American Pharoah in post 18 at 5-2
Champion American Pharoah drew post 18 and was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the 141st running of the Grade 1, $2 million Kentucky Derby on Wednesday evening at Churchill Downs.
The Zayat Stables colt romped by eight lengths in the Arkansas Derby on April 11 to become the early favorite for Saturday’s classic over his Bob Bafferttrained stablemate Dortmund, owned by Kaleem Shah. Dortmund, who drew post 8 at 3-1, remained undefeated with a 4 1/4-length score in the Santa Anita Derby on April 4. Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia called Baffert’s duo “the best one-two punch since Citation and Coaltown.” Citation, trained by Ben Jones, defeated his talented stablemate in the 1948 Derby en route to winning the Triple Crown.
“I’m glad I have them both on my roster,” Baffert said this week, adding that the postposition draw was “probably the last stressful moment” leading up to the race.
Post 18 has only produced one Derby winner since the use of a starting gate in 1930 – Gato del Sol in 1982.
An overflow field of 22 horses was entered for the Derby on Wednesday. The race is limited to 20 starters, with points accrued in designated races determining preference. Frammento and Tale of Verve – the latter a surprise entrant – were the two excluded from the main body of the field, in that preference order. They may run only if there are any withdrawals by scratch time, which is 9 a.m. Friday to accommodate early wagering. If a scratch occurs, all horses to the outside of the scratched horse’s post position shift inside one slot, placing the also-eligible in post 20.
American Pharoah, the winner of the 2014 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male, is one of three horses in the race for the Zayats, who also have El Kabeir with trainer John Terranova and Mr. Z with D. Wayne Lukas.
American Pharoah will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who is also named to ride Kentucky Oaks morning-line favorite Stellar Wind on Friday. The jockey is seeking his third Derby win, having taken the race last year with California Chrome for trainer Art Sherman and in 2002 with War Emblem for Baffert. Martin Garcia has the call on Dortmund.
Todd Pletcher is the only other trainer who will saddle multiple horses in this Derby, led by Blue Grass Stakes winner Carpe Diem, the third wagering choice at 8-1. The colt drew post 2 under John Velazquez, who chose to ride him over another Pletcher colt, undefeated Florida Derby winner Materiality, now with Javier Castellano aboard. Itsaknockout and Stanford round out the Pletcher quartet.
This Kentucky Derby field is considered one of the strongest in recent years.
“I think this is a hell of a crop,” said Lukas, who is saddling his 48th Kentucky Derby starter in Mr. Z.
The Kentucky Derby is part of a 13-race card Saturday, with six undercard stakes. First post is 10:30 a.m. Eastern, with the Derby set for 6:34 p.m. NBC will carry the race as part of a national broadcast from 4 to 7:30 p.m.
Stars aplenty on undercard
The stars won’t just be on “Millionaires Row” leading up to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill. As usual, equine stars also will be showcased before the Derby is run.
Older female sprint champion Judy the Beauty kicks off her 2015 campaign in one of six undercard stakes races, the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern also gets his year started in the Churchill Downs Stakes.
They aren’t the only big-name horses running on a deep and talent-rich card. Stephanie’s Kitten, one of the top turf mares in North America in recent years, races against males for the first time in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a 1 1/8-mile turf race that goes right before the Kentucky Derby. She is joined by graded stakes winners Chocolate Ride, Finnegans Wake, Seek Again, and Dubai invader Umgiyo in a 12-horse field that is among the most competitive races of the day.
The comeback races for Judy the Beauty and Bayern are no gimmes. Grade 1 winner Sweet Reason is among seven fillies and mares facing Judy the Beauty in the sevenfurlong, $300,000 Humana Distaff. And Bayern faces an even classier lot in the $500,000, Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes, another seven-furlong race that drew C. Zee, Gentlemen’s Bet, Pants On Fire, and Private Zone, along with several others.
Competitive Edge and Lord Nelson are the headline horses in the Grade 3, $200,000 Pat Day Mile, formerly run as the Derby Trial on opening day and renamed this year and moved to Derby Day.
Peace and War, a 3-year-old filly who is on the also-eligible list for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks, is also in the Pat Day Mile in what appears to be a backup race if she does not draw into the Oaks.
She wasn’t the only horse to be entered in stakes races both Friday and Saturday. Sweet Whiskey was entered in the Humana Distaff for Saturday and the Grade 1 La Troienne on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.
The best wagering races of the stakes Saturday on the Derby undercard are the three on grass: the Grade 2, $250,000 American turf for 3-year-olds, which drew 14; the Grade 2, $300,000 Churchill Downs Turf Mile for fillies and mares, which landed 13; and the Woodford Reserve, a $500,000 race with a dozen entrants.
Conquest Typhoon and Firespike, separated by a neck when second and third in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway on Polytrack, meet again in the American Turf, and both appear just as effective racing on grass as on synthetic. They will have to catch the speedy Luck of the Kitten, a colt whom owner Ken Ramsey hopes to take to Royal Ascot later this spring.
Lady Lara, Sandiva, and Coffee Clique – the first three finishers in the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream – are rematched in the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile. And they are but a few of the contenders in a contentious race.
The Woodford Reserve appears similarly well matched with Finnegans Wake, Jack Milton, Chocolate Ride, and Grand Arch among the most formidable adversaries to Stephanie’s Kitten.
Counting the Kentucky Derby, 151 horses are in the main bodies of the 13 races Saturday at Churchill Downs, with another eight being also eligibles.
Belmont: Tonalist, Palace Malice meet
Tonalist and Palace Malice, winners of the last two runnings of the Belmont Stakes, will make their 2015 debuts in the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont Park on Saturday. The card also includes a pair of turf stakes, the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay for fillies and mares at 1 3/8 miles and the Grade 3, $150,000 Fort Marcy at 1 1/8 miles.
The one-mile Westchester has drawn a field of five and is carded as the sixth of 12 races. First post Saturday is noon.
In addition to Tonalist and Palace Malice, the Westchester field includes Juba, Confrontation, and Souper Lucky.
Tonalist, one of the leaders of the 3-yearold division last year, won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Belmont Stakes, and Peter Pan for trainer Christophe Clement.
Tonalist worked seven times between Dec. 31 and Feb. 10 and then not again until March 15. His half-mile drill at Belmont Park on Wednesday was the seventh of his current work pattern and his first since being shipped back to New York.
“We are very happy to have him back,” Clement said Wednesday. “He has been training very well. It was either the Westchester or the Pimlico Special, and we have opted for the Westchester. I think the mile is a great distance for him to start back.”
New York Racing Association clockers timed Tonalist in 47.44 seconds Wednesday, the fastest of 12 works at the distance over the Belmont main track.
Tonalist drew the No. 1 post for the Westchester and will be blinkers-on. He did not wear them in his last two starts of 2014, the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Palace Malice, the 2013 Belmont winner, reeled off wins last season in the Metropolitan Handicap, Westchester, and New Orleans Handicap. After finishing sixth in the Whitney at Saratoga, he was briefly retired with bone bruising in his left hind leg.
After some time off, he was put back into training. He has had seven works for trainer Todd Pletcher since Feb. 28. Palace Malice drew post No. 4 for the Westchester.
The Sheepshead Bay has a field of five and is carded as race 4. Grade 3 Orchid winner Beauty Parlor is likely to be favored for Clement.
The Fort Marcy, race 10, has a field of nine. Travers winner V. E. Day will make his 4-year-old debut and his first turf start since winning a first-level allowance last July.
Dortmund is the 3-1 second choice on the Derby’s morning line.