Hot Springs, Ark. (Friday, March 13, 2015) – The horse with the short tail casts a long shadow. Champion American Pharoah is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn, a 1 1/16-mile race that has been dominated in recent years by the colt’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
Baffert is seeking his fifth Rebel victory in the last six years. His torrid stretch began in 2010 with Lookin At Lucky, who, like American Pharoah, was an Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male. Lookin At Lucky made his 3-year-old debut in the Rebel and won as the even-money favorite. American Pharoah is an even shorter price – at least on the morning line – at 1-2.
“A lot is expected from this horse, and he hasn’t run in a while, but we feel confident that he's going to run well,” Baffert said. “He just needs some racing luck.”
Six are scheduled to challenge the lightly raced American Pharoah, who hasn’t started since winning the $300,000 FrontRunner Stakes (G1) Sept. 27 at Santa Anita. A foot bruise forced American Pharoah to miss the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). He broke his maiden in the $300,000 Del Mar Futurity (G1) Sept. 3 at Del Mar after finishing fifth in his Aug. 9 career debut.
Although American Pharoah will be making his first start outside California in the Rebel, Baffert’s West Coast-based horses have had no trouble adapting to the Arkansas landscape. Baffert is 18 of 38 at Oaklawn since starting his first horse in Hot Springs in 1993 and is 14 of 28 in graded stakes events.
Like most horses Baffert has sent to Oaklawn, American Pharoah possesses the speed to control the race from post 4 under Victor Espinoza. American Pharoah scored lopsided front-running victories in his final two starts last year.
Baffert, however, said he will let Espinoza decide on a game plan once the gates open.
“He knows the horse,” Baffert said. “He's a fast horse, but Victor just puts him in the place where he’s comfortable. He’s not a speed freak and he’s not rank. I don’t know how the race will go.”
American Pharoah’s biggest challenge could come from The Truth Or Else, who is coming off a runner-up finish in the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 22. Another Rebel entrant, Bold Conquest, exits a fourth-place finish in the Southwest, which was his 3-year-old debut.
“It’s encouraging,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “You look at the numbers, and we obviously have to pick it up. But I do think he’s going to be a horse that’s going to improve. Is he going to improve enough? Time will tell.”
Take Charge Brandi, last year’s champion 2-year-old filly, was scheduled to run in the Rebel, but is expected to be sidelined 60 days after undergoing surgery Thursday afternoon for a non-displaced bone chip in her right knee. The injury was discovered Tuesday morning.
American Pharoah arrived safely on a flight from Southern California early Wednesday afternoon.
Baffert, who also won the Rebel in 2011 with The Factor, 2012 with Secret Circle and 2014 with Hoppertunity, said he’s taking nothing for granted Saturday.
“I always think about the Seattle Seahawks,” Baffert said, referring to their last-second to New England in this year’s Super Bowl. “Look at that last play. So we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We've been in this situation before. What’s supposed to be the easiest one can be the hardest one to win.”
Probable post time for the Rebel, which anchors an 11-race card, is 6:06 p.m. (Central).
The complete field in post position order with riders and morning line odds: The Truth or Else, Calvin Borel, 4-1; Madefromlucky, John Velazquez, 6-1; Tizwonderfulcreek, Belen Quinonez, 30-1; American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza, 1-2; Bold Conquest, Ricardo Santana Jr., 8-1; Paid Admission, Shaun Bridgmohan, 15-1 and Sakima, Ramon Vazquez, 20-1.