In a recent column for Thoroughbred Racing Commentary, Bob Ehalt caught up with trainer Bob Baffert, owner Ahmed Zayat, and jockey Victor Espinoza nearly a year after Triple Crown winner American Pharoah wrapped up his career. According to the column, things were not always rosy in the AP camp in the weeks leading up to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic.
Trainer Bob Baffert recalls feeling Espinoza's focus shifted from riding to sponsorship deals after the Triple Crown, and told Ehalt the rider wanted a contract before getting on the horse, as well as royalties if his image was used in connection with the colt.
“American Pharoah was basically an ATM to him,” Baffert told Ehalt. “He was getting a little greedy. He wanted to cash in on the horse as much as he could. I don't care if you make money, I want your head in the game and his head wasn't in the game. He hired lawyers and he wanted to get paid for sponsorships. It got to the point I had to pull Victor up a bit because he wanted to cash in.”
Espinoza remembers feeling pressure from the Zayats between the Preakness and the Belmont, and felt the owners wanted to take him off the horse until Baffert interceded. The veteran rider contrasted the experience with his partnership with California Chrome, where the owners “let me do whatever I want” and he feels more supported by trainer Art Sherman.
Baffert remembered having a couple of meetings with Espinoza, who he said was no longer coming to visit the horse ahead of the Classic, warning him to straighten up or risk losing the mount.
Zayat says he was the one who lobbied to keep Espinoza on the horse, and says he never put pressure on the rider. Instead, he told Ehalt, Espinoza told people he deserved breeding rights to American Pharoah (an arrangement Zayat believes the rider has with California Chrome) but hasn't gotten them.
“Now I hear talk he has a deal to get breeding rights to California Chrome and he goes around saying California Chrome is better than American Pharoah,” Zayat said. “I don't want to get involved in that, but I know there is only one Triple Crown winner and I don't care what Victor says about California Chrome, he's no American Pharoah.
“I know Bob is pissed about that and I just want history to decide who is the better horse. I believe they don't breathe the same air.”
Read more in Thoroughbred Racing Commentary
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