Updated on 04/15/2015 8:22AM

American Pharoah dominates Arkansas Derby

Coady Photography
American Pharoah rolls to an eight-length victory under Victor Espinoza in the Arkansas Derby.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - American Pharoah  cemented his status as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, with a commanding eight-length win in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Displaying a new dimension, he sat off the pace, overtook the leader on the final turn, and then opened up on the field, winning in hand before an estimated ontrack crowd of 67,500.

“We were hoping for that and he gave it to us,” said winning trainer Bob Baffert. “He’s always been something special from the start.”

American Pharoah, the champion 2-year-old male of 2014 who closed as the favorite in the latest pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, was winning his fourth straight graded stakes in a streak that started last September when he won his maiden in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity in his second career start. He proceeded to capture the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita and then opened his 3-year-old season with a 6 1/4-length win in last month’s Grade 2, $750,000 Rebel Stakes.

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

Far Right finished second in the Arkansas Derby, while it was another three-quarters of a length back in third to Mr. Z. American Pharoah and Mr. Z both race for Zayat Stables, the ownership that also races Kentucky Derby prospect El Kabeir. 

American Pharoah ($2.20) broke well and settled off the pace set by Bridget’s Big Luvy, who was up by about three lengths through an opening quarter in 22.77 seconds. American Pharoah continued to stalk that rival though a half-mile in 45.99, then overtook him after six furlongs in 1:10.54. American Pharoah then shuttled clear of his foes and went on to cover the 1 1/8 miles on a track rated fast in 1:48.52.

“The way this horse runs is unbelievable,” said winning rider Victor 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.”

American Pharoah picked up 100 Kentucky Derby eligibility points for the win and now sits fourth overall in points with 160. Far Right earned 40 points for second and is sitting 10th on the list with 62; Mr. Z earned 20 for third and ranks 18th on the list with 34; and Madefromlucky earned 10 to rank 21st on latest rankings, with 30.

Baffert said American Pharoah would ship from Oaklawn straight to Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby will be run on May 2. Ron Moquett, who trains Far Right, said the horse’s shipping plans for the Kentucky Derby are to be determined, while D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Mr. Z, said the horse would advance for the Kentucky Derby.

 American Pharoah earned $600,000 for his win in the Arkansas Derby, to push his career earnings to $1,411,500. He is a son of Pioneerof the Nile and was bred in Kentucky by Zayat Stables.

The Arkansas Derby closed out the meet. Oaklawn handled $12,460,493 on the 12-race card from all sources Saturday.