OCEANPORT, N.J. - On a day when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited Monmouth Park, American Pharoah had no traffic problems. The Triple Crown hero used E-ZPass in the $1.75-million Haskell Invitational while his opponents scrambled for loose change.
Pharoah enjoyed a trip so perfect that jockey Victor Espinoza could have scripted it. He stalked 2-wide in second behind Competitive Edge, whom he left behind before blowing the race open midway on the far turn. The stretch was a private drive for the 1-9 favorite, whom Espinoza geared down before reaching the eighth pole.
"Turning for home, he was just looking around," Espinoza said. "The other horses were struggling, and he was just having fun. It was pretty easy."
The margin over late-closing runner-up Keen Ice was 2 1/4 lengths, and it could have been 12 1/4. The time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:47.95, and the stakes record of 1:47 would have fallen if the champion had been urged at all. "The jock never asked him to run," said Kent Desormeaux, Keen Ice's rider.
It was the 3-year-old superstar's eighth consecutive win, all stakes. He paid $2.20 in what amounted to a $1.1-million public workout with six overmatched pursuers in his first race since the Belmont Stakes on June 6.
Once again, the Haskell served as an annual benefit for Bob Baffert, who won it for the record eighth time and for the fifth time in six years. His dominance began with Point Given in 2001 and continued with War Emblem (2002), Roman Ruler (2005), Lookin At Lucky (2010), Coil (2011), Paynter (2012) and Bayern last year.
"I'm just so glad he ran well and put on a show," Baffert said. "It's really something that every time we run this horse or work him, he's just getting stronger and better. As a trainer, you wait all your lifetime to get one like this."
The first Triple Crown winner in 37 years enhanced his reputation, if that was possible. Owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat, a New Jersey resident, exulted after accepting the trophy from Christie, who was booed as passionately as Pharoah was cheered by the announced crowd of 60,983, a Haskell record.
"It's extremely rare that I'm speechless," Zayat said before he started rolling. "I couldn't be happier that this is happening in the great state of New Jersey." He lifted the trophy and said: "For you, New Jersey."
There were rumors that Jersey-breds Derek Jeter and Bruce Springsteen would show up, but they didn't. Bill Murray did, though, and he played to fans stacked six deep around the paddock before yelling: "We're burnin' daylight. Riders up!"
As usual, Springsteen's Jersey anthem, "Born to Run," blared as the horses entered the track, and there was no doubt about who was The Boss out there. Behind 18-1 Keen Ice came 6-1 second favorite Upstart, Competitive Edge, Top Clearance, Dontbetwithbruno and Mr. Jordan.
Dale Romans, Keen Ice's trainer, and owner Jerry Crawford were pleased with their 1-for-10 colt's late move that earned $330,000. "I'm gonna keep chasin' him," Romans said. The feisty Crawford said: "I'm excited to see American Pharoah in the Travers. Can't wait."
There's no guarantee that will happen, although Zayat said a month ago that if Pharoah dominated the Haskell, he would like to run in Saratoga's "Midsummer Derby." Baffert would prefer to avoid "The Graveyard of Champions."
Zayat told the crowd, "We're going to enjoy this moment." Later, however, he told ESPN.com: "My preference would be to run [next] at Saratoga."
Baffert took the same approach. "We have to get him home [to Del Mar] and see how he bounces out of this," he said. "There are a lot of options out there."