The superlatives flowed following American Pharoah’s incredible win in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) as the Zayat Stables’ homebred rolled by some eight lengths in his final test before the May 2 Kentucky Derby (G1).
American Pharoah, who had been on the lead at every call in his previous three wins, showed another dimension today as he sat off the hot pace set by Bridget’s Big Luvy, who zipped through splits of :22.77 and :45.99. Victor Espinoza had the bay colt poised to strike any time, and moved effortless to the front while getting six furlongs in 1:10.54.
Though Espinoza didn’t ask him at any point, the Bob Baffert trainee left the field far behind in the stretch with a stretch that reminded many of Zayat and Baffert’s brilliant 2012 Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister. Espinoza let his mount coast under the wire at his leisure, getting the 1 1/8-miles in 1:48.52.
"Bob was concerned if (American Pharoah) would rate. He showed me today he will rate," said assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, who deputized for Baffert on Saturday.
"He's matured substantially," Baffert said. "We just worried about getting a clean break and he did, and then Victor rode him with a lot of confidence. When that other horse (Bridget's Big Luvy) got off to that lead, it was either that he's going to rate or he's going to be empty today. He's a good horse and he keeps moving forward. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but Dortmund is another one who we don't yet know how good he is. We've got a one-two punch and that's a good position to be in."
“The way this horse runs is unbelievable,” added Espinoza. “I don’t feel like he’s running that fast and then I look back and he’s so far ahead. He was doing it by himself and doing it easy.”
Baffert will now take American Pharoah on to Churchill Downs, where he likely will be one of the top choices for the 141st Run for the Roses. After the $600,000 payday, American Pharoah has won $1,411,500. He has won four of five starts, all in graded stakes.