On a brisk but beautiful autumn morning, trainer Bob Baffert hugged American Pharoah goodbye. It was a private moment, even though there were plenty of people watching. The Triple Crown winner, who added to his legacy on Saturday by dominating in the Breeders' Cup Classic, was walked off a van and into his new life at Coolmore's Ashford Stud on Monday.
Like always, the 3-year-old colt took everything in stride. A police escort made sure he traveled the 10 miles from Keeneland to Ashford without issue, and Baffert and his wife, Jill, and son Bode were there, as were assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, exercise rider Georgie Alvarez and groom Eduardo Luna.
Cameras snapped as American Pharoah made his way to his new barn, and the champion had his ears pricked with curiosity the entire time. He is used to all the attention after becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and the first horse ever to win what has been dubbed the Grand Slam by also taking the Classic, which was first run in 1984.
"Look at that walk," said Baffert as the colt strode into the barn. "He's thinking, 'Now where am I going to run?' "
American Pharoah doesn't know it yet, but his running days are finished. Early next year, he will begin his career as a stallion, and while one can only wonder what he would do given the chance to run as a 4-year-old, there is simply too much money on the table for that to happen. His stud fee has yet to be set, but it is expected to be in the six-figures.
"I'm very happy the sport got to enjoy a star like American Pharoah going off on a high note," said owner Ahmed Zayat after the Classic. "I wish I could have kept him another year to race. It would have been the icing on the cake. But the reality of the business does not allow us to do that."
At Ashford, American Pharoah was put in his new stall, which appropriately enough used to be occupied by the late stallion Grand Slam, and his racetrack halter was switched out for a stallion halter. The colt was then brought out for more photo ops, and Baffert inspected the new headgear while being reassured that Pharoah was spelled correctly incorrectly.
"We're extremely lucky to have the horse," said Coolmore's MV Magnier. "He's an exceptional horse, everything about him. Bob was saying he could handle absolutely everything. Hopefully we'll do half as good a job as Bob has."
American Pharoah's kind temperament, which has always seemed at odds with his ferocious ability on the racetrack, was on display yet again as he patiently posed for minutes on end. Baffert gave him carrots and petted his star pupil before hugging him and taking a step back. He encouraged Magnier to hold the horse's lead and give him a kiss, which delighted the crowd.
Coolmore is one of the most powerful stallion operations in the world, and American Pharoah will be given every chance to succeed at his new career. Nothing, however, is guaranteed. Most racehorses turned stallions arrive at their new home with little fanfare, so the welcoming committee that was on hand to greet the sure to be Horse of the Year was far from normal, but it did remind everyone of when Hall of Famer Cigar retired to Ashford in 1996. Cigar turned out to be infamously infertile and never sired a foal.
American Pharoah's new routine will begin shortly. This week he will be turned out in a paddock near pensioner and fellow Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Thunder Gulch. The 23-year-old has been pegged as a good babysitter for the new arrival so he doesn't get too worked up. He will spend his mornings outside before coming back to the barn for lunch and a good grooming.
"Young horses, when they get out, tend to run around a lot, and if they have company it just encourages them to run around," said stallion manager Richard Barry. "But if you put a 23-year-old boy beside him, he'll kind of look at him and go, 'Son, run on your own.' He will spend an hour looking at Thunder Gulch eat grass and try to get him to run, and he won't run anywhere. Then he'll figure out that he should eat some grass himself. After that it's pretty easy.
"Temperament-wise, a bomb could go off beside him from the looks of things and it wouldn't affect him. It is a testament to the people who have been taking care of him how well he looks."
American Pharoah's first foals will be born in 2017 and hit the track in 2019. Racing is not a game for the impatient. American Pharoah was worth the wait, though, and hopefully, at least some of his progeny will be, too.