Not many people who watched American Pharoah breeze five furlongs this morning could believe it when they were told he had worked in :58 2/5. The likely Kentucky Derby favorite looked as if he was on cruise control all the way, and the final time and gallop-out seemed to contradict what everyone was seeing.
“He looked like he was just loping out there,” said veteran trainer Phil Thomas. “I really didn’t think he was working that fast. I’ll tell you, Bob’s taking no prisoners this year.”
Bob, of course is trainer Bob Baffert, who has been seeing American Pharoah work like this the past two years.
But for Justin Zayat, racing manager for Zayat Stables, a work like this was a reality check in realizing just what kind of horse they will be sending into the Kentucky Derby.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “It gave me chills.”
Gary Young, one of the most respected clockers and bloodstock agents in the business, could not contain his enthusiasm. “I have been doing this for 35 years and he might be the best horse I’ve ever seen,” Young said. “He’s simply like Michael Jordan and stays in the air like he did in his rookie year. He stays in the air longer than any horse and you get the feeling that there’s not one gear left, but he may have two, three or four gears.”
As for yours truly, if you had asked what he worked in, I probably would have said around two full seconds slower than he actually did. With that long, fluid, and (as Young noted) airborne stride, he just popped off the eighths in :11 2/5, :11 3/5, :11 3/5, and :11 4/5 before coming home another eighth in :12 flat without even the slightest urging by jockey Martin Garcia, who barely moved on him. He then galloped out six furlongs in 1:11 2/5 and pulled up seven panels in 1:27. He galloped back still prancing along, and wasn’t blowing at all coming off the track. In other words this was a freaky good work, but it’s certainly not the first time the word ‘freak’ has been associated with American Pharoah, who was full of himself being washed down.
“It’s pins and needles and lots of anxiety from now on,” Baffert said. “The hard part will be containing (Ahmed Zayat). He’ll be a nervous wreck. The draw will be the next stressful moment.”
The Zayats have experienced a good deal of frustration, not only in the Kentucky Derby, in which they have finished second in 2009, 2011, and 2012 (and lost the favorite to injury in 2010), but in all three Triple Crown events, losing the Preakness with Bodemeister in a heartbreaker, and getting beat right on the wire in the Belmont Stakes with Paynter, who led every step of the way except the final two jumps. Ahmed Zayat considers the latter their toughest defeat. In 2012, they had the distinction, both impressive and dubious, of finishing second in all three Triple Crown races with two different horses.
In their three seconds in the Derby, they were beaten by 50-1 Mine That Bird in one of the biggest shockers in Derby history; were beaten by the first horse (Animal Kingdom) ever to win the Derby in his first start on dirt; and were beaten by as lightly raced horse who became the first horse ever to win the Derby from post 19.
Will this year be the payback from the Derby gods or do they have more nasty tricks up their sleeve? After watching American Pharoah breeze, inspiring such a wave of superlatives, another defeat would make today’s work the Derby gods’ ultimate tease.
For Baffert, his day was completed when his other stud, Dortmund, arrived from California. Now, all that is left is six days of envisioning unforgettable images and scenarios when he unleashes these two titans.
In addition to Dortmund, two other California horses -- Firing Line and Bolo -- arrived, adding three new exciting faces to the party. Firing Line, a classy-looking, intelligent horse, spent about 20-30 minutes grazing, while Bolo, a powerful nearly black colt, was bedded down just across the road in Al Stall’s barn.
All photos are by Steve Haskin, please ask before taking.
American Pharoah, followed by his entourage, heads for the track for a workout that would have the entire backstretch abuzz.
American Pharoah always makes a striking presence.
Does this look like a horse who just worked 5 furlongs in :58 2/5?
Firing Line, seemingly the forgotten horse, checks out his new surroundings.
The bnght eye of Bolo, who will be trying to prove to the world he's just as special on dirt.
Far Right has a classy look about him and is well under the radar.