The road to the Triple Crown of horse racing begins with the Kentucky Derby, and the 141st edition of it won by American Pharoah, beating Firing Line and Dortmund to claim the prestigious honor, jockeyed by Victor Espinoza, who gets to ride the winner of the race for a second straight year.
For Espinoza, it becomes a special honor. He took California Chrome last year to wins at the Derby and the Preakness. He becomes only the sixth jockey to win the derby on back to back years, and the first since Calvin Borel in 2009 and 2010.
Trainer Bob Baffert had two cards pulling him towards victory in this race; Dortmund, finishing third and staying in the leading pack all the way through, and American Pharoah, helping Baffert claim a fourth victory at the Kentucky Derby and his first since 2002. Since that War Emblem victory, Baffert had two second place finishes: In 2012 with Bodemeister and in 2009 with Pioneerof The Nile, Pharoah’s sire.
Owner Ahmed Zayat has known some disappointments and close calls in the Kentucky Derby, but he can finally say he has a champions that will go down in history in his stable. He has three-second place finishes with his horses, and was probably happier about other things, although getting $2.1 million for Pharoah’s victory isn’t bad at all.
Dortmund was the one who set the pace early on (although not a very fast one), followed by Firing Line while Pharoah seemed comfortable sitting third in the backstretch. Dortmund came into the race with six consecutive wins to boast of, but when American Pharoah made its charge from the outside, Dortmund got tired along the trail, as Firing Line got past him as well, not keeping up with the winner.
After missing his first big test last year when he was scratched from the Breeders’ Cup with an injury, American Pharoah won two races this year but against lesser competitions. There were plenty of questions about whether or not he can mix it up and stand out in a quality group with 20 other horses. Dortmund had a longer winning streak against better horses going into this race, but American Pharoah was still the favorite going in, and didn’t disappoint.
Now it’s on to the Preakness. Last year California Chrome won the two of them before losing, tired against fresh horses at Belmont, missing out on the triple crown. Baffert’s own War Emblem won the first two races in 2002, but suffered from a bad start at Belmont, somehow grabbed the lead and quickly faded before the end in a very memorable race, losing to Sarava. Baffert thinks this time, he has that special colt that can win the Triple Crown, which will be a first in 37 years, last achieved by Affirmed in 1978.