LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Sunday, May 3, 2015) – To set the stage for his press conference Sunday morning to reflect on this fourth victory, Hall of Fame trainerBob Baffert brought the star of the 141st Kentucky Derby — American Pharoah — out of the barn to pose for the cameras.
Bribing him with carrots, Baffert led the Zayat Stables colt to different parts of the circle of media and fans for photos and admiration. Several people reached out and petted the colt’s nose. After about 10 minutes of show, Baffert sent American Pharoah back to his stall and moved into the tell part of the program.
Baffert said the one-length victory was about the horse, not him. American Pharoah and third-place finisher Dortmund may both go on to the Preakness Stakes (GI) at Pimlico on May 16. Baffert, 62, won the Derby with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002 and has waited a dozen years for No. 4. He got it done with the 5-2 favorite, who ran down Dortmund and runner-up Firing Line in the stretch.
“It’s fun to come here, but I think this win was different than my other ones,” Baffert said. “I needed to get it done. I needed to win it. Something was building that something good was going to happen. And it did. It was a big sigh of relief. I was like ‘mission accomplished.’ That’s the feeling I have at this time.”
Baffert said his sons were very excited about the victory and that he was surprised that Justin Zayat, the stable’s racing manager, had gotten sick to this stomach at the end of the race.
“It just goes to show you how much it meant to them,” Baffert said. “It was for them. It wasn’t for Bob Baffert. Getting the fourth Derby means nothing to me. It means that they gave me a really good horse and I didn’t screw it up. I had the talent. Anybody could have trained this horse and won it. I don’t feel like I did anything special.”
American Pharoah sat third, not far off the pace, under jockey Victor Espinoza for the first half of the race. Espinoza urged him to accelerate near the half-mile pole and he moved up to engage Firing Line and Dortmund through a mile in 1:36.45. Racing wide down the stretch he reached the front inside the sixteenth pole and finished the 10 furlongs in 2:03.02.
Baffert acknowledged that American Pharoah accomplished a lot, winning the sternest test of his career. At the annual question about whether the winner has what it takes to win the Triple Crown, Baffert provided a clue but not a direct answer.
“If you look back at all the Triple Crown runners, they ran a lot,” he said. “I think a lot has to deal with who you are running against and how tough it is. This was such a tough Derby. This was the toughest Derby I’ve been in.”
American Pharoah and Dortmund will stay at Baffert’s stable at Churchill Downs this week. The decision on whether Dortmund will go on to the Preakness will be made when Baffert returns from California next weekend. Baffert said that as of Sunday that he could see of no reason why Dortmund — who set the pace for a mile and continued on bravely to hold the show position – would not go on to Balitmore. Baffert revealed that Dortmund’s Derby start was in jeopardy for several hours on April 25 when he had a slight bout with colic after a workout at Santa Anita Park.
Baffert said that owners who send horses to his barn understand that they might be running against stablemates in big races such as the Triple Crown, which is why Dortmund is a candidate for the Preakness.
“My job is to get my people there,” he said. “If the horse is doing well do we run him there or wait for the Belmont? I don’t know. Let’s say if ‘Pharoah’ didn’t win the Preakness, I don’t think I would run him in the Belmont.
“It’s one of those things where I will sit down and discuss it with Kaleem Shah. I’m sure he’s going to want a little revenge. His horse ran a really good race. If ‘Pharoah’ is that good he’s going to have to run hard. Right now I would say if all’s well (he would run); and Dortmund looked good.”
Baffert said that his Derby celebration was a fairly quiet: dinner with his family and the Zayats, then watching the Mayweather–Pacquiao fight on television.
“We just talked about how relieved and lucky we are that the horses ran so well and that we won another Derby,” he said. “We were pretty tired, pretty worn out. It’s been a really hectic week. When you have that kind of pressure on you that everybody puts you in the winners’ circle (in advance), it’s added pressure. It was a different feeling. It was a lot of relief.”
As for carrot-loving American Pharoah, his performances, five wins in six starts, do the talking, though Baffert was quick to explain his brilliance.
“He was just born with that talent,” Baffert said. “He has that long stride. He’s quick. He’s got a really good mind. He just floats over the ground. He’s different, just the way he’s made. What we saw yesterday is that he’s not one-dimensional, which is so nice to have.
“Bodemeister (the Derby runner-up in 2012) had to just be out there. He’s quick. He’s handy. You can move on him at any time. I think with more racing he’s getting smarter. He wasn’t rank with Victor at all. So he can sit there and pounce, run by you and go a mile and a quarter. He is competitive. He wants to win. He knows he’s special.”