American Pharoah, a Zayat Stables homebred who is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, is in ninth place with 60 points so he is assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby if he performs as expected in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).
“He shipped well and has been doing great since he got there,” said Baffert by phone from his Southern California base. “We’re excited about the race and looking forward to it. We’re not thinking about the points. The main thing right now is to take one race at a time. Hopefully, he runs well and comes out of it well. Every time he runs we learn more and more about him.”
Baffert, who saddled Santa Anita winner Dortmund last Saturday, said that the other big 3-year-old in the barn merits the respect he has garnered as he heads into the Arkansas Derby.
“The odds are pretty short, but Dortmund’s were as well last week,” said Baffert. “This time of year they’re starting to separate themselves from the rest. He’s exciting to watch and he deserves to be the favorite.”
On Thursday, American Pharoah galloped one mile under exercise rider Jorge Alvez, who traveled from California with him.
Far From Over
Champion American Pharoah was the runaway winner of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14, but Far Right is still the most accomplished 3-year-old based at Oaklawn throughout the meeting. Far Right won the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 19 and the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 22.
Trainer Ron Moquett bypassed the Rebel and decided to train Far Right up to the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race will mark the first meeting between American Pharoah, who arrived from his Southern California base Wednesday, and Far Right.
“Ready for action,” Moquett said Thursday morning. “He’s doing unbelievable, so I’m very happy with how he comes into the race.”
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is again scheduled to ride Far Right, the early 9-2 second wagering choice. American Pharoah is the 1-2 program favorite.
Madefromlucky Ready for the Rematch
Madefromlucky, the runner-up to 1-2 morning line favorite American Pharoah last time out in the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles here, is ready for the rematch at 1 1/8 miles.
The son of 2010 Rebel Stakes and Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky ran a credible race that day, but was no match for American Pharoah, who despite losing a show went gate-to-wire to win going away by 6 ¼ lengths under Victor Espinoza.
Madefromlucky, who is a handsome chestnut colt with a strong resemblance to his sire, appears to have grown bigger and more physically mature in the month since the Rebel. The last thing Pletcher wants is to see him get caught in a speed duel with the favorite.
“I don’t think he can do that so we’ll hope that someone goes out there with American Pharoah and keeps the pace honest,” said Pletcher. “Hopefully a mile-and-an-eighth with help us. I think he wants to run farther and he’s already won at a mile and an eighth (in an allowance test at Gulfstream Park two starts back). I just hope there’s an honest pace up front.”
Madefromlucky currently sits in 26th place for one of 20 berths in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with 20 qualifying points, and the Arkansas Derby presents his last opportunity to earn his way into the field. There are 170 points (100-40-20-10 for first through fourth place finishes) for the taking here on Saturday.
“It’s pretty much it’s now or never to earn those Derby points. We’ve got to figure out the next step for him and where we belong, and this race should help us clarify that,” Pletcher said.
Lukas’ Remains Confident in Mr. Z
Mr. Z is still eligible for an entry-level allowance race, but he’s scheduled to try and rekindle his flickering Kentucky Derby hopes in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).
Translation? Let reporters report and trainers train, Hall of Fame conditioner D. Wayne Lukas said Thursday morning. Lukas is wheeling Mr. Z back after a last-place finish in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (G2) March 28 at Fair Grounds.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Lukas, who turns 80 Sept. 2. “I know we get criticized for running him. My take on that is I don’t think you guys have ever trained one, never have owned one, never put anything into the game and, yet, you have all these opinions on what we should do and shouldn’t do. So I don’t pay any attention to it.”
Mr. Z has lost 10 consecutive times since winning his June 28 career debut at Churchill Downs. During that period, the Malibu Moon colt has suffered several close losses, including the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) and the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), against top-shelf competition.
Lukas said he has no explanation for Mr. Z’s poor performance in the Louisiana Derby. But, Mr. Z is again wearing blinkers after Lukas removed the equipment for the Louisiana Derby. The colt, in company, worked a half-mile in :48.20 Monday morning.
“He’s having a good week, so we’ll see what happens,” Lukas said. “Not that he hasn’t faced these horses before.”
Mr. Z is 10-1 on the morning line for the Arkansas Derby. Champion American Pharoah is the 1-2 program favorite. Although both horses are owned by Zayat Stables, they are separate betting interests.