American Pharoah is trying to become just the third horse to win Oaklawn’s two biggest races for 3-year-olds, and the Kentucky Derby. Sunny’s Halo (1983) and Smarty Jones (2004) won the Rebel and Arkansas Derby before capturing the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Nine other horses won the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, but didn’t win the Kentucky Derby: Swift Ruler (1965), Traffic Mark (1969), Temperence Hill (1980), Bold Ego (1981), Demons Begone (1987), Pine Bluff (1992) and Victory Gallop (1998), Lawyer Ron (2006) and Curlin (2007). Pine Bluff and Curlin did go on to win the Preakness Stakes, while Temperence Hill and Victory Gallop went on win the Belmont Stakes.
Swift Ruler finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby. Traffic Mark was fourth. Temperence Hill wasn’t nominated to the race, while Bold Ego finished 10th, Demons Begone was pulled up (bled), Pine Bluff was fifth, Victory Gallop was second, Lawyer Ron was 12th and Curlin was third.
American Pharoah scored runaway victories in the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11. The country’s champion 2-year-old male, remained the 3-1 favorite in advance wagering Saturday morning.
Sunny's Halo and Smarty Jones are the only Arkansas Derby winners to capture the Kentucky Derby.
Talk Derby to Me
Ramon Vazquez, Oaklawn’s second-leading jockey this year, will be making his Kentucky Derby debut aboard Mr. Z Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Vazquez, 31, rode Mr. Z for the first time in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11, when the Malibu Moon colt finished a distant third behind runaway winner American Pharoah.
Vazquez was a riding star in his native Puerto Rico before moving to the United States in the spring of 2011.
“I always dreamed about many things, and I did them in Puerto Rico,” Vazquez said. “Now, in my new dreams, I want to do it in the U.S.”
Vazquez has already ridden in Latin America’s biggest race, the Clasico del Caribe, but said the Kentucky Derby represents the biggest moment in his career.
“All Puerto Rican jockeys want to ride and win the Clasico del Caribe, but all the jockeys worldwide want to win or just be in the Kentucky Derby,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez said he will try to treat the Kentucky Derby as just another race, but he’s leaned on Puerto Rico riding icons Angel Cordero Jr. and John Velazquez – both members of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame – for advice.
Cordero is a three-time Kentucky Derby winner (1974, 1976 and 1985). Velazquez won the 2011 Kentucky Derby aboard Animal Kingdom and will ride Blue Grass winner Carpe Diem in Saturday’s race.
“Angel and Johnny told me to break good and try and get position,” Vazquez said.
Mr. Z, who is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, drew post position 17 for Saturday’s 1 ¼-mile race. Mr. Z was 30-1 in advance wagering Saturday morning.
Ruben Munoz, the agent for three-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr., represented Vazquez in Hot Springs.
Vazquez began riding for Lukas late in the meeting and guided Hillbilly Royalty to a March 29 maiden victory and Henry Jones to an entry-level allowance victory April 1. Vazquez then picked up the mount on Mr. Z.
“We won for him,” Munoz said, referring to Lukas, “so the timing was perfect.”
Vazquez is based this spring and summer at Prairie Meadows in Iowa, but said he hopes competing on racing’s biggest stage for the first time will open more doors professionally.
“The Derby is ridden by 20 riders, and I am blessed to be one of them,” Vazquez said. “I know that eventually I will be noticed.”
Vazquez has 1,995 career North American victories according to Equibase, the bulk coming from 2002-2010 in Puerto Rico.
Trainer Ron Moquett is no stranger to running horses on Kentucky Derby Day, but it will be a much different scene Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Moquett, a Fort Smith, Ark., native and Oaklawn regular, will have his first Kentucky Derby starter in multiple stakes winner Far Right.
“It will be like you’re pumped up going into the ring for a fight,” Moquett said. “It’s going to be exciting and emotional. It’s something every trainer should have a chance to do.”
Moquett saddled Far Right to victories in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 19 and the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 22 – Oaklawn’s first two major Kentucky Derby prep races. Far Right, in his last start, came from well off the pace under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to finish second, beaten eight lengths, by American Pharoah in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11.
Moquett said he believes the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby, which is an eighth of a mile longer than the Arkansas Derby, and a potentially hot pace will benefit Far Right.
“I feel good,” Moquett said. “The chaos that ensues on the first turn, and the energy expended, will be a good thing for us.”
Far Right, who drew post 20, was 38-1 in advance wagering Saturday morning.
Moquett has 510 career North American victories since saddling his first winner in 1998, according to Equibase. He has a home adjacent to Oaklawn’s backstretch.