Bob Baffert Trainee on Course for Bid to Sweep Triple Crown
Crowd of 131,680 Sets Pimlico Attendance Record
All-Sources Handle Increases to $85.161 Million
BALTIMORE, MD. – Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah romped over the sloppy track at Pimlico Race Course to register a seven-length victory in Saturday’s 140th Preakness Stakes (G1), earning an opportunity to make a bid for a Triple Crown sweep in three weeks.
The Bob Baffert-trained 3-year-old colt, who had to work hard to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) by a length two weeks ago, overpowered his seven rivals in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown with a front-running triumph under Victor Espinoza.
American Pharoah is scheduled to run in the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on June 6 to vie for a chance to become Thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown champion and first since Affirmed earned immortality in 1978.
“He’s just an amazing horse. Everybody talks about the greatness and he’s starting to show it. To me, they have to prove it. Today, the way he did it. He’s just so fast, the way he ran,” Baffert said. “It was like poetry in motion.”
As the horses were being saddled on the infield turf course, a heavy rain turned the racing surface sloppy – a condition American Pharoah handled easily while winning the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park on March 14. The son of Pioneerof the Nile, the 9-10 favorite, again demonstrated a distinct affinity for the wet going while posting his sixth consecutive victory in the $1.5 million Preakness.
After breaking a bit awkwardly from his No. 1 post position, American Pharoah was hustled to the lead by Espinoza in the run along the front-stretch. The Derby winner showed the way around the turn and along the backstretch, chased by long shot Mr. Z as others, including second-betting choice Firing Line and Baffert-trained Dortmund appeared to have trouble handling the sloppy surface. American Pharoah maintained his uncontested lead around the far turn after posting fractions of 22.90 seconds, 46.49 and 1:11.42 for the first six furlongs of the 1 3/16-mile classic and sprinted clear through the stretch run.
Tale of Verve, a 28-1 long shot ridden by Joel Rosario, closed to finish second, a length ahead of Divining Rod and jockey Javier Castellano. Dortmund, ridden by Martin Garcia, finished fourth. Firing Line, the Kentucky Derby runner-up ridden by Gary Stevens, was never a factor and finished seventh.
“It’s unbelievable. I couldn’t be any happier, not just for my family, and Bob (Baffert) and Victor (Espinoza), but for the whole racing world,” owner Ahmed Zayat said. “We need a star. He’s indeed the real deal. Please God, let’s continue, let the fun start. ”
American Pharoah became Baffert’s sixth Preakness winner and fourth Kentucky Derby champion to take the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. The Hall of Fame trainer has failed to saddle a Triple Crown winner in the Belmont, finishing second with Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998) in the 1 ½-mile classic. War Emblem (2002) was never a factor in his bid.
Baffert also captured the Preakness with Point Given (2001) and Lookin At Lucky (2010).
Espinoza has had two chances to ride a Triple Crown champion, coming up short with California Chrome, who finished fourth last year, and War Emblem.
Saturday’s 14-race program that included eight stakes, four graded, attracted a record crowd of 131,680. The Preakness Day card also generated an increase in handle. An all-sources handle of $85,161 million Saturday exceeded last year’s handle of $83,786.