Santa Anita-based American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund carried the hopes of Southern California to Churchill Downs Saturday, and finished 1-2-3 in the world’s biggest race, the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby.
A winner of Santa Anita’s Grade I FrontRunner Stakes three starts back on Sept. 27, the Bob Baffert-trained American Pharoah sat a close third and won by one length under Victor Espinoza, who followed up on his win aboard California Chrome a year ago by taking his third overall Kentucky Derby. For Baffert, who last won the Derby in 2002 with War Emblem (also ridden by Espinoza), it was his fourth overall triumph in the Run for the Roses.
Off as the 5-2 favorite in a field of 18, American Pharoah paid $7.80, $5.80 and $4.20. Owned and bred by Zayat Stables, LLC, American Pharoah notched his fifth win from six starts.
For Ahmed Zayat, who had finished second in the Derby on three occasions, with Pioneerof the Nile in 2009, Nehro in 2011 and Bodemeister in 2012, the victory was nearly overwhelming.
“This is a dream come true,” he said. “We are beyond blessed.”
Baffert, who rattled off three Derby wins in a five-year period with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002, the win was especially sweet as he overcame a Derby drought that was approaching 13 years.
“Once we got him out there, I heard ‘My Kentucky Home,’ I knew we were almost there,” said Baffert. “I told them (jockeys Espinoza and Martin Garcia, who rode Dortmund) in the paddock, I was like Pacquiao and Mayweather, I know what they are going through right now. They want to get it on…”
Espinoza, 42, whose first Derby win came in tandem with Baffert’s War Emblem, simply said “I feel like the luckiest Mexican on earth.”
Ridden to perfection by Gary Stevens, Firing Line, who was second in his six furlong debut at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 and second to Dortmund in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes two starts back Feb. 7, overhauled Dortmund in deep stretch but was second best, finishing three lengths in front of the Santa Anita Derby winner for the place. Conditioned by Santa Anita-based Simon Callaghan, Firing Line was off at 9-1 and paid $8.40 and $5.20.
Dortmund, who broke his maiden first time out at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, won the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 4 and thus entered the Derby undefeated six starts. With Martin Garcia up, he controlled the pace through fractions of 23.24, 47.34, 1:11.29 and 1:36.45, tired a bit late and finished third, a diminishing neck in front of Frosted. Also trained by Baffert, Dortmund was the second choice at 4-1 and paid $4.20 to show.