By Evan Hammonds
Favored American Pharoah came from just off the pace and outfought Firing Line in the lane to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) by a length May 2 at Churchill Downs. The son of Pioneerof the Nile covered the 10 furlongs in 2:03.02 .
The win was a fourth for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. He also finished third with Kaleem Shah's Dortmund.
American Pharoah, the first 2-year-old champion to win the Derby since Street Sense in 2007, was bred and is owned by Ahmed Zayat's Zayat Stables. Zayat-owned runners have run second three times: in 2009 with Pioneerof the Nile, 2011 with Nehro, and in 2012 with Bodemeister .
In a field of 18 American Pharoah paid $7.80, $5.80, $4.20. Firing Line paid $8.40 and $5.40 and Dortmund returned $4.20. The 18-10 exacta paid $72.60 for $2.
Dortmund, with Martin Garcia up, went to the front but was challenged early by Firing Line. As they passed the stands for the first time, Dortmund got the opening quarter-mile in :23. 24. Pressed by Firing Line, the half-mile went in :47.34. Tracking was American Pharoah while wide, and Carpe Diem was tucked in along the rail under John Velazquez.
After six furlongs in 1:11.29, American Pharoah went up to challenge the two leaders, and in early stretch it was a three-horse race. Firing Line, with Gary Stevens up, got the better of Dortmund but had to contend with American Pharoah who was charging on the outside. After a mile in 1:36.45, Firing Line came out a bit and brushed with the winner.
Baffert came to the Derby loaded in hopes of winning his fourth gold trophy. The Hall of Fame trainer's horses, the winner and the third-place finisher, were the favorite and second choice. Baffert won his first Derby in 1997 with Silver Charm and then in 1998 with Real Quiet. He added his third in 2002 with War Emblem.
"We were ready to rumble," Baffert said. "Since their last works I was hearing how good they were and I was hoping it would come true. I felt very confident going in."
Espinoza, who was aboard California Chrome last year and War Emblem in 2002, became the seventh jockey to win three Kentucky Derbys. He's also the sixth jockey to win back-to-back Derbys, joining Calvin Borel, Ron Turcotte, Eddie Delahoussaye, Jimmy Winkfield, and Isaac Murphy.
"It's all about confidence," Espinoza said. "And with Bob Baffert, he gives you that confidence.
"I feel like the luckiest Mexican on earth. He has been a special horse since the first time I rode him. He has a lot of talent and is an unbelievable horse. Turning for home I started riding a little bit harder. At the eighth pole I just couldn't put that other horse (Firing Line) away, but he got it done."
Dortmund was followed by Frosted, Danzig Moon, Materiality, Keen Ice, Mubtaahij, Itsaknockout, Carpe Diem, Frammento, Bolo, Mr. Z, Ocho Ocho Ocho, Far Right, War Story, Tencendur, and Upstart.
Trainer Todd Pletcher had three runners in the Derby: Materiality, Carpe Diem, and Itsaknockout.
"Carpe Diem got a good trip but he may not have handled the track as he came off the bridle at the half mile pole and I couldn't make much of an excuse for him. Materiality ran very well. He missed the break as he stumbled a little bit, pulled his shoe off and I thought he closed pretty well."
American Pharoah was the champion 2-year-old male of 2014 despite not having run in the Breeders' Cup. He ran fifth in his debut Aug. 9 at Del Mar going 6 1/2 furlongs. In his second start he broke his maiden in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) Sept. 3. He followed that with a score in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) at Sept. 27 Santa Anita Park. He missed the Breeders' Cup with an injury.
American Pharoah returned at age 3 in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) March 14 at Oaklawn Park. He won the 1 1/16-mile race in the slop by 61/4 lengths. He won the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) by eight lengths. He has now won five of six career starts.
The $2,178,800 Derby offered a $1,418,800 first prize. American Pharoah has now earned $2,830,300.
Dortmund was six for six coming into the Derby and Alto Racing's Materiality had won his three starts.
For Arnold Zetcher's runner-up Firing Line it was "disappointing" to trainer Simon Callaghan. "But on the other hand I'm very proud of how well my horse ran. Gary (Stevens) rode a great race, he had him in the right spot. We just got beat. We tried all the way; tough beat."
Stanford, Zayat Stable's El Kabeir, and International Star were scratched before the Run for the Roses. Tale of Verve failed to draw into the field.
The winner is out of the Yankee Gentleman mare Littleprincessemma. He was foaled Feb. 2, 2012.
Bred by Brereton C. Jones (who owns grade I Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Lovely Maria), Littleprincessemma made two starts for Zayat Stables and trainer Steve Asmussen, finishing sixth and 12th in maiden special weight races. Zayat purchased Littleprincessemma for $250,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale.
American Pharoah is the second foal of four foals out of Littleprincessemma. She delivered a full brother to the Derby winner earlier this year.
A record 170,513 were on hand to witness the Derby under picture-perfect blue skies, with temperatures in the low 70s.