03/14/2015 7:30PM

American Pharoah romps despite displaced shoe in Rebel

Coady Photography
American Pharoah, making his first start since September, romps by 6 1/4 lengths under Victor Espinoza in the Rebel Stakes.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - American Pharoah confirmed his ranking as a major player on the Kentucky Derby trail on Saturday, when he overcame a host of difficult circumstances to win his 3-year-old debut by 6 1/4 lengths in the Grade 2, $750,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

“It was a big day,” trainer Bob Baffert said of the successful return of American Pharoah, the champion 2-year-old male of 2014.

American Pharoah won on a track downgraded to sloppy on a rainy afternoon, despite the fact his right front shoe was displaced following an awkward start. He proceeded to lead the field past every pole to pick up 50 points Kentucky Derby eligibility points in his first race since Sept. 27.

“He showed us he can relax and enjoy very, very hard, hard circumstances,” said Ahmed Zayat, who bred and owns American Pharoah. “This is not ideal. The race on paper was for him to lose. He’s a legitimate 1-5 like the bettors made him, but it’s different when you’re on the track. He hadn’t run since September.”

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

American Pharoah ($2.80) moved right before the start of the Rebel, stumbled, grabbed himself and was later found to have a sprung, or displaced, a  shoe, said Baffert. The horse proceeded to take quick command of Saturday’s race, doling out fractions of 24.41 seconds for the opening quarter, 49.63 for the half-mile, and 1:15.22 for six furlongs. He opened up on his rivals in the stretch, and was all alone at the wire while covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.78.

Jockey Victor Espinoza called the race an easy one for American Pharoah. The horse was making just the fourth start of his career – and winning his third graded stakes. American Pharoah won his maiden in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity in his second career out Sept. 3, and then captured the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita. He was racing on a wet track for the first time and shipping outside of Southern California for the first time for the Rebel.

Baffert said American Pharoah’s next move is to be determined. . Zayat said key options include the Arkansas Derby.

Madefromlucky rallied from just off the pace for second in the Rebel and in the process picked up 20 Kentucky Derby eligibility points. He was 2 1/2lengths clear of third-place finisher Bold Conquest, who earned 10, while it was another 1  1/4 lengths back in fourth to The Truth Or Else, who picked up five points for the Kentucky Derby.

American Pharoah is a son of Pioneerof the Nile and was bred in Kentucky. He earned $450,000 for his win in the Rebel to lift his career earnings to $811,500. American Pharoah is sitting fifth on the current Kentucky Derby points leader board with a total of 60.

The Rebel was the final local stepping-stone to the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 11.

Baffert was winning his fifth Rebel in the last six years, with his other winners Lookin At Lucky (2010), The Factor (2011), Secret Circle (2012), and Hoppertunity (2014). 

Attendance on-track was an estimated 30,000. Handle on the 11-race card from all sources was $8,443,176, with $2 million of that amount bet on-track Saturday.