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Road to the Derby analysis: Arkansas Derby
Grade 1, $1 million, Arkansas Derby, 1 1/8 miles, Oaklawn Park, April 11, 2015
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)
Winner: American Pharoah
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Owner: Zayat Stables, LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 105
AMERICAN PHAROAH solidified his position as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby on May 2 with this laughably easy win, his fourth straight since a debut loss that has become an outlier in an otherwise brilliant, flawless career.
This was his third victory in a race with points offered toward a Kentucky Derby berth. Back in September, American Pharoah won the FrontRunner Stakes to become the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race he ultimately was forced to miss.
He returned off a lengthy layoff and splashed to victory in the Rebel, after which I opined that he would move forward off that race owing to the tight schedule he had been under to make the Rebel. Back at Santa Anita in the weeks between the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, American Pharoah trained sensationally, with enthusiastic gallops and dazzling workouts that indicated he was continuing to do even better. Then he went out and ran like he had trained, coasting home under jockey Victor Espinoza, who won last year’s Derby on California Chrome.
In the Arkansas Derby, American Pharoah went into the first turn outside the longshot BRIDGET’S BIG LUVY, who was intent on the lead. This afforded American Pharoah the chance to sit off a target. He was about 2 1/2 lengths behind the leader entering the backstretch, then moved up to engage Bridget’s Big Luvy on the far turn as MR. Z ranged up three paths wide.
American Pharoah hit the front near the quarter pole, and his ears went straight up, a sign he was going well within himself. He cruised through the lane under merely a hand ride from Espinoza, who never even drew his whip. With about 50 yards to go, Espinoza started to ease up on American Pharoah, who crossed the wire in 1:48.52 for 1 1/8 miles.
The time was a bit slower than that turned in by the older horse Race Day when winning the Oaklawn Handicap earlier in the day in 1:47.93. Race Day’s fractions were 46.71 for a half-mile and 1:10.51 for six furlongs. American Pharoah, based on how far he was behind Bridget’s Big Luvy at those points of call, ran his first half in approximately 46.50 seconds and his first six furlongs in about 1:10.70.
This was a dominant performance, and a fairly easy one at that, which should leave American Pharoah in position for another big effort three weeks hence. His trainer, Bob Baffert, is sitting with a strong hand as he also trains the unbeaten Dortmund, as well as One Lucky Dane, the 1-2 finishers from the Santa Anita Derby.
FAR RIGHT, who ran on for second, trailed the eight-horse field early, began to rally with three furlongs remaining, was in the two path much of the far turn before being fanned to the four path entering the stretch, was guided to the middle of the track, and closed with interest while never getting near the winner. He picked up 40 points and secured a spot in the Derby field.
Mr. Z held on for third, and though this was his 11th straight loss since a debut win last June, he picked up enough points to get a spot in the Derby field, which would give his owners, Zayat Stables, three runners, along with American Pharoah and El Kabeir. Mr. Z, who stirred a bit in the gate – apparently in reaction to the fractiousness of Bridget’s Big Luvy – broke a bit to the outside at the start, was inside rivals in third heading into the first turn, then was guided outside American Pharoah while going around the first turn. He made a nice run around the far turn while three paths wide to get to the hip of American Pharoah with a quarter-mile to go, but like every other horse in here, watched American Pharoah sail off into the sunset. Mr. Z drifted out through the final furlong and surrendered second in the closing yards to Far Right.
MADEFROMLUCKY, who finished fourth, was bumped at the start but ended up in a gorgeous spot heading around the first turn in fourth, with no one near him. He was asked to try to keep up when THE TRUTH OR ELSE passed him along the rail while going down the backstretch, could not keep pace on the far turn, fell back as though he might finish far back, but steadily kept to his task while one-paced and passed some tired rivals in the lane.
BOLD CONQUEST, who finished fifth, had no early speed after being jostled between horses leaving the gate and was in front of only Far Right heading into the first turn. He was outrun heading into the far turn and fell back to last, made a decent run along the rail in upper stretch, but failed to sustain enough momentum to get a better placing.
WIN THE SPACE, who was sixth, started from the outside post and was three paths wide entering the first turn, was forced to remain wide down the backstretch and ended up three to four lanes wide on the far turn, made a good run to get within hailing distance of the leaders nearing the quarter pole, was then pushed wider still by The Truth Or Else, but hung in there as best he could. Considering how overmatched he looked on paper, to only miss second by 2 1/2 lengths after a wide trip wasn’t a bad performance at all by him, but it also indicts the runners who wound up second through fifth.
The Truth Or Else, who finished seventh, broke a step slow, saved ground near the back of the pack on the first turn, made a sustained, mid-race move down the backstretch to advance as far as third with three furlongs to go, then began to tire, drifted out with a quarter-mile remaining to bump Win the Space, and retreated. He must be a tough horse to ride because this isn’t the first time he’s made that odd, mid-race move. That run might be served best as a late-running sprinter.
Bridget’s Big Luvy was fractious in the gate before the start, broke to his outside, and then took a bump from Mr. Z from his inside, but was intent on getting to the front, and did so before reaching the wire for the first time, took the bit aggressively to lead American Pharoah around the turn and into the backstretch, began to tire while still leading with three furlongs to go, came under an aggressive ride midway on the far turn, but had nothing to offer and faded.
Wow, wow, wow, how good might this colt be? His performance on Saturday was simply breathtaking! This is one very, veryspecial horse! Did you see what he did,as soon as he was allowed to take the lead, at the top of the stretch? His ears went straight forward, and stayed that way all the way down the stretch, as he cruised down the lane, under wraps the hole way, in 1:48 and change.. He could have run in 1:46 and change if asked! Let me tell you, you would be hard-pressed to find another horse, anywhere in the World today, that can move like this guy can on dirt, at this level.. His stride is almost other wordly, it’s that special.. He loves the lead, but he just proved to everyone, he doesn’t need it to win! If he’s allowed to take the lead, at the top of stretch, in the Derby, there not going to catch him! He is just so talented, I believe this colt can run a hole thru the wind, if he wants too! The only colt with a chance his Dortmund, he’s not as naturally talented, but his courage might overcome all odds! Believe me, whoever is looking this guy in the eye, the last 100 yds, is going to think there looking into the eyes of a Siberian tiger, getting ready to bite your head off! These two(2) might give us all a Spring to remember, and yes, I think either one of these colts is capable of winning the Triple Crown, if Bob can hold them together! Everyone better hope these guys come out of post 19 & 20, and knock each other down! But, if you like others, you still have a chance, as some will take a huge step forward, in the coming weeks, and surprise us all.. I usually pick the Derby winner, 5 for 5, the last five, including the trifectas, so if you need some help this year, be sure to follow me on Twitter, @saratogajack, as I’ll be giving my impressions on all the horses, and their workouts at Churchill this year.. Best of luck to all, should be a dandy!
Thanks Tommy for your advice on American pharoah. We hope to progress our training as scheduled. I'm worried about having a foot issue training on the firm dirt surface at Churchill. Do you recommend long slow distances or short fast handily workouts getting in more gate work?? Thanks for all your help.
The rest of the field finished clumped together, which means American Pharoah ran fast, but the others really were bad. Even the author writes about Win The Space "Considering how overmatched he looked on paper, to only miss second by 2 1/2 lengths after a wide trip wasn’t a bad performance at all by him, but it also indicts the runners who wound up second through fifth."
Quite honestly this race looked like a work instead of a race. The fractions were more than honest. If he moves forward he will be one tough customer come May 2nd. As for Dortmund, he looked like he was used a bit in the last 2 races. Why g to the whip in the Santa Anita Derby at all? Was he reminding the horse, or was he trying to stop?...Right now, I have American Pharoah, Mubtaahij, and Carpe Diem, one, two, three...Dortmund will have to dig deep to beat these 3...
This one is special but so is Dortmund I cannot wait for this Derby BOB one two three?
People stop the foolish argument WHO DID THEYBEAT !!!! They best everyone presented to them ... It's like asking who did Jordan's Bulls ever best. It's ridiculous.
competition was 2nd tier, but those were legitimate derby-like fractions. if anything AP proved he can stay near a hot pace and not get toasted
that really was a breathtaking performance - I don't care what he beat - so smooth, never asked, cruising at a high speed, geared down and got a 105 Beyer. Damn. and what I still also love about AP's stablemate Dortmund - he does not want to lose. and neither of these horses need the lead. Do ya think Baffert is loaded? Wow
Pharaoh, Dortmund, and Diem now, but it will be Punctuate, Cozmic One, and Jess's Dream in 2015!