Two-year-old champion American Pharoah showed no rust while returning from a 168-day layoff in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, confirming his status as a leading Kentucky Derby contender with a commanding 6 1/4-length decision.
The Rebel was worth 50 points to the winner as a Kentucky Derby qualifier and American Pharoah is now ranked fifth on the Leaderboard with a 60-point total.
Owned and bred by Zayat Stables, American Pharoah provided Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert with his fourth Rebel victory in the last five years. Jockey Victor Espinoza sent the bay colt straight to the front at the start, establishing moderate splits in :24 2/5, :49 3/5 and 1:15 1/5 while up by about a length.
American Pharoah accelerated for home in breath-taking fashion, quickly turning a short lead into a landslide as he widened his advantage while gliding over the sloppy track through the stretch.
He completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:45.78, satisfying the massive Hot Springs, Arkansas crowd that came to watch the champion put on a show.
“He’s the real deal,” Espinoza said.
The winner reportedly lost his right front shoe coming out of the starting gate, but it made no difference as his action was still superb.
American Pharoah dropped his first start against maiden special weight rivals at Del Mar last August and then broke his maiden in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, leading wire to wire for a 4 ¾-length decision that netted him a 103 BRIS Speed rating.
He carried his stellar form forward to the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita on September 27, producing another tour de force performance that resulted in a 3 ¼-length decision, and left high-quality rivals in his wake, easily defeating subsequent Grade 3 winner Calculator and third-placer Texas Red, who came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 6 ½ lengths.
American Pharoah was listed as the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but was forced to withdraw due to a foot bruise. He returned to the worktab in early February at Santa Anita and posted six drills in advance of the Rebel.
He’s now earned $811,500 winning three of four starts.
A son of multiple Grade 1 winner and 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, the Kentucky-bred American Pharoah could bring his dangerous speed back to Oaklawn Park for his final Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 11.