Mark down the date, Monday June 1, 2015. On this day, one of the most important workouts in recent memory will take place under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs. American Pharoah will breeze for the last time before chasing history this Saturday in the Belmont Stakes.
The colt's every stride, every step will be monitored by the media, clockers and race fans.
"I don't sleep will the night before a work," said Pharoah's Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. "Tomorrow morning I'll be a little nervous for the work, hoping that it's going to go as planned. The horse is showing me that he wants to do something and that he's happy."
Three times, Baffert has gone to Belmont with a chance to become racing's 12th Triple Crown champion and three times he's been denied. But with Pharoah, the fourth time might be the charm. On Sunday, the colt made another terrific appearance during his regular gallop at the Downs. Baffert believes his runner is eager for another workout as the trainer tried to fine tune his star leading up to Pharoah's date with destiny. He has opted for two workouts in-between the Preakness and the third jewel.
"I didn't want to wait two weeks to work him ( after the Preakness) because after the Arkansas Derby when I worked him, he was a little too fresh", Baffert said. When we get to Belmont, we don't want him to go too fast early, we want him to get into that fast cruising speed that he had."
And it's that special cruising speed that makes him at least an even-money favorite for the Belmont Stakes.
Well here we go. Let's breakdown the Preakness Stakes ! It's not too tough and looks like a Derby replay:
1. AMERICAN PHAROAH- The morning after the Derby, Bob Baffert was really relieved at his Churchill barn. He knew his colt was brilliant and he knew he had jumped a big hurdle. Pharoah got tested, dug in and won it. His Preakness post isn't that great, but looks like his talent will get him home first again.
2. Dortmund- He could certainly bounce back from his only defeat in Louisville. Did his colic episode hurt his chances in the Derby? It could have. He's game and should hit the board.
3. Mr. Z- Gotta give him credit... He always tries hard. But his 12 race losing streak just won't cut it vs. this bunch.
4. Danzig Moon- Ran a decent Kentucky Derby, and he could get a decent pace to run against. Just seems a cut below
5. Tale of Verve- His camp picked a heck of a time to run in his very first stakes race. A victory in Baltimore would be a Mine That Bird kind of shocker.
6. Bodhisattva- One for one at Pimlico but he's never faced a group this tough.
7. Divining Rod- He's okay...but let's face it, he wasn't good enough to run for the roses.
8. Firing Line- He's the one Pharoah has to worry about. Gary Stevens might end up with a huge edge breaking from the outside post. They should get a really good trip.
I say two jewels for Pharoah, Firing Line second, Dortmund third. Boring pick but it is what it is.
On Sunday morning at Churchill Downs, we witnessed why American Pharoah will be the Kentucky Derby favorite. His five-eighths of a mile workout was sensational ! 58 and 2 as he glided across the track.
Like trainer Bob Baffert says, everything comes so easy for this colt. Pharoah's owner, Ahmed Zayat, says his runner is a freak of nature and that you can't find any chink in the colt's armor.
His two victories at Oaklawn Park this spring were dazzling. Says here Baffert is about to get his fourth garland of roses.
Win: American Pharoah ( just please don't draw post position one!)
Place: Firing Line ( going after some decent odds with him. He's had two close finishes in back of Dortmund, and Firing Line's jockey is Hall of Famer, Gary Stevens, a 3-time Derby winner )
Show: Dortmund ( He is certainly good enough to win it and would be the first undefeated Derby winner since Smarty Jones)
While trainer Bob Baffert holds a pair of aces ( Dortmund and American Pharoah) for the Derby, Larry Jones might be holding a pair of queens for the Kentucky Oaks. This trainer plans to send two talented fillies after the Lillies: likely Oaks favorite, I'm a Chatterbox, and the late-blooming Lovely Maria.
Jones has enjoyed plenty of Oaks success in recent years, having won it with both Proud Spell and Believe You Can, and he could easily get the hat trick in 2015. I'm a Chatterbox comes to Churchill having dominated winter and spring preps at Fair Grounds. She swept that track's trio of stakes for 3-year-old fillies and seemed to improve with each start.
Meantime, Jones' Lovely Maria is peaking at the perfect time. She scored a mighty impressive victory in Keeneland's recent Ashland Stakes. Lovely Maria passed that important test as she notched her first stakes triumph.
So could be tough trying to keep up with the Joneses' come Oaks Day.
As for the Derby contenders, Bob Baffert will be a man in motion come this weekend. On Saturday, the 3-time Derby winner will be in California to oversee his colt Dortmund's final pre-Derby workout. Then Baffert will travel to Louisville to watch American Pharoah's workout at the Downs on Sunday. Sunday's work will draw a media circus, hee hee.
Dortmund's been training up a storm since his terrific Santa Anita Derby victory, while the Pharoah will put in his first serious workout since he roared to that ultra-impressive win in the Arkansas Derby. Over the years, Baffert has brought some special contenders to Louisville for the First Saturday in May, but these two may be the best he's ever had heading into a Derby.
Today at Arlington Park outside Chicago, Derby contender Mubtaahij , the invader from Dubai,worked out. He traveled 3 furlongs. Yes only 3 furlongs. Kinda different I guess. He figures to have a solid foundation as Mubtaahij has this year already raced twice at the distance of a mile and three-sixteenths and won both over in the UAE.
By the time May 2nd rolls around, American Pharoah just might be crowned as the next “America’s Horse”. You see, he’s not only a major threat to capture the Derby roses, the Bob Baffert-trained colt just might end up a major threat to end racing’s Triple Crown drought. Simply put, American Pharoah has been that good this spring.
As he charged down the Oaklawn Park homestretch, track announcer Frank Mirahmadi perhaps said it all on Saturday, when calling those final brilliant strides to the finish line of the Arkansas Derby.
“ American Pharoah, breathtaking, in a mesmerizing performance !” exclaimed Mirahmadi, as the powerful colt galloped to the wire, eight lengths in front of the runner-up. Saturday in Hot Springs, The Pharoah answered some serious questions.
Could he be successful at the distance of a mile and an eighth? Check yes in that box. Could he relax and rate behind a pacesetter? Yes, checkmark. And dating back to his pair of major stakes victories last year, The Pharoah has now won his last four starts by a combined 22 and ¼ lengths.
“The way this horse runs is unbelievable”, said his jockey, Victor Espinoza. The two-time Kentucky Derby winning rider had total control of the Arkansas Derby. American Pharoah’s clocking was one of the fastest in years even considering that Espinoza began gearing the colt down in about the final 150 yards to the finish line.
“We were hoping he could do something like that and he showed it today”, trainer Bob Baffert beamed . “We’re so excited about him”.
It’s good to be Baffert these days because of his tremendous one-two punch heading to Churchill Downs. His Dortmund has put together a terrific run-up to the Derby and will arrive in Louisville undefeated. And while there have been plenty of prep races that have drawn raves for Derby contenders like Dortmund, Carpe Diem, Firing Line and Mubtaahij, American Pharoah’s jaw-dropping performance at Oaklawn just about cinches his role as the favorite for Derby 141
Well after Saturday’s Derby preps, the Florida, Louisiana, and UAE Derbies, we now have the" final four" major preps left: Blue Grass Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, and Arkansas Derby.
As the Wildcats, Badgers, Blue Devils and Spartans gear up for next weekend’s hoops Final Four, there are major Kentucky Derby contenders set to run next Saturday too.
Here’s the updated rankings, starting with Bob Baffert’s dynamic duo.
1. American Pharoah- He is simply the most talented 3-year-old to date. Question is, will just 2 preps this year have him ready to peak at Churchill?
Next up is the Arkansas Derby, which will tell us plenty. Probably needs a stiff challenge at Oaklawn to keep him sharp.
2. Dortmund- All he does is win and he just keeps improving. He’ll go in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. His resume flattered by Firing Line’s dominating performance in the Sunland Park Derby. Dortmund has defeated that guy twice in close finishes. Baffert is loaded again.
3. Carpe Diem- Like Baffert, Todd Pletcher has more than a couple of talented Derby prospects, including this one. Saturday’s Blue Grass is next, and all Carpe Diem needs is a solid effort to remain as one of the Derby’s top favorites.
4. Firing Line- He didn’t defeat much at Sunland Park, but loved the way he performed. Seems to be gearing up for a peak performance come May 2.
5. International Star- Not flashy, but he has been so dependable and consistent and is now the king of New Orleans, having swept the three key prep races at Fair Grounds. Hasn’t faced the high-caliber competition yet, but will on the first Saturday in May.
6.Upstart- must drop him down a notch after not being able to catch Florida Derby winner, Materiality. Still, he fires every time and always tries. Tough runner.
7. Prospect Park- Will knock heads with Dortmund this Saturday. Let’s see if he can step it up at Santa Anita.
8. Far From Over- Will be the likely favorite in Saturday’s Wood Memorial. Has been off a long time, so he needs a strong effort at Aqueduct to keep this Pletcher runner on the right path to Louisville.
9. El Kabeir- Very consistent. He bounced back from his loss to Far From Over (in the Withers) by taking the Gotham Stakes. Already a stakes winner at Churchill Downs.
10. Materiality- Another in the top 10 for trainer Pletcher. Jumped up bigtime to capture the Florida Derby over Upstart. Didn’t race at age 2 so his camp hopes his lack of experience isn’t a factor.
His last race took place in late September, but the long, long layoff did not affect American Pharoah in Saturday's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The Bob Baffert-trained colt splashed his way over a muddy track and captured his 2015 debut by just over six lengths.
"This horse, he does everything so effortlessly", Baffert said following his colt's impressive showing. All winter, the three-time Kentucky Derby- winning conditioner has said American Pharoah could indeed be a very special animal as his morning works looked spectacular leading up to his trip to Arkansas.
Sure, the 2-year-old champ of '14 didn't exactly defeat a stellar field in the Rebel. But he and jockey Victor Espinoza took command of the race right out of the gate and the colt went on to win with confidence. His stride was so fluid and he recorded a Beyer speed figure of 100, a dazzling number considering his last race was so long ago.
Baffert believes the Rebel was a perfect start on the road to Churchill Downs and says the colt's next race could be either back at Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby, or a start in their own backyard in the Santa Anita Derby.
As for the latest Derby Fab Five, I firmly believe it's real, real close for the top 3. Stablemate, Dortmund is a major player, while Todd Pletcher's Carpe Diem is certainly one to watch. But this week, Pharoah rules the roost, jumping up from third to the top spot:
1. American Pharoah
3. Carpe Diem
5. Firing Line
How 'bout that, Bob Baffert runners one-two with about 8 weeks til they line up in Derby 141.
Let's reshuffle the deck of Derby contenders following the San Felipe, Gotham, and Tampa Bay Derby:
1. Dortmund- Remains numero uno after his wire-to-wire win in the San Felipe left his undefeated record intact. Showing terrific progression for 3-time Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert. Santa Anita Derby should be next stop.
2. Carpe Diem- Boy did he ever "seize the day" in the Tampa Bay Derby. This was his first race since the Breeders' Cup in early November. No rust on this guy as he romped by 4 lengths. Looks like his final Kentucky Derby prep with be the Blue Grass Stakes. Was tempted to place him on top.
3. American Pharoah- Finally gearing up for his first race of the year. He'll run in Saturday's Rebel at Oaklawn Park. Will get only 2 preps heading to Churchill, but his talent level is so great that the late start might not matter.
4. Upstart- Pointing to the Wood Memorial. He belongs on the list of top contenders after showing so much improvement from age 2 to age 3.
5. Firing Line- Still say if you like Dortmund, you gotta like this one. Has that fighting spirit, which was on display in both of his close calls vs. Dortmund. Sunland Park Derby next on his dance card.
6. International Star- Not flashy but keeping grinding out solid victories. On tap, the Louisiana Derby.
7. Itsaknockout- Has made great strides in 2015. Eager to see if he stays on that course to Churchill when he runs in the Florida Derby.
8. Far From Over- Getting a break until the Wood, and he also has come a long way in a short period. His last -to-first performance last month at Aqueduct is super encouraging.
9. Prospect Park- Jumping into our top ten for the first time after a solid second in the San Felipe. Will need to come up with another strong race in the Santa Anita Derby to become a major player.
10. El Kabeir- Back on the list after taking the Gotham. Tops in Derby points. Very consistent this year at Aqueduct where he'll get his last Kentucky Derby tuneup in the Wood Memorial.
1. Dortmund- a son of Big Brown, Baffert's got a good one. He won the Robert Lewis in a tough battle vs. Firing Line. It was a hard race so Baffert will likely wait til the Santa Anita Derby for the colt's next start.
2. American Pharoah- Baffert is loaded on the Derby road. This colt has been working well for his 2015 debut, which will be either the San Felipe or the Rebel.
3. Carpe Diem - Todd Pletcher is loaded as well, with a strong hand for the first Saturday in May. The colt is on that 2-race schedule, which I'm not crazy about. His first start will likely be the Tampa Bay Derby.
4. Firing Line- Has had 2 gutsy second place efforts in back of Dortmund. Hopefully, they didn't take the starch out of him. His next start could be the Sunland Derby in a month.
5. Upstart- He dips down one spot from our first list. His Fountain of Youth DQ was a tough beat as he would've been a solid winner had he kept a straight course. Sounds like he might end up next at Aqueduct for the Wood.
6. International Star- wasn't on our first top 10, but gotta give him credit after a professional win in the Risen Star. He's getting better .
7. Itsaknockout- another newcomer to our rankings, but now this Pletcher runner is 3 -for-3 after getting bumped up to first in the Fountain of Youth. Promising.
8. Texas Red- He has a foot issue to deal with and it's flat out bad timing along the road to the Derby.
9. Ocean Knight- Quick -learner on the Derby trail. His next race could be the Gotham or Tampa Bay Derby.
10. Far From Over- Will Pletcher send him to the Gotham or wait til the Wood? The colt's Withers victory was an eye-opener.