DEL MAR — There’s another rock star in town and let’s hope this turns out better.
American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, has set up shop at the Del Mar Race Track. While it’s not likely American Pharoah competes in this summer’s $1 million Pacific Classic, having the 3-year-old colt training at the seaside oval is a big deal.
“It’s like having a rock star here,” said Joe Harper, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club CEO. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be 14 cameras here.”
While the Del Mar racing doesn’t start until Thursday, the hype was in full stride on Tuesday.
It’s not often a horse is called a “rock star” and if you don’t tell A.J. Preller, we won’t either.
Preller, the Padres’ general manager, got that tag from Matt Kemp. The outfielder was astonished with the talent Preller assembled in the offseason, even if the regular season became one long, sour note.
But outside stable FF along Del Mar’s backstretch, there were nothing but smiles. American Pharaoh paraded in front of the media and it was hard to tell which party was having more fun.
“He’s a big ham,” said Jimmy Barnes, American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert’s top assistant. “He loves it.”
As if on cue, American Pharoah turns his head and perks his ears when spotting a camera pointed his direction. When someone cautiously asked about a selfie, Barnes said bring it on.
“He loves selfies,” he said, and sure enough, American Pharoah stood still while others fiddled with cell phones.
It’ll be Baffert’s call whether American Pharoah finds the Del Mar starting gate at the Pacific Classic on Aug. 22.
“Those are all Bob’s decisions,” Barnes said.
American Pharoah is set to race on Aug. 2 at the Haskell at Monmouth Park. He’ll return to Del Mar to train, with his first race against older horses likely coming in October’s Breeder’s Cup.
But this week Del Mar’s cup brims with excitement. Not only can fans watch American Pharoah go through morning workouts, but the betting and beverages start on Thursday.
“It will be crazy,” Harper said.
“The women,” Harper said, without missing a beat.
While some race tracks are becoming obsolete, Del Mar continues to be the place to be, especially on opening day. Many of the more than 40,000 fans — half estimated to be women — will be dressed to the nines. They will mix with the regulars, those that are there to see the horses instead of being seen.
What a sight it is, but hold your horses if wanting to last well past the 2 p.m. first post.
Here’s a tip from Harper, at no charge. “Chardonnay and sunshine sometimes don’t mix so well,” he said, with a laugh.
Don’t believe him?
“One year we had a huge traffic jam getting out,” he said. “So a woman decided to help by getting out of her car and directing traffic. Of course she did it while being topless.”
It’ll be bottoms up for most the crowd, a gathering that plays hooky from work or finds any excuse to join what is San Diego County’s official, non-offical holiday.
“At some point we will run out of ice, the elevators will temporarily stop working and other things will happen,” Harper said. “And no one will care.”
If longing for a glimpse of American Pharoah, set your alarm clock. He’ll train at roughly 7:45 each morning before departing for the Haskell.
Want another tip that’s on the house?
Bring carrots if wanting American Pharoah to nibble from your hand.
“Baby peeled carrots,” Barnes stressed. “He won’t eat the ones with the skins on them. He likes the ones that are a little sweeter.”
With Del Mar kicking off, our sweet summer is here — and so is American Pharoah.