03/15/2015 10:51AM

Watchmaker: American Pharoah yet to face true test


It speaks volumes to his brilliance that in this age of the Breeders’ Cup, American Pharoah managed to win the vote for last year’s champion 2-year-old male despite not having raced after Sept. 27. And it was a thrill to see American Pharoah successfully return Saturday from an injury-related absence in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

But I think we need a small dose of realism here.

Yes, in his first start on a wet track and after a slight bobble at the start that caused a front shoe to become displaced, American Pharoah still romped by more than six lengths. But really, with the massive class edge he had on paper, combined with a huge pace advantage he had on his field that gave him an enormous strategic advantage, should American Pharoah have done anything less?

I know. Untapable, last year’s unanimous Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly, was upset at 1-10 just three races before the Rebel in the Azeri. So all of that edge-on-paper stuff doesn’t guarantee a thing.

Still, American Pharoah, who didn’t even have to draw a deep breath last year when he dominated the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and Grade 1 FrontRunner, leaving subsequent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red almost five lengths back in third in the latter, had as his main competition Saturday Madefromlucky and The Truth Or Else. Madefromlucky struggled in his last start at 1-5 to win a nondescript entry-level allowance race at Gulfstream. The Truth Or Else was a wide-trip second with Lasix in the slowly run Southwest in his last start and was beaten double-digit margins in his three stakes starts last year. Not exactly scary company.

As for American Pharoah’s huge pace advantage, it’s a little tricky making hard comparisons as rain late in the day did change the condition of Oaklawn’s main track. But it does say something that the half-mile and three-quarter splits for the Azeri were 48.96 seconds and 1:13.85, and for the Razorback in race 8, they were 48.26 and 1:12.58, but for the Rebel, they were 49.63 and 1:15.22. It says that no matter how the track might have changed, American Pharoah, as he figured to beforehand, absolutely walked on the early lead.

For me, the big takeaway from American Pharoah’s Rebel effort was not that he was isolated at the finish. It was that the Rebel outing felt just right for him. It was anything but demanding, so he should only build on it.

But if we are being real for a moment here, that does open the door to another matter. American Pharoah now sports three straight brilliant stakes wins. Yet in every one of them, he controlled the pace without any real significant pressure. American Pharoah might get away with that again next time in the Arkansas Derby, but there is no way he will be as fortunate in the Kentucky Derby. Someone in that race will finally hold American Pharoah’s feet to the fire. Maybe he is so good he’ll be able to withstand real pace pressure. Or maybe American Pharoah will do something he has not yet successfully done and effectively rate off the lead. Either way, it’s uncharted territory.

Other Saturday notes

** Like everyone else, I was underwhelmed by Untapable’s uninspiring comeback. And the thing that bothered me most was not that she narrowly lost to Gold Medal Dancer, it was how she was rank on the first turn for no apparent reason.

However, experience has taught me never, ever to write off a champion like Untapable, especially after just one unsatisfying outing. Champions have an uncanny knack of coming back, and if anyone has earned a pass for one sub-par effort, it is Untapable. But I will be disappointed if we don’t see a more characteristic performance from Untapable next time.

** I guess it took her around 18 or 19 starts to put it all together, but late bloomer or not, man, Warren’s Veneda is freaky good right now. Her better-than-seven-length domination of the Santa Margarita was proof that there is no mare in California in her league at this moment.

** Race Day and Midnight Hawk aren’t top handicap horses, but they are good horses and demonstrated such separating themselves from the rest of the field in the Razorback. I have often wondered if Midnight Hawk wouldn’t be a much more accomplished horse if he didn’t have a tendency to hang.

**Finally, a quick word about Donworth, the 3-year-old colt who made his debut at Gulfstream Saturday with glowing recommendations from DRF Clockers, and correctly so. I could detail all the trouble Donworth overcame, and it still wouldn’t have the impact a look at the replay would, so I strongly suggest checking that out. Simply put, Donworth, a Graham Motion-trained son of Tiznow, has the brightest of futures.

Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
private private More than 1 year ago
I have read all the comments here with regards to American Pharoahs race. Seems like alot of other post in here just to bash other peoples point of view. Love him or Hate him, American Pharoah and his Connections did a very good job at doing what they had to do in the Rebel. 1, Prove he can ship and Win. 2, Prove he is back healthy from his injury 3, Finish the race and come out of it sound. Many posts here in this blog, all they want to do is bash AP effort. I think Bob Baffert did something very smart and let me point out what it was. 1 month before the Rebel while AP was still in training Baffert said he will take AP to Oaklawn. This was a very smart thing to do, WHY you ask, Well may have kept other strong horses away from the Race. There was 4 Derby Preps in 7 days ( Gotham, TB derby, San Felipe and the Rebel ). Dont you think its funny that all the other races come up harder and the Rebel came up more easy. Yes it was a real shame that D W L's horse got injuried and was not able to start in the Rebel. BUT HEY, Why talk smack about AP and say he dodged the best by going to Oaklawn. Lets take the other side and say Maybe all the others Dodged AP and stayed home. Some say AP should have stayed West and took on Dortmund, but very early on in Jan 2015 Baffert said he would not run Dortmund and AP against each other and that it was Unfair to the connections. Baffert has to do whats right for the horses and he has to give every fair chance to the Owners who spend millions in horse racing. Now that the Rebel is all over and the best horse Won, Of course he should have being that he was voted the 2 years old colt of the year in 2014. They have a race in him and they have all the POINTs they need to enter the K Derby they will be able to test AP more in his next race to see if he can RATE off horses. Like Watchmaker says, no one knows if he can Rate yet, Why? Because he has not done it in a race yet. In his first life time race at Del Mar he seat 3rd going into the 1st turn only to back up and finish back in the field. Would really like to know what happened to him in this race, did he Bleed? But to go from his first race life time and then Enter a G1 and WIN easy. Mind you, it was from POST P # 1 at 7F in hand 108.95 6f - 121.48 7f This race was a big wake up to all the horse racing industry that Baffert had another good one. Love him or hate him, he did what he had to do in the Rebel. The final thing i can say about all those Doubt him, what he has done in his lst 3 races makes us all fear that the Horse We Love for the K Derby is at risk of losing to American Pharoah if this Son of Pioneerof The Nile improves in his next 2 races. Lets all be peaceful and enjoy the ride to the K Derby.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Baffert went to the Rebel because for some reason he likes Oaklawn.
Lenny Mamola More than 1 year ago
My Reasoning..............Quote Baffert""""" He's the best horse I ever trained""" And it looks like it.....................
Mike More than 1 year ago
source? he never said that.
Rick Cook More than 1 year ago
baffert must be getting senile, American pharaoh = verrazzano
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
it sounded good,
Michael . More than 1 year ago
Its always fun to see the East Coast - West Coast Rivalry. Mike W, In your Top 20, how many horses back east have been affected by the weather? How many horses do you think back east that missed key training or a important work out going into a race this last 1 month? Who is the best horse now? really no one knows. Why? because these horses are still growing, gaining weight and learning some racing skills. We all have our 1,2 or 3 Favorite horses at this point on the way to the derby. There has been Horses like Bodemeister who never raced at 2 years old (had 4 starts before the derby). We have had horses like California Chrome who was well seasoned with many races entering the Derby. Like every Derby, the winner will need Luck, Health, Fitness and Experience. Is the point system good for the game? Is the earnings system good for the game? Maybe we need more Trainers like the late Charlie Whittingham ! Never run a horse before his time, let him grow into himself before you take on something so hard like the Triple Crown.
Marc Rogala More than 1 year ago
Excellent comment Mike and remember an east coast horse will always beat a west coast horse :) legends ar e made on the east coast one shot wonders are made on the west coast!
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
You have got to be kidding Marc. Years ago maybe. But, clearly the best horses are on the west coast these days.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
This is a game in motion Frank, always.
Rick Cook More than 1 year ago
east coast is better overall every year.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Every track has amazing horses. The other day I bet mountaineer, and the horse ran a 6 furlong race @ 1:08 on a sloppy track. It was a Madein special weight race , and I'm sure if that horse were to race in a grade 1 at Santa Anita, Saratoga, Belmont, gulfstream, he would be the winner.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
You do realize horses from Mahoning Valley are competative at Mountaineer?
douglas rutherford More than 1 year ago
Far Right in many sports writer mind have been saying that he is the king at oaklawn . why did they dodge the Rebel hmmmmmmmmmm that was a sign of weakness
CraigACantrell More than 1 year ago
I get it regarding he might be a need the lead type but with what I have seen run so far he is head and shoulders above any 3yr old racing...I just don't think this crop of 3yr olds are that good...only one that could maybe get within 3 lengths of AP is CD, and it's a iffy maybe at that...this is Baffert's next KD winner if he stays healthy.
Rick Cook More than 1 year ago
carpe diem just ran at least 6 lengths better than American pharaoh and he was never asked to run he was also coming off a 4 month layoff. if American pharaoh gets a 100 beyer then carpe diem should have got a 110.
Mike More than 1 year ago
no rick, diem was ridden aggressively in the stretch so they could get something out of the race. watch more closely.
Rick Cook More than 1 year ago
ive watch it 5 times he hit him once at the top of the stretch and tapped him one more time at the 16th pole. that race absolutely towered over American pharoahs race
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the heads up about Donworth. You were right, he was impressive in a race filled with trouble, yet he took it in stride. Had to smile in the objection, as it was clear, to me at least, that Sir Alfred came out into Donworth and not the other way around. Guess it doesn't hurt to try to steal one that way. I could just as easily put American Pharoah at the top of my Derby list, but I would have to "explain" it, whereas with Dortmund, his record speaks for itself. He's at the top because of what he has done, not what I think and hope he can do, like American Pharoah.
Lefty More than 1 year ago
Midnight Hawk wouldn’t be a much more accomplished horse if he didn’t have a tendency to hang. I kind of agree, the biggest problem is he can't go past a mile. Plus he might be an inbetweener kind of horse. There is no perfect distance for him. However he does have talent, but not a specific race that he could run and have the perfect chance to win.
Michael Infurna More than 1 year ago
Great article on AP. He did what he had to do Saturday but lets see what happens when he gets hooked or goes 1 1/4. I'd expect we would see a different horse than this overhyped animal..
russell More than 1 year ago
Paul G- I hope you bet AP with both fists.
Paul G More than 1 year ago
Wow, I don't think my betting will change the odds much.