CRAWFORD | Churchill Downs bids farewell to Triple Crown winner - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Churchill Downs bids farewell to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah

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Triple Crown winner American Pharoah gets a nudge before boarding the van to leave Churchill Downs. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford). Triple Crown winner American Pharoah gets a nudge before boarding the van to leave Churchill Downs. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford).
American Pharoah on his last walk around Bob Baffert's Churchill Downs barn before departing for California. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford). American Pharoah on his last walk around Bob Baffert's Churchill Downs barn before departing for California. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford).
Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes leads American Pharoah to the van. Churchill Downs photo by Reed Palmer Photography. Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes leads American Pharoah to the van. Churchill Downs photo by Reed Palmer Photography.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — American Pharoah has left the building. They didn't make an announcement in the Churchill Downs barn area Thursday morning when the Triple Crown winner boarded a van to head to the airport and his trip to Santa Anita Park, but they didn't have to.

“The place feels different already,” Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers observed just minutes after the van pulled away.

It was some kind of ride.

I was there when American Pharoah arrived on April 13, when we knew he might be the best horse at the track, but also questioned whether he was going to be the best in his own stable, with Dortmund arriving later.

There was no question on Thursday, or any other day since American Pharoah wrote himself into the horse racing history books with his 5 1/2-length victory in the Belmont Stakes 12 days ago.

Since his arrival back at Churchill the next afternoon, there have been crowds at his barn, already decorated with a sign proclaiming it the residence of the Triple Crown winner. There was a 30,000-fan celebration last Saturday.

When it came time to leave, with the plane waiting and the van door open, American Pharoah wasn't quite ready. He got to the grassy area where the van had pulled up and wanted to look around, look at the TV cameras.

The champion stood outside the van and when assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes pulled on his lead, he pulled back. He wouldn't go. They had to get behind and give him a little nudge to get him going in the right direction.

It might've been the first nudge they'd had to give him since he was all-out to win the Kentucky Derby.

After he left, things were strangely quiet.

“A bittersweet moment this morning,” Rogers said. “I watched them pull away, and you know, it's been a great ride since the middle of April here. I can't say enough about Bob Baffert's team that was here on hand, so accommodating to fellow horsemen, guests who were back there, something I've never seen before, especially with, obviously, a horse of his quality. The temperament that he has, it's made this ride memorable and it's going to be different around here without him. It already looked different around the barn, not seeing the saw horses around there. Quiet morning, for the first time probably since the middle of April, at Barn 33. Hopefully we'll get to see him back here in the fall preparing for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland.”

American Pharoah's next race has been the subject of no small amount of speculation. Rogers speculated that the Haskell at Monmouth Park in August is a likely landing spot, but nothing has been decided.

His time at Churchill, in my memory, and Rogers said the same, is perhaps rivaled by only Zenyatta in terms of fan interest. She was stabled in a barn along Longfield Avenue, and when she was turned out to graze, people would line up outside the fence to get a glimpse of her.

They streamed into the Churchill Downs stable area to get a look at American Pharoah, until the crowds got a bit worrisome and Baffert decided to restrict access just a bit.

No matter how many people were around, American Pharoah seemed comfortable.

“Horses of this quality usually have a little bit of an aggressiveness by nature,” Rogers said. “That competitive edge. But he's night and day. Baffert's described him as a baby and a beast, and that is absolutely what this horse is.”

Training went on as usual at Churchill Downs. Life will get back to normal. But things are different, without question.

“Don't get me going. I'll get the quiver-lip,” Rogers said. “It was great. I've worked in the industry for more than 20 years, but you have horsemen and racing fans, much like myself, who get up every morning, watching horses train, and you hope to see that next big star. And I don't know where you go from here. He's the horse. So, it was an incredible run. And hopefully it's not done.”

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