’s William Hill Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, NJ. The 48th running of the race for 3-year-olds received a purse increase of $750,000 earlier in the week, which makes the $1.75 million race the wealthiest non-Breeders’ Cup race ever run in New Jersey.

    “We’ve all waited a long time to see a Triple Crown-winning horse and we’re thankful to the Zayat family and trainer Bob Baffert for choosing to showcase their champion at Monmouth Park,” said Bob Kulina, president of Darby Development LLC, operators of Monmouth Park. “It will be a historic day for horse racing, Monmouth Park and the State of New Jersey.”

    A field of seven is set to take on Ahmed Zayat’s homebred American Pharoah. As if completing the elusive Triple Crown wasn’t enough to spark fear in his rivals, American Pharoah lodged a sharp four-furlong work in :48 4/5 at Del Mar Racetrack on Tuesday. Eyes on the ground claimed the Bob Baffert trainee looked even better than he did going into the Belmont Stakes.

    “He just does everything effortlessly, and I think he's getting stronger, he's maturing,” said Baffert on a national teleconference Tuesday. “Most older horses like to get better as they get older, and I see that he's getting better, as he's just maturing. He's always been fast, but he's just maturing.”

    As accommodating as Baffert and the Zayats have been with fans of the Triple Crown winner, parading American Pharoah for fans at Churchill Downs and Santa Anita Park and welcoming daily crowds outside the barn the past couple of months, it will be all business this week to give the champ time to prepare and rest before his post-Triple Crown debut.

    Jockey Victor Espinoza, whose career has been soaring as high as his celebrity status since the Triple Crown, will resume his position aboard American Pharoah when the pair break mid-pack from post four. American Pharoah has been installed as the 1-5 morning line favorite in the eight-horse field, but is likely to go off at odds as low as 1-9. Although the six-time grade one winner stands far above this field (and any of his 3-year-old peers), there is still competition to overcome in the 1 1/8 mile route over the Monmouth dirt.

    Dale Roman’s Keen Ice, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont, is still working toward a return to the winner’s circle. In nine career starts, the son of Curlin has only a maiden win. He’s shown up for the big 3-year-old dances and held his own against the competition, but he may need to drop down to the grade three level for his best chance to bring home the trophy. Jockey Kent Desormeaux, who’s been Keen Ice’s pilot in his last two starts, will take up the reins.

    Another Kentucky Derby runner resurfaces in the Haskell. Rick Violette’s Upstart was eased and finished last in the Kentucky Derby. Since returning to the work tab the son of Flatter has earned a couple bullet works, including last Saturday’s when he covered four furlongs in just over :47. It was the fastest of 109 others going the distance that day at Saratoga. A week earlier he worked a mile in just over 1:40. Upstart showed promise going into the Kentucky Derby, so if he can return to his prior form he stands a good chance to hit the board. Jockey Joe Bravo will guide Upstart from the rail.

    Todd Pletcher will send out a trio in Competitive Edge and longshots Nonna’s Boy and Dontbetwithbruno. Competitive Edge scored an impressive win in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on the Kentucky Derby undercard, but failed as the favorite in the Woody Stephens (G2) on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Although he’s never attempted anything further than a mile, the 1 1/8 mile distance of the Haskell could be to his liking. He’ll break from post two under jockey Mike Smith.

    “There's no guarantee where he's going to run next because he has to tell me, hey, I'm ready; I'm sitting on gold,” said Baffert. “As long as he's doing well, you're going to see Pharaoh. That's why it's very important that every time he runs that you make sure you get to watch him run.”

    The field for the Haskell, with odds and jockey, from the rail out is: Upstart (6-1, Joe Bravo), Competitive Edge (8-1, Mike Smith), Nonna’s Boy (30-1, TBA) American Pharoah (1-5, Victor Espinoza), Mr. Jordan (15-1, Paco Lopez), Keen Ice (12-1, Kent Desormeaux), Top Clearance (30-1, Abel Castellano, Jr.), Dontbetwithbruno (30-1, TBA). The race is the 12th on Monmouth Park’s stakes-filled Sunday card with a scheduled post time of 5:52 p.m. Eastern Time. The race can be seen as part of NBC’s special broadcast from 5 - 6 p.m. Eastern Time. Click here for free PPs courtesy of Brisnet

    Photo: J. Oswald

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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