American Pharoah continued on his quest for the Triple Crown with a spectacular seven length victory in the $1.5 million Preakness S. (G1), earning Bob Baffert his sixth victory in the race, tying Wayne Lukas’ modern-day record.
The victory set the stage for the Zayat Stables colorbearer to attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in the June 6 Belmont S. (G1).
Facing a much smaller field than he did in the Kentucky Derby (G1) two weeks ago, the Preakness took a twist when a huge downpour hit Pimlico about 10 minutes prior to the start. Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah’s regular rider, hustled his mount quickly out of the gate and moved up on the inside of Mr. Z, who had broke very alertly, as the field passed under the finish line the first time.
Moving to the backstretch, American Pharoah had secured the lead and got into a very nice, relaxed stride over the rain-soaked track. Espinoza seemed to give his mount a breather entering the far turn, as Mr. Z, Dortmund and Divining Rod all looked like they were going to offer a challenge.
American Pharoah had other ideas, though, and at the top of the stretch suddenly drew away from the field. Under a hand ride, he left the rest staggering in his wake, with longshot Tale of Verve weaving his way to second, seven lengths back.
“The weather really concerned me; I got a little bit leery,” said Bob Baffert. “Victor ran a tremendous race and just let him run. He’s a great horse.”
Espinoza said the rains caused him to change his strategy.
“I changed my plan when the rain came,” Espinoza explained. “I decided to go to the lead to stay out of the mud (kickback). At the half-mile pole, I didn’t know where everyone was, I just concentrated on American Pharoah.”
Baffert was asked about the Belmont, but deflected that question saying he just wanted to enjoy the Preakness win.
The winner, a son of the 2009 Derby runner-up Pioneerof Nile, has now won six of seven starts, all in either Grade 1 or 2 stakes. He has earned $3,730,300.
Baffert’s previous Preakness winners are Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Point Given, War Emblem and Lookin at Lucky.