At this point for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat, their major source of stress is same the entity that routinely brings them calm.
Champion and expected Kentucky Derby favorite American Pharoah flaunted his customary ease to onlookers at Churchill Downs Sunday as he worked five furlongs in a bullet :58.40 under jockey Martin Garcia, his lone major move in advance of the first leg of the Triple Crown on May 2.
The work was the first for American Pharoah since his eight-length victory in the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 11. The effortless motion that has been his signature was completely in effect for the work with Garcia asking for little as they recorded splits of 11.40, 23, 34.60, and 46.40 with a gallop out in 1:11.40 and 1:27.
“He was just clipping along, he was doing it in hand but that’s the way he works,” Baffert said of the move. “Mr. Zayat was wondering if he was going too fast but that’s the way he does things. He does things really effortlessly. He galloped out strong, came back and wasn’t blowing. He hasn’t regressed and looks great.
“You watch him today and it looks like he is not moving. And you look at your watch and go wow.”
Even with undefeated multiple Grade I winner Dortmund as his stablemate, American Pharoah has owned a large chunk of the pre-Derby hype. The reigning juvenile champion has won four of five career starts with his lone defeat coming in his career debut at Del Mar last August 9.
Since missing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with what the Zayats termed a foot injury and possible tweaked suspensory, the bay son of Pioneerof the Nile hasn’t been asked to take to a deep breath, winning the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park gate-to-wire by 6 1/4 lengths and then drawing off in the Arkansas Derby.
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has already declared his plans to make American Pharoah the morning-line favorite when post positions are drawn on Wednesday, and Sunday’s move did nothing to dispel the notion that the colt who has won his last four starts by a combined 22 1/4 lengths may be an extra cut above what has been a depth-laden 3-year-old class.
“The higher up you are, if you get beat, the fall is pretty steep,” Baffert said. “But…we feel really strong coming in here. The main thing right now, we just focus on preparing, having them ready. Today’s work was typical American Pharoah.
“(The draw) will probably be the last stressful moment we have,” he continued. “It’s like when they send a man into space and they’re shooting off those stages, like ‘Stage 1, okay all looks good’. But at the same time, we want to enjoy it.”
On Saturday, Daily Racing Form reported on a protective plate covering the sole of American Pharoah’s left front foot that the colt has been racing and training with. When asked about the plate following his work, Zayat dismissed it as a non-issue, saying it has been in place since around February.
“It’s old news. He’s had that since he came back into training,” said Zayat, who watched the work alongside his 23-year-old son Justin Zayat, who is the racing and stallion manager for Zayat Stables. “It’s not a bar shoe bar. It’s to protect the frog (of the foot). He’s raced in it. It’s a non issue for us. It’s nothing for us.”