Belmont notebook: Positive first gallop for 'Pharoah,' Bob Bowman gives advice, Nick Zito bullish on long shot

ELMONT, N.Y. — Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert continues to see all the right signs from his Triple Crown contender American Pharoah, who took his first gallop over the track at Belmont Park on Thursday morning.

"When he finally came down the stretch, he was moving so fluidly, like he usually does," Baffert said. "So it was a very positive gallop. It looks like he's moving along just like he always moves along. It was very comforting to see that. You can tell he still has his energy."


If American Pharoah is to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, he'll have to beat seven fresher horses and handle the unfamiliar 1 ½-mile distance. Baffert joked his horse doesn't seem to grasp how daunting a task he faces.

"He doesn't know he has to go any extra distance," he said. "So we're going to surprise him with that one."


This is the fourth time Baffert has come to Belmont Park with a shot at the Triple Crown, and he's learned he can't try to please every person seeking an interview or some other form of attention. He said that attitude and American Pharoah's vigorous form have helped him relax. He shared his outlook with jockey Victor Espinoza when the two met up Wednesday.

"I don't want you too tired," Baffert said he told his rider. "It can be a physical drain because you're trying to promote the sport."

Advice from Michael Phelps' coach

Justin Zayat, the son of American Pharoah's owner, has been nearly as visible a presence around the horse as Baffert.

"He sent me that message, 'Just keep in mind, I've been in that position. Take time to soak it up,'" Zayat said. "It's the best advice anyone has given me so far."

Zayat has been writing a Triple Crown diary for the New York Post and on Wednesday, he described his interaction with Bowman, who is a horse owner (along with Phelps) and avid fan of the sport.

Bowman was surprised to hear what an impression he'd made. "It's fun to be involved in any way with the Triple Crown," he wrote in a text. "It will be so exciting when another horse wins it again. I don't think we will have to wait too long."

In fact, he's predicted greatness for American Pharoah since before the Kentucky Derby.

Bowman and Zayat, who graduated from New York University last month, had previously followed each other on Twitter and connected on LinkedIn. Zayat said he met Phelps at the 2009 Kentucky Derby, when Pioneerof the Nile, American Pharoah's sire, finished second.

"He's great for the game. He loves the sport," Zayat said of Bowman. "Michael is great for the sport. But Bob is very involved. He knows a lot a lot about racing."

The longest of shots


His horse, Frammento, might be the longest shot in the Belmont Stakes field, but trainer Nick Zito knows as well as anyone how to upset the Triple Crown apple cart.

He did it in 2004 when Birdstone upset the beloved Smarty Jones and in 2008 when Da'Tara beat heavily favored Big Brown. Zito has also trained seven second-place finishers in the Belmont.

"It's that last eighth of a mile," he said, describing the point when so many Triple Crown aspirants have faltered. He hopes that if American Pharoah falters similarly, Frammento — a horse with solid pedigree as a 1 ½-mile runner — will be there to pick up the pieces.

Zito's horse finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby and has won just once in eight career starts. That's why he's a 30-1 choice in the morning line. But don't expect the trainer to be dissuaded. After all, Da'Tara led wire to wire as a 39-1 shot.

"This horse is a live long shot," Zito said of Frammento. "That's all you can ask. If anything crazy happens, that's what you take. I'm in the race because I've got a 1 ½-mile horse. I'm in the race because he's got the pedigree. You can see how cool he is."

Zayat lawsuit dismissed

American Pharoah's owner, Ahmed Zayat, received good news Thursday when he learned a federal judge had dismissed a lawsuit alleging he owed $1.65 million in unpaid gambling debts.

The lawsuit by Florida resident Howard Rubinsky was filed outside the six-year statute of limitations in New Jersey, U.S. District Judge William J. Martini ruled.

Zayat has dismissed Rubinsky's allegations as "lies A to Z" and called the lawsuit an unwelcome distraction from American Pharoah's Triple Crown quest.


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