Hot Springs, Ark. (Saturday, March 14, 2015) – Making his first start since Sept. 27 and his first start outside his home state of California, American Pharoah proved why he is among the early Kentucky Derby favorites with a dominating 6 ¼ length victory in Saturday’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. An estimated crowd of 30,000 was on hand to witness the 2014 Champion Juvenile Male splash home a winner in a final time of 1:45 3/5 for 1 1/16 on a track labeled sloppy by post time.
Breaking from post four under jockey Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah was the quickest out of the gate and proceeded to take full control of the race through easy fractions of :24 2/5 and :49 3/5 for the first half mile. The champion, who had maintained a comfortable one length advantage down the backstretch, began to shake clear of his competition entering the stretch and widened his lead through the stretch under a hand ride by Espinoza.
“He was very impressive,” said Espinoza, who picked up his second Kentucky Derby victory last year with California Chrome. “He’s an amazing horse. The first time I rode him, (trainer) Bob (Baffert) said he’s the real deal. Bob’s a Hall of Famer, so he knows. Bob was confident, so that made me confident. He is a tremendous horse. He has a lot of talent and he loves to run. This is an amazing horse.”
The Todd Pletcher-trained Madefromlucky made a mild move, but had to settle for second place. Bold Conquest, who had finished fourth in the Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 22 improved to be third in the Rebel and he was followed by The Truth or Else, Paid Admission, Sakima and Tizwonderfulcreek.
“You always hope that he's as good as he's been showing us in the mornings and he was today,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who was winning his fifth Rebel Stakes in six years. “His right front shoe wasn't on right, and when he can run like that all the way around with it like that, it shows you how good he is. This was the perfect kind of race on the comeback, and it's pretty exciting.”
Bafferts other Rebel winners were champion 3-year-old Lookin at Lucky (2010), The Factor (2011), Secret Circle (2012) and Hoppertunity (2014).
American Pharoah, who was winning for the third time in four career starts, has now improved his bankroll to $811,500. The Zayat Stable homebred by Pioneerof the Nile returned $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10 as the heavy 2-5 favorite.
The Rebel victory earned him 50 points toward eligibility for the Kentucky Derby and moved him into fifth place on the leader board. Madefromlucky earned 20 points and jumped into 10th place, just behind the Oaklawn-based Far Right, winner of the Smarty Jones and Southwest (G3) Stakes. Far Right skipped the Rebel and is pointing for the Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11 where he could meet American Pharoah in their final prep before heading on to Kentucky.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Oaklawn with a 1:30 p.m. first post.