Monmouth Park has won the American Pharoah lottery.
Owner Ahmed Zayat has told ESPN.com that the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2 will be the setting for the Triple Crown winner's next race and first start after a historic 5 ½-length triumph in the Belmont Stakes on June 6.
"I've decided to do the logical step and run American Pharoah at Monmouth," Zayat said. "I'm trying to create one of the best days racing has ever seen for its fans and one that will also fit the prestige that surrounds American Pharoah. I want it to be a great day for everyone that will celebrate racing."
The mile-and-an-eighth Grade 1 stakes for 3-year-olds is a particular favorite of trainer Bob Baffert, who already owns a record seven wins in the Haskell, and will afford the 52-year-old Zayat, a resident of Teaneck, an opportunity to race his prized champion in his home state.
"We were all waiting to see how American Pharoah worked and for me to give the OK. I liked the way he's training, the way he worked and how he came out of it very well," said Baffert, who gave the Triple Crown champion his first drill since the Belmont Stakes on June 29, working him three furlongs in 36-2/5 at Santa Anita. "He looked a little light after the Belmont but he's gotten the weight back, so with no hiccups between now and then, the Haskell is the obvious spot for him."
For Monmouth officials, Zayat's decision was greeted with unbridled enthusiasm. "We are ecstatic to know American Pharoah will be running in the Haskell," Monmouth president Bob Kulina said. "This will be the biggest day ever in the history of racing in New Jersey. We've been racing for 70 years and this is the first time we will have a Triple Crown champion here. I didn't think I would ever say this, but this will be even bigger than 2007 when we hosted the Breeders' Cup."
Though there are expectations that Monmouth will boost the purse for the Haskell, Zayat stressed money did not play a role in the decision and Kulina added that it was still too early in the process to have anything definitive in place in regard to that.
Kulina also said the Haskell will become the centerpiece of a three-day celebration at the Oceanport, New Jersey, track that will be called "The Pharoah Phan Phestival."
Included in it will be a giveaway on Aug. 1 with a baseball jersey commemorating Baffert's seven Haskell victories. Baffert will also be inducted into Monmouth's Hall of Fame during the weekend.
"I guess I'll have to leave Del Mar this summer," said Baffert, who remained in California for his most recent Haskell wins, leaving the saddling of those horses to his top assistant, Jim Barnes.
To help build a festive atmosphere, Zayat says he plans to reach out to New Jersey's famed rock stars, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, as well as sports celebrities such as the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant in hopes that they will become part of the day and make the Haskell an even more memorable fan experience.
A Haskell tradition features the playing of Springsteen's "Born To Run" during the post parade for the race.
"I have complete confidence in Monmouth making this a very special day," said Zayat, who won the Haskell in 2012 with Paynter.
As for the future, Zayat said if all goes well in the Haskell, he would also consider taking American Pharoah to Saratoga for the $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 29.
"The horse comes first and we intend to run him as many times this year as he tells us he can," Zayat said. "The hope is that he does in the Haskell what he loves to do, and that is winning. We'll see how he comes out of it. We have not ruled out running at Saratoga. It's something I'm happy and willing to do, as does Bob. I don't want to commit and put too much pressure on Bob or the horse. We want the horse to tell us. But if he's ready, he'll go there. These are not easy decisions but I want to do right by the horse and the fans."
Since the wild fanfare when he ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought, American Pharoah has been celebrated as horse racing's most popular and coveted star in decades and racetracks large and small across the country have been lining up to entice Zayat and Baffert to bring the charismatic superstar to their town.
In California, Del Mar officials have discussed a $5 million bonus for American Pharoah if he can win three races, starting with their Pacific Classic on Aug. 22 and ending with the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland. Even Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota, joined in, offering to fund a $2 million race for the Zayat Stables star on Aug. 30.
"Everyone has reached out to us," Zayat said. "But this is not about money. It is about the horse, the fans and the sport. I promised to continue racing American Pharoah and that is what we are doing."
The ultimate goal before American Pharoah begins a career at stud for Coolmore's Ashford Stud would be the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland, where the Zayat Stables homebred would attempt to become the first horse to capture a "Grand Slam" of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes and BC Classic.
"I've had so many people, including older people, who come up to me and say the same thing," Baffert said. "They say this horse has lifted the American spirit. This is bigger than I ever thought it would be. The pressure on me training him is greater now than it was before the Triple Crown because he's become a racing icon. I feel like they have me guarding a Picasso in a museum."
And the next showing of that masterpiece, to the joy of New Jersey racing fans, will come on Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park.