HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, April 11, 2015) – Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah lived up to his 1-9 odds with an easy eight length victory in Saturday’s 79th running of the $1 million Arkansas Derby before an estimated on track crowd of 67,500. It was the second straight Oaklawn win for the Bob Baffert-trainee, who had also won the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14.
Showing a new dimension, the 2014 champion 2-year-old laid second as Bridget’s Big Luvy led the field through early fractions of :22 3/5 and :45 4/5 for the first half mile. The leader still had a one-length lead after three-quarters of a mile in 1:10 3/5, but it was short lived because as soon as jockey Victor Espinoza asked American Pharoah, the only question that remained was how many lengths he would win by. He completed the 1 1/8 mile race in 1:48 2/5, the fastest Arkansas Derby time since 2003, while being geared down in the lane.
“He's an amazing horse,” said Baffert. “With the way he works, he's always been a professional horse from the start. We were hoping he could do something like that and he showed it today. We're so excited about him.”
Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes (G3) winner Far Right, the 7-1 second choice, was last through most of the race, but came flying late to take second, three-quarters of a length in front of the D. Wayne Lukas- trained Mr. Z, also owned by Zayat Stable.
“Today, we saw a great race by a superhorse,” said Far Right’s trainer Ron Moquett. “(jockey) Mike (Smith) said that when he saw that horse kick clear he was just going to do enough to get second and he did. At that point it didn't matter if it was two lengths or 10 lengths, second is still second. We'll hope for maybe some different circumstances [in the Kentucky Derby] and just like everybody else going there we'll need some of the best luck. We certainly showed we belong.”
Jockey Victor Espinoza, who won the 2014 Kentucky Derby with favorite California Chrome, will head into the May 2 Kentucky Derby (G1) with another likely favorite.
“I’m excited,” said Espinoza, who also won the 2002 Kentucky Derby with the Baffert-trained War Emblem. “It’s the first time I’ve gone into it in back-to-back years with horses like this. I think I’m even more excited this year. Bob (Baffert) and I go way back. He’s always been a help to me.”
American Pharoah not only heads into the Kentucky Derby as one of the favorites, but also as one of the points leaders. He earned 100 points Saturday based on the Churchill Downs criteria for making the Derby field and is now ranked fourth with 160 points. Far Right jumped from 19th on the list to 10th with the 40 points he earned and Mr. Z also earned a spot in the starting gate with his 20 points that moved him into 18th place. Fourth-place finisher Madefromlucky, who was previously second in the Rebel, sits just outside in 21st place and would need a defection to make the 20-horse field.
Bold Conquest, Win the Space, The Truth or Else and Bridget’s Big Luvy completed the order of finish.
American Pharoah, a Zayat Stables homebred by their 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, improved his record to four wins from five starts and he has earned $1,411,500.
One race earlier, Baffert also captured the 18th running of the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes to go two-for-two on the Derby Day card with his 3-year-olds. Owned by Arkansas businessman and car dealership owner Frank Fletcher, Wolf Man Rocket graduated from the maiden ranks in his fist time trying stakes company and in his initial foray at the one-mile distance.
Sent off at 8-5 with co-favorite Hillbilly Royalty, who is owned by country superstar Toby Keith's Dream Walkin Farms Inc and set the pace into deep stretch, Wolf Man Rocket dug in and got to the wire first to cover the mile in 1:36. 2 on a fast track under Espinoza. It was only his third career start.
“Wolfie got it done today. He showed a lot of heart,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert's assistant, who saddled the son of Mineshaft and American Pharoah. “Stretching him out really helped, We've always wanted to run him longer, but we'd enter him and the race wouldn’t go, and then we got him in a race but he coliced so that didn't work out either. Now we've broken our maiden in a stakes race.”
Fletcher, who purchased the colt as a 2-year-old for $550,000, said, “Well, isn't that really something? I think he's the only maiden to ever win this stakes race.”
Hillbilly Royalty took second in the race for sophomores, 1 3/4 lengths behind and Poseidon's Way was third and another seven lengths back. Wolf Man Rocket paid $5.40 to win for a $2 wager and has now banked $82,400.
Saturday’s 12-race card concluded Oaklawn’s 2015 live season. Racing will resume Friday, Jan. 15, 2016.