As the crowd watched American Pharoah walk toward a paddock schooling session at Monmouth Park Friday, July 31 in advance of his run in the Aug. 2 William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I), the Triple Crown winner provided an anxious moment when he took several quick steps toward a rail.
The brief scare occurred while American Pharoah walked through the tunnel under the Monmouth Park grandstand from the track to the walking ring. After four or five steps toward a rail lining the tunnel, American Pharoah was back under the control of his handlers just a few feet before making contact.
One of those handlers, American Pharoah's regular exercise rider Georgie Alvarez, was on the ground after the incident but it wasn't clear if he had fallen while reacting to the Triple Crown winner or had stumbled and possibly set off American Pharoah.
At any rate, Zayat Stables' American Pharoah quickly regained his composure and soon entered the walking ring without further incident before Friday's first race at Monmouth. He walked a half-loop on the wood chip path of that ring and headed for his paddock stall. He walked in the paddock area, occasionally lifting his head high in the air to get a view of the hundreds of fans who had gathered.
After the completion of the first race, American Pharoah walked the other half of the walking ring and headed through the tunnel back to his barn. The afternoon excitement followed a morning in which American Pharoah never turned a hair when galloping in front of 5,000 fans Friday.
"It was wonderful, wasn't it?" said Jimmy Barnes, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's assistant, who watched the Pioneerof the Nile colt gallop 1 3/8 miles under Alvarez, from the backstretch gap as fans roared.
Zayat Stables' homebred went out at 7:30 a.m. ET during the 20-minute period reserved for Haskell runners. Barnes reported American Pharoah got over the track fine and continues to show his connections exactly what they want to see two days out from his first return to the races since winning the Belmont Stakes Presented by DraftKings (gr. I) on June 6.
There was another chance for an "up close and personal' with the colt, who has electrified racing fans across the continent, when Barnes brought him to the paddock for a schooling lesson with the horses competing in Friday's first race.
American Pharoah, and the other Haskell competitors on the grounds, will be on the track again Saturday from 7:30 to 7:50 a.m. and the public is invited to watch from the clubhouse and grandstand.
In other Haskell action:
* Keen Ice , who closed well to wind up third to American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes last time out, also went out to stretch his legs during a 1 1/4-mile gallop for trainer Dale Romans, who arrived in town on Thursday night to tighten the screws on the son of Curlin .
After the Donegal Stables color bearer, who also received applause and cheers from the morning crowd, came off the track right before 1-5 morning line favorite American Pharoah, Romans said, "It's sort of like being on the basketball poster where you're the guy getting dunked on."
* Three-time Haskell winning-trainer Todd Pletcher reported from Saratoga Race Course that his trio of Haskell runners is good to go, and that Competitive Edge , Nonna's Boy, and Dontbetwithbruno all galloped there this morning and all "went great."
* Ralph M. Evans and WinStar Farm's Upstart , who turned in a bullet four-furlong breeze on July 25 when he was the fastest of 109 horses working the same distance at Saratoga, also went through the final stages of his preparation at his home track on Friday. Trainer Rick Violette Jr. said that the grade II-winning son of Flatter comes in to the race in superb shape and that he will ship the horse to Monmouth on Sunday morning.