Updated on 03/16/2015 9:29AM

American Pharoah’s return adds fuel to fire

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Shigeki Kikkawa
American Pharoah, training last month at Santa Anita, has been lighting it up in his workouts.

Carpe Diem, Dortmund, and Upstart, each among the leading 2-year-olds from last year, all have already raced and won this year, creating buzz both individually and collectively toward the May 2 Kentucky Derby. But the horse adjudged the best of his generation last year is ready to step back into the ring.

American Pharoah, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male, is set for his return Saturday in the Grade 2, $750,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the first of just two preps he is scheduled to have before the Derby. His race will be closely watched because a powerful victory could make American Pharoah the favorite for the Derby.

This will be the first race for American Pharoah since Sept. 27, when he won the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita in his third start and his first try around two turns. He would have been the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but was withdrawn the week of the race, given time off, and did not work again until Feb. 2.

:: DERBY WATCH: Top 20 list | Kentucky Derby: Who's hot, who's not

As a result, American Pharoah comes into the Rebel off just six workouts. It’s an abbreviated tab for a 1 1/16-mile race following more than three months of inactivity, but he has gone so well in his last couple of works, and showed so much natural talent last year, that he will be a deserving heavy favorite.

“He’s just a very, very brilliant horse,” said his trainer, Bob Baffert, who also has the outstanding Derby prospect Dortmund. “He does everything so easy.”

American Pharoah – bred and owned by Ahmed Zayat – has been highly regarded since he first came to Baffert last year. He trained so sharply prior to his debut at Del Mar that he went off at 7-5 against what proved to be a loaded maiden field. But he misbehaved in the paddock and post parade and finished fifth of nine.

Baffert had touted American Pharoah as his best 2-year-old. Someone sitting in Baffert’s box remarked after the race that if that was his best 2-year-old, he was in trouble.

“He freaked out,” Baffert said, referring to American Pharoah. “He was wearing blinkers, and I think he felt closed in. He got upset in the paddock, got mad going to the gate. It was really disappointing.”

Baffert took the blinkers off American Pharoah for his subsequent works, and he continued to train sharply, so Baffert decided to trust his instincts and made the late decision to run American Pharoah as a maiden in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Since Baffert hadn’t originally planned on sending American Pharoah in the race, Martin Garcia, who had ridden American Pharoah in his debut, had already committed to another Baffert colt, Holiday Camp. Victor Espinoza was open.

“I basically picked him up at the draw,” Baffert said.

Without blinkers, with Espinoza, and following several schooling sessions in the paddock, American Pharoah ran like he had trained.

“He ran off the screen,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah got a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 while winning the seven-furlong race by nearly five lengths.

Twenty-four days later, American Pharoah stretched out to 1 1/16 miles in the FrontRunner at Santa Anita and again romped, this time by 3 1/4 lengths, again recording a 101 Beyer. He thus became the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

But four days before the Juvenile, the day after entries were taken, American Pharoah was scratched. Baffert at the time said he hoped the injury was a “deep, deep foot bruise.” Zayat on Feb. 3 said he thought American Pharoah hurt a suspensory ligament, but that the injury could not be detected via X-rays or ultrasound. This past week, Baffert said he did not want to get into specifics.

“We don’t discuss injuries,” he said. “We gave him enough time. Now we’re good.”

American Pharoah got two months off while remaining in Baffert’s Santa Anita barn. His first baby steps back were walking under tack at the barn.

“He didn’t lose physical condition,” Baffert said. “I kept him light so he wouldn’t get heavy.”

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

American Pharoah did not go back to the track until Jan. 3, when he merely jogged. After doing that and then progressing to gallops, he was ready for his first work Feb. 2. He has had six works, all within 33 days, the last three at six or seven furlongs. The most recent was a dazzling six-furlong gate drill last Friday in 1:10.40 in which he galloped out a full mile.

“He just galloped around there,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah flew to Arkansas on Wednesday. If he comes back as good as he left, this Derby chase is about to get a lot more interesting.

– additional reporting by David Grening

A prrevious version of this article incorrectly stated that American Pharoah was scratched from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile five days before the race. He was scratched four days before the race.

Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
just take one of the California Horses. They always seem to be further along as 3 yr olds I hope Baffert trains until he's 100. Every year this guy has a stud
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
AMEN and AH-MEN!
mike More than 1 year ago
Hey Boyd,were the 7 horses under your hero's care that died "studs" also? Interested how his royal screw up can be easily forgotten at the horses expenses. I've stated probably six years ago he won't win another Derby in his lifetime. He doesn't deserve it.
Marshall Field More than 1 year ago
Still like carpet diem for Derby
Mark Boyd More than 1 year ago
Gus Fring-- How wonderful would it be if I told you what the superfecta will be on the first Saturday in May and don't tell me that this is just another race. That is so wrong!!! Those people who always say that are lost and they just want you to speed handicap 1 race a minute all day long so you can get onto the next race...
flash gordon More than 1 year ago
If American Pharoah runs back to form and Dortmund continue his winning ways look out.Baffert will have a deadly combo for the derby.Just like Congeree and Point Given in 2001.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
ugh, well that wouldn't be good. Isn't that the year Monarchos won? I think Congeree ran 3rd.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Yes but Who won the war? Point Given HOY?
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
This may be a paid workout or it could see a couple of horses come to the fore... The Truth or Else, Madefromlucky, or possibly Bold Conquest appear to be the only competition AP will face. None of the runners appear on paper to get within 5 lengths of AP. I doubt that Baffert will want to push very hard, and will want to keep the winning margin narrow so as not to take much out of him. I've posted elsewhere: This is the most anticipated return since Lazarus!.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Made from lucky, the truth or else, will give american pharaoh all he can handle at rebel. I wouldn't be surprised if they beat the pharaoh lol so when I bet I will respect and have all these 3 horses in top!!!!
tommy More than 1 year ago
Watch out guys, this horse has speed!! He is much faster than Dortmund, and has a better jockey in victor Espinoza!! Why do you think baffert gave American pharaoh to Espinoza than to Martin Garcia?? Garcia was jealous watching Espinoza win all grade 1 races with American pharaoh!! American pharaoh is a better bet than Dortmund at the derby!! If American pharaoh can do 1 1/16 @ 1:41 or better at oak lawn on a very cold day on a heavy track , I will say he will be a big contender for the kentucky derby and I will bet him!!!!
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Espinoza a better Jock than Garcia? This is the first I've heard anyone say that. Interesting.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Yea well Garcia did not even get 4th in the kentucky derby ever!!! Lol he's a loser!! When I do my vo2 max, jockey research, trainer research, fixed race research, I usually am the winner!!! Look up Martin Garcia and see his triple crown highlights on equibase. He did not even get 4th in kentucky derby ever!! How u Is he suppose to win with Dortmund??? They will be shaking not knowing how to handle the speeds, keep pace, and one bump and he's out!!
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
just so you know its horse racing not jockey racing..even gutierrez won in his first derby mount with ILL HAVE ANOTHER.as did STEWARD ELLIOT and GARCIA is better than them.
Tim More than 1 year ago
Umm, if you had read the article, it explains that Baffert hadn't orginally intended to run American Pharoah in the Del Mar Futurity, so Garcia took another mount. Then when Baffert reconsidered, he had to go with Espinoza.
mrbascum More than 1 year ago
A California horse won last years derby, so a New York horse will probably win this year. It's like when a long shot wins the first race the favorite usually wins the second.
Bob More than 1 year ago
Could you imagine if it was that simple. LOL
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
yup..that goes into the fantasy myths category along with every grey wins when the track is muddy.and others.
Debbie Gardner More than 1 year ago
I really hope AP does very well in the Rebel stakes, and comes into the Derby the favorite, so I can get better odds on which ever I end up picking between Upstart, Dortmund, Carpe Diem. At this point anyway. AP has just missed too much critical time preparing for the Ky. Derby, not even a race, but no w/o's for a very long time is not good. The same with Texas Red, but maybe not to the same degree as AP. That's just a lot of time to be off and run in a 20 horse cavalry charge at a 1 1/4 miles. imo anyway.
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
TOO BAD KENTUCKIAN GOT SUCH A LATE START, IF I WAS TRAINING HIM AND/OR OWNED HIM, HE WOULD GO IN THE LIGHTEST FIFTY POINTER AVAILABLE, AND SEE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN. HE JUST WORKED AT GOLDEN GATE IN 1:08.4 IN SATURDAY'S LAST RACE, HIS FIRST LIFETIME RACE. ME THINKS HE IS THE BEST THREE YEAR OLD IN AMERICA, AND HE HAS THE KING AND RUSSELL BAZE IMHO
tommy More than 1 year ago
Jim your a trainer for horses?? What license do you have??? I am a board certified exercise physiologist and a nutritionist as well. I have conducted numerous research studies on rehabilitation and exercise performance! I have recently conducted a research study on cardiovascular adaptations to interval and long distance aerobic training in dogs! I'm working on getting my trainers license for horses and plan to own and train a race horse.
mike More than 1 year ago
If you're actually going to own/train,I fell sorry for the poor horse.
flash gordon More than 1 year ago
Geez ,stop touting this horse. wait til he win a race other than a maiden and run farther than 6 furlongs
GARY More than 1 year ago
Hey Flash, they all gotta start somewhere. The thing about Kentuckian is his breeding. the only other horse that mare dropped is the fastest first time starter ever and now is a highly touted stallion, Beyer was 114