American Pharoah Rules Derby 141

Zayat Stables LLC’s homebred American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) lived up to his 5-2 favoritism on Saturday when outdueling Firing Line (Line of David) and stablemate Dortmund (Big Brown) to take the $1,418,800 Kentucky Derby (G1) by a length on a picture-perfect day under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.

“We were ready to rumble,” trainer Bob Baffert proudly said of his two runners. “Since their last works I was hearing how good they were and I was hoping it would come true. I felt very confident going in.”

Dortmund headed straight for the lead when the gates opened on Derby 141, but soon found company in the form of Firing Line to his outside. American Pharoah took up a stalking spot a fit farther out, and the trio maintained those positions all along the backstretch through splits of :23 1/5, :47 1/5, 1:11 1/5 and 1:36 2/5.

Nearing the final turn, Firing Line moved up to run in tandem with Dortmund while American Pharoah fanned five wide. He quickly made up the ground he lost and an epic duel was on as the three battled it out in the stretch.
American Pharoah slowly, but surely, inched away from his rivals to be clear on the wire under jockey Victor Espinoza, who recorded his second straight Derby victory after guiding Horse of the Year California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) to win in 2014.

American Pharaoh stopped the clock in 2:03 for 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track Saturday in front of a 170,513-record crowd at Churchill Downs. He returned $7.80 as the 5-2 favorite and finished off the $56.60 Oaks/Derby double.

“I feel like the luckiest Mexican on Earth,” Espinoza said. “He has been a special horse since the first time I rode him. He has a lot of talent and is an unbelievable horse. Turning for home I started riding a little harder. At the eighth-pole, I just couldn’t put that other horse (Firing Line) away, but he got it done.

Espinoza is now 7-3-0-1 in the Kentucky Derby, having captured his first win with War Emblem in 2002 and finishing third in the 2001 edition with Congaree.

His War Emblem score came for Baffert as well, who now boasts a 25-4-3-2 mark having saddled Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quite (1998) to win in back-to-back years. Baffert also sent out American Pharoah’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile, to be second in the 2009 running.
“It was just awesome to win the Kentucky Derby again for this guy,” Espinoza said of teaming with Baffert. “It never gets old.”
Baffert, Zayat and their family and friends enjoyed a champagne bath courtesy of Victor Espinoza in the Derby winner’s circle  (Jamie Newell/
“I had some anxious moments when (American Pharoah) was coming up there,” Baffert admitted. “Everybody was walking and screaming. He got a little hot. We finally got him in there (saddling enclosure). We got him wet down. Finally, he shut it down. After that, he cooled off.”

It was the first Derby win for Ahmed Zayat, who also bred and campaigned Pioneerof the Nile.

“No more seconds,” Zayata beamed. “American Pharoah is very different from all the horses I had. Day one we felt that he had brilliance to him — his demeanor, his aura, his conformation, the way he moved.

“All this week I was very calm, enjoying it, relaxed. My wife told me, ‘You are unusually relaxed.’ I’m kind of a hyper guy. She told me, ‘How are you that relaxed?’ I said, ‘The horse is giving me that confidence.’ I felt today I came with a star.”

Of course the big question now is can American Pharoah continue on in the May 16 Preakness S. (G1) at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Baffert nodded. “The next one — I call it the fun one. You know, you’re coming off a Derby high, going in there to Baltimore. And the Preakness is one of my favorite races. We’re just going to enjoy it.

“I’m sure it’s going to be tough,” he added. “There will be some good horses in there. But I just love what I saw today from both of my boys. I’m looking forward to the next race.”

Baffert said that American Pharoah would stay at Churchill and “ship in a few days before the Preakness.”

Firing Line came in second in Derby 141, two lengths up on Dortmund in third. Frosted (Tapit) just missed the top three when a neck farther back in fourth under the wire.

“It is disappointing, for sure. But on the other hand I’m very proud of how well my horse ran,” admitted Firing Line’s trainer, Simon Callaghan. “Gary (Stevens) rode a great race, he had him in the right spot. We just got beat. I didn’t expect him to be as close as he was, but I knew Gary had him right. We tried all the way. Tough beat.”

“Going into that first turn, he was pulling hard,” Stevens explained. “I looked over and saw that Martin’s horse (Martin Garcia on Dortmund) was pulling just as hard as mine. I eased back off him a little bit and gave both horses some breathing room.

“(Firing Line) was aggressive today. He was on it. Coming for home I thought I might get there, but it wasn’t to be. My horse showed his braveness today. He just got beat. I’m very proud of him.”

Mubtaahij (Dubawi) shipped in from Dubai for his shot at Derby glory, but wound up eighth.

“It’s one of those runs that’s not good and it’s not bad,” trainer Mike de Kock remarked, before adding, “Those were some bloody good horses ahead of him.”

American Pharaoh became the first juvenile champion to win the Kentucky Derby since Street Sense broke the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) curse in the 2007 Run for the Roses. Saturday’s winner was an early scratch from last year’s Breeders’ Cup due to a deep foot bruise in his left front, but he did well enough to take home an Eclipse Award as the top two-year-old male.

The bay colt competed just twice over the spring to prepare for the Kentucky Derby, romping on each occasion in the Rebel S. (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1). Last year, he started his career off with a fifth-placing at Del Mar before breaking his maiden in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and taking the FrontRunner S. (G1) at Santa Anita Park.
Baffert chose to ship American Pharaoh out of California to avoid running against his other Derby hopeful in Dortmund, who entered Saturday’s contest unbeaten after taking the Santa Anita Derby (G1), San Felipe S. (G2) and Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) during the prep season.

American Pharoah headed to Oaklawn Park for his Derby groundwork, and now boasts a 6-5-0-0 mark while doubling his lifetime bankroll to $2,830,300.

American Pharaoh is truly a family affair for Zayat, who purchased the colt’s dam as a yearling and named her Littleprincessemma (Yankee Gentleman) after his daughter. The mare, who is a half-sibling to Grade 2 winner Storm Wolf (Stormin Fever) and Grade 3 victress Misty Rosette (Stormin Fever), sold last November in foal to American Pharoah’s full brother for $2.1 million.

American Pharaoh passed through the sales ring himself, but was a buyback at $300,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected yearling.