American Pharoah's next step

Maybe owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert have already decided where American Pharoah will run next. Maybe they haven't. In the meantime, no decision has been made public and the racing world awaits what will be the most important announcement in the past 37 years or so.

It's hard to predict what Zayat and Baffert will do because no one quite knows what their goals are with American Pharoah. That's the key.

Is it to make as much money on the racetrack as possible? If that's the case they should stay in California and accept an offer to take part in a proposed series of races in which he could earn a $5 million bonus. There's nothing official on this yet, but, according to reports, Del Mar is trying to put together a bonus scheme that would pay a $5 million bonus to any horse (or maybe just American Pharoah) who swept the Pacific Classic, a second race and the Breeders' Cup Classic. It is widely assumed that the second race would be the Awesome Again at Santa Anita.

That's a lot of money, much more than American Pharoah could make racing anywhere else, and picking up the bonus would be well within his grasp. He is obviously the best 3-year-old out there and the older horse ranks have rarely been weaker. Shared Belief is out for the year and California Chrome is partaking on a grass campaign. The Hollywood Gold Cup was just won by Hard Aces, who had never before so much as won a graded stakes race.

Is it to run in the easiest spots possible prior to the Breeders' Cup while going unbeaten? There would be nothing wrong with that. American Pharoah can both keep his winning streak going and pick up a pile of money prior to the Breeders' Cup. The best way to do that would be to run in the $1 million Haskell followed by the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. It's almost unimaginable that he could lose either race. Under this plan, you don't want to go to the Travers. Even for a horse who has proved he can come back in quick order and maintain his form, a schedule of the Haskell, Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic would be asking a lot. Plus, the Travers is one of the few races that seems to give Baffert fits. He's won it only once (with Point Given in 2001) and might still be licking his wounds from Bayern finishing last there last year.

Is it to enhance his legacy? No matter what American Pharoah may do through the rest of his career he's already guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame and he will be the 2015 Horse of the Year. But how will he compare to the other all-time greats who have won the Triple Crown? A lot of that depends on not only him winning the rest of the year but winning the right races.

The two most prestigious races on the calendar between now and the Breeders' Cup are the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. They are packed with history and have been won by a long list of Hall of Famers, and a Travers win would give American Pharoah a win at Saratoga, the Mecca of thoroughbred racing. The last Triple Crown winner to win the Travers was Whirlaway in 1941. (Affirmed crossed the wire first in 1978 but was disqualified.) The last Triple Crown winner to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a 3-year-old was Citation in 1948. Affirmed won the Gold Cup as a 4-year-old in 1979.

Is it to maximize his stud value? This is another area in which he's already got it made. He doesn't have to do anything between now and his retirement for him to become a very valuable and in-demand stallion. But the one thing that can make his value go up is a win in the Breeders' Cup Classic. To do so, he'd have to beat all the best horses in training and in the only race in the USA that compares to the Triple Crown events in terms of stature. If winning the Breeders' Cup is the only goal, then the right thing to do would be to pick one easy prep and have him fresh and ready to go for the big day at Keeneland. The race that would be the best fit for that would probably be the Pennsylvania Derby, as it would be a cakewalk and it's six weeks before the Classic. Note that Baffert used the Pennsylvania Derby as his last Classic prep last year for Bayern and the plan worked perfectly, with Bayern winning on Breeders' Cup Day.

While this isn't exactly narrowing things down, American Pharoah's next start will almost certainly be in either the Haskell, the Travers, the Pennsylvania Derby or the Pacific Classic. The world awaits the decision.