The doorbell rang off the hook – if a doorbell has a hook – at the H. E. “Tex” Sutton Forwarding Co. office at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington Tuesday morning and afternoon.
Members of the media, onlookers, representatives of van companies and others got buzzed in, came and went, and eventually returned to gather in the equine shipping company’s small hanger a little before 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Four horse vans pulled up a short while later, a Brook Ledge van taking the outside spot closest to the area where a plane might taxi after landing.
Everyone – nearly 50 people at one point close to 3:15 p.m. – were there to witness and document the arrival of American Pharoah. Jimmy and Dana Barnes, two of trainer Bob Baffert’s most trusted employees, were the first people to arrive with an association to the horse. Breeders’ Cup President Craig Fravel showed up a bit later and Ahmed and Justin Zayat a few minutes before a 727 emblazoned with “First Class Equine Air Travel” pulled up.
After the plane parked, a ramp placed near the door and the Brook Ledge truck and trailer got in position the mini mass of humanity, cameras on shoulders or cell phones in hand, stepped out of the hanger and into the rain. All were in place for the money shot – as much of a money shot as there can be – when American Pharoah stepped off.
The rain didn’t bother the colt, who boarded the plan before 9 a.m. at the Ontario International Airport in California. He took a couple looks on each side of the van as John Clay, the longest serving Tex Sutton employee with a tenure of 36 years, led him down the ramp.
Just before getting on the van he paused again, looked both ways and in seconds disappeared from view.
After a short ride from Blue Grass Airport to Keeneland’s Rice Road barn area, American Pharoah was out in full view, stepping off the van and putting his feet back on the ground in the state where he was bred, foaled and raised, and where he won the Kentucky Derby and prepared for victories in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Cameras clicking away and the media tracked every move American Pharoah made before he walked into the shedrow of Barn 62, the same barn that’s usually occupied by horses trained by Charlie LoPresti and the regular home of two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Surely the 2015 Horse of the Year will come out of that barn, too, but the Breeders’ Cup Classic comes first and a formidable test for American Pharoah.
He’ll hit the track Wednesday morning, the first of three routine training sessions before Saturday’s $5 million Classic.
Even though more rain, maybe even a thunderstorm, is in the forecast for Wednesday morning a big crowd will no doubt be out to see American Pharoah take his first steps on the Keeneland main track.
He’s the star of the show, American racing’s biggest name on its biggest stage.
As if any further proof was needed, during Monday’s post-position draw when his name was announced for post position No. 4 the crowd gave him the loudest ovation of the night, even compared to the cheers University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari received.
Now that’s star power.