Kentucky Derby Contender Profile: American Pharoah

American Pharoah is the likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby off the strength of his stellar Oaklawn preps, which build upon the foundation of his Eclipse-award winning 2YO campaign. Here’s his road to the Kentucky Derby.

Debut Maiden Race

This was the key maiden race of the summer at Del Mar, featuring upset winner Om, American Pharoah, One Lucky Dane, Calculator, Iron Fist, and Daddy DT. It’s American Pharoah’s only career loss.

Despite still being a maiden, American Pharoah went off favored in the Del Mar Futurity, where he was sharp and ultra-impressive.

Frontrunner Stakes

Next was the Frontrunner, his first distance test at two turns. Passed authoritatively.

Rebel Stakes

An injury sidelined him from the Breeders’ Cup, but Baffert trained him aggressively through mid-winter for American Pharoah’s return in the Rebel at Oaklawn.

Arkansas Derby

He then faced a tougher field in the Arkansas Derby, although it still wasn’t the deepest field. No matter who he beat, he was electric and solidified status as the Kentucky Derby favorite.

American Pharoah has been sensational on the track, and is undefeated around two turns. He has a knack for opening up through the lane, something that bodes well for the stamina test that is the Kentucky Derby. He showed a new dimension in the Arkansas Derby, rating a bit off the lead, which he’ll likely want to do in Kentucky.

Finally, while the competition at Oaklawn was not the deepest, American Pharoah beat plenty of quality horses during his 2YO Southern California campaign. However, it’s worth noting that he may have benefited from being separated from Dortmund, a bonus of both horses sharing a trainer in Baffert.

The Rebel (GII)

All eyes toward Oaklawn this weekend with the Rebel featuring the anticipated return of 2YO male champion, American Pharoah.  He’s the second top contender to return to the track in the last two weeks; Carpe Diem made a successful return to the races with an impressive performance winning the Tampa Bay Derby last Saturday:

Looking back at American Pharoah, he was lights out last summer in Southern California, cruising to victory in two straight Grade I races — the Del Mar Futurity and the Frontrunner:

Reports are that he was been training aggressively for this return and that he has looked sharp doing so. On paper, if he returns to last season’s sharp form (or better) on his return, he shouldn’t have too many problems with today’s field. He’s significantly faster than anyone else in the field, and it’s difficult to see someone improving to his level. He still has to favor the quirky Oaklawn surface — not a given and something that raises the risk.

It’s a small field compartively, with only 7 horses going forward. If American Pharoah is a bit shaky, look to Gulfstream shipper Madefromlucky. Its tough to tell much from his last race, but he may have more than shown here:

The final to watch is The Truth or Else, who either loved the wet track last out in the Southwest or improved off the layoff. If he improved, he should be a strong factor, but only for the top if American Pharoah isn’t at his best.

Enjoy the Rebel!

Image: Sandwich, Copyright 2014.

The Risen Star

The first Kentucky Derby qualifying race this weekend is the Fountain of Youth and the 50-20-10-5 Point Values. I wrote about it earlier today.

The second Kentucky Derby qualifying race is a bit later this afternoon at the Fairgrounds with the Risen Star. Two defectors from the postponed Southwest with JS Bach (update: scratched) and War Story. It makes perfect sense to run here, unless you had shown clear favoritism for the Oaklawn surface. These two are now chasing many more points; not only to the winner, but also for the top 4.  Both of those two are reasonable contenders in a relatively open race. Imperia relished the dirt last out, but would need to be a top form to capture this one. He very well may need a race.

Also, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Gold Cup, was International Star, who won the Lecomte over this track. He fits on speed as a reasonable contender, although I have a hunch we’ve seen the best that this horse can accomplish. That could be enough to win today, although likely not with improvements probable. Instead, I much prefer Tiznow RJ, who ran much better than I thought he would in the Lecomte. With the seasoning under him, he seems primed for a huge effort today Bluff was an impressive maiden winner, but hasn’t shown the speed needed to win this race.

As for the re-drawn and rescheduled Southwest Stakes from Oaklawn, the addition of Hillbilly Royalty is fascinating. He was super sharp earning a 93 Beyer in an allowance here two weeks ago. It’s a fast turn around, but he seems sharp and reschedule/ defections make this race very winning. He also likes to reward his believers as he already has two double-digit odds wins to his resume as well, winning on debut at 14-1 and in an allowance at 13-1. He’ll be a good deal lower that that on Sunday, but could still be a reasonable 4/1.

The Smarty Jones

I’ll take any chance that I can to rave about one of my all-time favorite horses, Smarty Jones, who Monday’s stakes race for 3YO from Oaklawn is named. He raced at Oaklawn through his 3YO winter in 2004, winning all 3 stakes he entered.

Screenshot 2015-01-16 17.07.40

Monday’s race is 8f for 3YO. Still a bit on the shorter side distance-wise, but this race may mark some decent contenders moving into the season at Oaklawn. Mr. Z has been in some tight photos as of late, but has been competitive against the top of the division. He has 10 points already and a win here would get him pretty close to the magic number for qualifying for the Derby. Lucky Player also with 10 points, returns after failing to back up his G3 win in the Iroquois. He’ll have to move forward — not impossible, but not something that seems very likely.

Hebbronville is interesting on his first stretchout on a (likely) fast track. Weather looks nice this weekend in Hot Springs, so no concern of another wet track for this one.

Screenshot 2015-01-16 17.19.56


He could be something — which he showed by running well against Blofeld in the Futurity last October. Far Right is interesting, but another that would need to move forward significantly to win. I’d rather wait a race on horses like that. I don’t like Bayerd past this distance — he could get the mile here, though. He’s intriguing — more of a sprinter against many of these prepping for longer and bigger things. He’s worth a look, but today only.

For those playing, I’d move away from those with points — Mr. Z and Lucky Player — and towards some possible prices. Consider instead Bayerd to steal it with the short stretch or for Hebbronville to enjoy the added distance and dry track.

Good luck on Monday at Oaklawn.

Image: Jean, Copyright 2009.