Oaklawn News

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Arkansas Derby Top Three Exit Race in Good Order

The top three finishers from Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn, including runaway winner American Pharoah, emerged from the 1 1/8-mile race in good order, their connections said Sunday morning.

American Pharoah earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 105 for his effortless eight-length victory over Far Right, a career-best performance that likely stamped the Zayat Stables’ homebred the betting favorite for the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

“He’s the best horse I’ve ever owned,” Ahmed Zayat said.

American Pharoah walked the shedrow Sunday morning at Oaklawn and is scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs Monday, said Justin Zayat, racing and stallion manager for Zayat Stables. American Pharoah has been based this winter in Southern California.

The 2014 champion juvenile was exiting a front-running 6 ¼-length victory in the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14, Oaklawn’s final major prep for the Arkansas Derby. The son of Pioneerof the Nile showed a different dimension Saturday, coming from off the pace in recording his fourth consecutive blowout victory. He was the 1-9 favorite.

“We were hoping he could do something like that and he showed it today,” trainer Bob Baffert said following his second Arkansas Derby victory. “We’re so excited about him.”

Under regular rider Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah equaled the third-largest margin of victory in Arkansas Derby history, and his winning time of 1:48.52 – despite being geared down late – was the fastest since Sir Cherokee (1:48.39) in 2003.

“The way this horse runs is unbelievable,” Espinoza said.

Zayat Stables also owns Mr. Z, who finished third in the Arkansas Derby, three-quarters of a length behind Far Right, and El Kabeir, third in the $1 million Wood Memorial (G1) April 4 at Aqueduct.

Both Mr. Z (34) and El Kabeir (95) have sufficient points to run in the Kentucky Derby – if more than the maximum 20 horses are entered – but Ahmed Zayat wouldn’t commit either to the 1 ¼-mile race immediately following the Arkansas Derby. Zayat said each of his potential Kentucky Derby starters has to be treated individually.

There’s no question Far Right is headed to the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Ron Moquett said Far Right will probably ship to Churchill Downs Tuesday and was “99 percent sure” Sunday morning that Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith would ride the Notional ridgling back in the Kentucky Derby.

Smith guided Far Right to victories in Oaklawn’s first two major Kentucky Derby preps – the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 19 and the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 22.

Far Right dropped far behind early in the Arkansas Derby before closing well out in the track to finish second. Moquett, who skipped the Rebel to train Far Right up to the Arkansas Derby, said Smith rode a smart race Saturday.

“He said he was saving us some for the next one,” Moquett said, referring to the Kentucky Derby. “He said it didn’t matter if we were second by five or second by eight. He said he was trying to save some for the next one when things may work more in our direction.”

Moquett said Far Right will wear the silks of majority owner Harry Rosenblum in the Kentucky Derby after he won a coin flip Saturday night with minority owner Robert LaPenta. Rosenblum sold one-third interest in Far Right to LaPenta, a Connecticut businessman, before the Smarty Jones. Under terms of the deal, Rosenblum said Far Right would alternate silks for his races, although it was stipulated Rosenblum’s green and blue silks would be worn in the Arkansas Derby. Rosenblum is a Little Rock, Ark., native.

Rosenblum said last week a coin flip would determine whose silks Far Right would wear in the Kentucky Derby.

Tim Austin, an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, said Mr. Z is scheduled to ship Monday to Churchill Downs. The colt ran third in the Smarty Jones and Southwest before finishing last of nine in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (G2) March 28. Mr. Z, again wearing blinkers, rebounded with a solid performance in the Arkansas Derby.

“He came back great,” Austin said. “He was dragging us around the test barn last night. Everything’s good.”

The Arkansas Derby offered 100 points to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth as a Kentucky Derby scoring race. American Pharoah (160 points) ranks fourth in the standings, with Far Right (62) No. 10. Mr. Z is No. 18.

Madefromlucky, who finished fourth in the Arkansas Derby, is on the bubble at No. 21 (30), according to Churchill Downs. Bold Conquest, fifth in the Arkansas Derby, ranks 24th with 17 points. The Truth Or Else, seventh in the Arkansas Derby, is 25th with 11 points.