American Pharoah wins 141st Kentucky Derby

  • By Gary Klein Los Angeles Times
  • Saturday, May 2, 2015 10:55pm
  • SportsSports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The knock against American Pharaoh was that he had never really been tested.

Not by any colts outside Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s barn and, perhaps most telling, not by stablemate Dortmund because of Baffert’s strategy to keep them both on course for the 141st Kentucky Derby.

On Saturday at Churchill Downs, American Pharoah proved he could overcome a challenge. And, perhaps, that he might be worthy of all the noise about ending the Triple Crown drought.

With jockey Victor Espinoza driving him down the stretch, and a record crowd of 170,513 roaring, American Pharoah overtook Dortmund and Firing Line for a victory that puts him on track for a run at history.

“He’s still a lightly raced horse,” Baffert said. “So he’s figuring it out in a big way.”

The come-from-behind win gave Baffert his fourth Kentucky Derby victory, his first since Espinoza piloted War Emblem in the 2002 Run for the Roses.

“It’s a fantasy moment for us,” Baffert said in the winner’s circle. “It’s unbelievable that I’m standing here for the fourth time.”

It was the second consecutive Derby victory for Espinoza, who rode California Chrome last year.

“You think so many things before the race, sometimes you get a headache,” Espinoza said. “And then I said, ‘You know what. This is it.’ It never gets old.”

No one was happier than owner Ahmed Zayat, who endured three second-place Derby finishes.

Pioneerof The Nile suffered one of those in a 2009 Derby won by 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird. So it was perhaps fitting that American Pharoah, the son of Pioneerof The Nile, gave Zayat his first victory.

“Finally,” said Zayat, who collected the $1.4-million winner’s share of the $2.2-million purse. “No more seconds.”

American Pharoah covered the 114-mile track in 2 minutes 3.02 seconds. He started as the betting favorite at odds of 5-2 and paid $7.80, $5.80 and $4.20.

Baffert said he had been “on pins and needles all week long,” as reporters, fans and oddsmakers hyped the 1-2 punch that American Pharoah and the unbeaten Dortmund presented.

Dortmund’s 6-0 record going into the Derby matched that of 1977 Derby winner Seattle Slew and 2004 winner Smarty Jones.

American Pharoah had won four consecutive races after finishing fifth in his first race.

He initially drew the No. 18 post position, a spot that kept him away from the crowd in what could have been a 20-horse field. He moved to the No. 17 position, a spot that had never produced a Kentucky Derby winner, when Stanford was scratched Thursday. The defections of El Kabeir on Friday and International Star on Saturday morning ultimately had him starting with only 14 horses to his left and three on his right.

Baffert gave Espinoza simple instructions.

“He’s like, ‘Man, I don’t know. Just go ride your race,’” Espinoza recalled, laughing. “I said, ‘Good idea, Bob.’”

American Pharoah was in good position as the field went into the first turn. He was in third place at the quarter-mile and trailed Dortmund and Firing Line through the mile marker.

As Baffert watched the three horses go down the back stretch, he thought Dortmund would win.

“He was cruising,” Baffert said.

But with five-sixteenths of a mile left in the race, Firing Line jockey Gary Stevens instinctively felt something.

“I took a peek behind me and I saw the Zayat colors,” he said. “I knew who it was. I wasn’t too surprised at what I saw.”

Neither was Baffert.

“I heard my wife say, ‘He’s not going to do it,” Baffert said. “And I said, ‘Oh, he’s going to do it.’ I just knew that he was digging down. “

American Pharoah took the lead down the stretch just ahead of Firing Line and held off a charge to finish in front by a length.

“It was the first time I had to get after him and the first time he was running behind two horses,” Espinoza said. “Everything was new for him. So he was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ … Finally, he figured it out.”

Now it’s on to the Preakness in two weeks.

Baffert said he would assess American Pharoah and Dortmund’s status for the race Sunday. No horse has swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont since Affirmed in 1978.

Baffert was relieved to get the first step out of the way with a Derby win that came a dozen years after his last.

“I don’t know if I can go another 12 years like this,” he said.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Mountlake Terrace’s Zaveon Jones is pulled to the ground by a diving Nicholas Mouser of Monroe on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, at Monroe High School in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Swarming Monroe defense keys win over Terrace in Wesco 3A South showdown

The Bearcats slow down the Hawks’ potent ground game, and quarterback Blake Springer tosses three TDs in a 35-10 victory.

Arlington players lift the Stilly Cup in the air after beating Stanwood on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023 in Stanwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington re-claims Stilly Cup after short hiatus, routs Stanwood 42-7

Leyton Martin registers 277 yards, 4 TDs as Eagles notch fifth straight game with at least six TDs.

Marysville Pilchuck’s Christian Van Natta lifts the ball in the air to celebrate a turnover during the game against Marysville Getchell on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Prep football roundup for Friday, Sept. 29

Prep football roundup for Friday, Sept. 29: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report… Continue reading

Marysville Pilchuck’s Dominik Kendrick (9) runs with the ball during a football game between Marysville Pilchuck and Stanwood at Marysville Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Marysville Pilchuck takes the win, 36-7. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Marysville Pilchuck proud of 4-0 start, but has loftier goals

The Tomahawks aren’t listening to the outside noise, including a No. 1 WIAA RPI ranking, as a tough stretch lies ahead.

Stanwood players react to their coach bringing them the Stilly Cup on Sept. 30, 2022 in Arlington. The Spartans snapped a 12-game losing streak in the rivalry matchup last year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
4 games to watch in Week 5 of the prep football season

An in-depth look at the best games the area has to offer, plus a full schedule of the local action in Week 5.

Prep roundup for Friday, Sept. 29

Prep roundup for Friday, Sept. 29: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Houston Astros relief pitcher Hector Neris (50) gestures to Seattle Mariners' Julio Rodríguez (44) after striking Rodríguez out to end the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
MLB investigating Astros pitcher’s alleged use of homophobic slur

The incident occurred during a heated exchange between Houston’s Hector Neris and M’s star Julio Rodriguez on Wednesday night.

Prep roundup for Thursday, Sept. 28

Prep roundup for Thursday, Sept. 28: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Angel of the Winds Arena stands ready and waiting Friday afternoon for Kraken fans to arrive for the preseason game against the Edmondton Oilers. (Jake Goldstein-Street / The Herald)
Patterson: After past fails, can arena football thrive in Everett?

The turbulent past of arena football in the city stems from the opening of the Everett Events Center, now Angel of the Winds Arena, in 2003.

Most Read