Hard to look past American Pharoah in Arkansas Derby

To win the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on Saturday, reigning juvenile champion American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) might only have to reproduce his winning effort from last month's Rebel (G2), which he won by an authoritative 6 1/4 lengths in the slop.

The Rebel marked the season debut for the Bob Baffert trainee who, with a strong performance, could go favored in the Kentucky Derby (G1) three weeks from Saturday. The 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby is the final prep in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series which awards 100 qualifying points to the winner.

Voted the nation's best two-year-old colt off superb wins in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and FrontRunner (G1), American Pharoah wound up missing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) due to a suspensory injury. However, he couldn't have looked any better in the Rebel, setting a soft pace and running away from his overmatched rivals as the 2-5 favorite.

The opposition in the Arkansas Derby is a tad deeper than the Rebel, but American Pharoah is still expected to be an overwhelming odds-on choice Saturday and will be difficult to overtake with few apparent rivals for early supremacy. Victor Espinoza retains the mount.

Made From Lucky (Lookin at Lucky), a distant but solid second in the Rebel in his stakes debut, seeks to become the latest member of the Todd Pletcher barn to qualify for the Run for the Roses. A relatively new addition to the stable over the winter, he preceded last month's Rebel with a Gulfstream allowance score over the Arkansas Derby distance.

Also exiting the Rebel are Bold Conquest (Curlin), who ran third, and fourth-place finisher The Truth Or Else (Yes It's True). Both colts have placed multiple times in graded company, but have not yet won at this level.

Far Right (Notional) bypassed the Rebel after scoring come-from-behind wins in the $150,000 Smarty Jones and Southwest (G3) earlier in the meet. The Ron Moquett-trained closer was deftly handled both times by Mike Smith, who retains the mount as the pair attempt to go three-for-three at this meet.

Mr. Z (Malibu Moon), who adds blinkers and might have the best chance of keeping American Pharoah honest, has placed in seven graded stakes but also has not won. Third in the Smarty Jones and Southwest, he returns off two weeks' rest following a last-place effort in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

Bridget's Big Luvy (Tiz Wonderful) steps up in class after wiring a lesser field in the $100,000 Private Terms at Laurel. Both of the colt's victories have come over muddy tracks.

The outsider in the field is Win the Space (Pulpit), who has run third in two maiden attempts at Santa Anita this year.