LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Brilliant but untested, American Pharoah was put to a fight in the Kentucky Derby and won.
Sent off as the 5-2 favorite by the record crowd of 170,513, the brown colt rallied in the stretch to beat Firing Line by a length Saturday and deliver trainer Bob Baffert’s fourth Derby win and first since 2002.
“It’s a fantasy moment for us,” said a joyous Baffert, surrounded by his three older sons and his youngest, 10-year-old Bode, who jumped up and down and waved his arms in celebration.
Baffert also saddled third-place Dortmund, the other part of his lethal 1-2 punch in the 141st Derby. Firing Line finished second.
“We were ready to rumble,” Baffert said.
Dortmund set a leisurely pace with Firing Line tracking him closely in second. American Pharoah sat comfortably in third down the backstretch.
That trio made it a three-horse race in the stretch, with none of the closers able to make up ground. American Pharoah angled outside and fought off a persistent Firing Line as Dortmund tired along the rail.
Now, the moment of truth. Could American Pharoah justify Baffert’s belief that he was an exceptional colt?
“I was on pins and needles all week,” the white-haired trainer said. “I know I was coming in here with the best horse.”
American Pharoah proved him right.
Still, it was a long road to the winner’s circle for the colt with the unusually short tail — having had it chewed off by another horse on the farm — and the misspelled moniker courtesy of a fan contest.
American Pharoah missed his first big test last year when he was scratched from the Breeders’ Cup with an injury. He returned with two easy wins this year against lesser competition. Dortmund and several other Derby contenders had beaten much tougher fields, raising questions about whether American Pharoah could mix it up in a 20-horse field.
Victor Espinoza won his second consecutive Derby a year after being aboard California Chrome, and third overall. He and Baffert teamed to win with War Emblem 18 years ago.
“He’s been a special horse since I first rode him,” Espinoza said. “I feel like the luckiest Mexican on Earth.”
American Pharoah ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.02.
Baffert tied D. Wayne Lukas and Herbert “Derby Dick” Thompson for second on the career win list.
American Pharoah paid $7.80, $5.80, $4.20.
Firing Line returned $8.40 and $5.40 at 10-1 odds, while Dortmund was another two lengths back in third and paid $4.20 to show.
Owner Ahmed Zayat accepted the gold winner’s trophy — his first after a trio of second-place finishes in the $2.1 million race.
“Finally, no more seconds,” he said, laughing.
Baffert trained two of Zayat’s runners-up: Pioneerof the Nile in 2009, the sire of American Pharoah; and Bodemeister, named for Baffert’s son, three years ago.
“This is for the Zayats, who have suffered so much running these seconds,” Baffert said. “We know what it is to just get punched right in the face.”
Zayat took a pre-Derby blow Friday, when one of his other horses, El Kabeir, was scratched because of a sore foot. Mr. Z, his third entry, finished 13th.
Frosted was fourth, followed by Danzig Moon, Materiality, Keen Ice and Mubtaahij. Itsaknockout was ninth and then came Carpe Diem, Frammento, Bolo, Mr. Z, Ocho Ocho Ocho, Far Right, War Story, Tencendur and Upstart.
Kentucky Derby winners since 2000:
2015 — American Pharoah
2014 — California Chrome
2013 — Orb
2012 — I’ll Have Another
2011 — Animal Kingdom
2010 — Super Saver
2009 — Mine That Bird
2008 — Big Brown
2007 — Street Sense
2006 — Barbaro
2005 — Giacomo
2004 — Smarty Jones
2003 — Funny Cide
2002 — War Emblem
2001 — Monarchos
2000 — Fusaichi Pegasus
Field for Saturday’s 141st Kentucky Derby, with post position, horse’s name, jockey’s name and odds:
2. Ocho Ocho Ocho Elvis Trujillo 50-1
3. Carpe Diem John Velazquez 8-1
4. Materiality Javier Castellano 12-1
5. Tencendur Manny Franco 30-1
6. Danzig Moon Julien Leparoux 30-1
7. Mubtaahij Christophe Soumillon 20-1
8. Dortmund Martin Garcia 3-1
9. Bolo Rafael Bejarano 30-1
10. Firing Line Gary Stevens 12-1
11. Itsaknockout Luis Saez 30-1
12. Keen Ice Kent Desormeaux 50-1
13. Frosted Joel Rosario 15-1
14. War Story Joe Talamo 50-1
15. Mr. Z Ramon Vazquez 50-1
16. American Pharoah Victor Espinoza 5-2
17. Upstart Jose Ortiz 15-1
18. Far Right Mike Smith 30-1
19. Frammento Corey Nakatani 50-1
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — 3:50 p.m.
Two jockeys made an appearance near the paddock and passers-by scrambled to snap photos with them.
“Being a jockey has been the most gratifying experience in my life,” professed Matt Rose.
Only Rose weighs 260 pounds and stands 6-foot-9, a couple heads higher than the average jockey. And he’s never actually ridden a horse.
He and a friend, both from Illinois, donned polyester jockey suits, complete with little caps and whips, for the Derby and tried to trick as many people as they could.
“I gave up my job to commit full-time to being a jockey,” he declared. His friends stood around giggling, regaling the onlookers with tales of Rose training for his big race debut by riding a mechanical bull.
Rose is actually a fireman.
Johnny Weir’s choice of flashy hats usually grabs as much attention as the Kentucky Derby favorite. He calls this year’s choice his “mohawk” hat: a garland of red roses with an ice-cold mint julep on top. His shiny gold suit resembles pajamas along with black and gold loafers, a gold Rolex and even a gilded microphone for his NBC broadcasting job with sidekick and former fellow ice skater Tara Lipinski. Last year Weir made a splash with a tall white feathery hat with a white Pegasus horse bursting from the plume.
Celebrity chef Bobby Flay cooked up a winner in the $300,000 Humana Distaff as Dame Dorothy edged Judy the Beauty by a neck in a rousing battle to the wire. The 4-year-old filly is named for his mother.
It was the second stakes win of the day for trainer Todd Pletcher, who saddles three runners later in the Derby: Carpe Diem, Materiality and Itsaknockout.
Dame Dorothy won for the sixth time in eight starts. She paid $7.20 to win. Javier Castellano was aboard for the seven furlongs in 1:22.67.
Judy the Beauty suffered a tough-luck loss in her comeback, the first race since she captured the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last November at Santa Anita.
Divisidero has a marvelous closing kick.
He flashed that powerful move in a bold run down the center of the course for an upset in the $250,000 American Turf Stakes for 3-year-olds.
The colt trained by Buff Bradley and ridden by Rafael Hernandez is now 2 for 3 after rallying from 11th to beat A Lot by three quarters of a length.
He made some Derby Day long shot fans happy with a $19.20 payoff to win.
The time was 1:41.59 for the 1 1/16 miles on the firm course.
The $200,000 Derby Trial for 3-year-olds, the traditional opening day feature at Churchill Downs, has a new name and a new spot on the calendar.
It has been rechristened the Pat Day Mile, in honor of the retired Hall of Fame rider, and now kicks off the stakes undercard on Derby Day.
Day, dapper in a dark suit, was on hand for the trophy presentation to a winner with a very bright future.
Competitive Edge improved to 4 for 4 with another commanding win. He beat Pain and Misery by 4 1/2 lengths with John Velazquez aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher, paying $4.60 to win as the 6-5 favorite.
Spotted on the red carpet at Churchill Downs gettin’ ready for the Derby were Singer Josh Groban, wearing a blue suit with no tie;
Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater, former Louisville star; Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead and the girl’s father, Larry Birkhead; Cheech Marin, wearing an off-white linen suit, no tie; singer Johnny Gill; and former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson, who, when asked about Derby parties, replied, “They are the best, last night we partied hard.”
John Oxley spent Derby Day in a place where every horse owner longs to be — in an owner’s suite near the Churchill Downs track.
The Louisville track spent $4.2 million to build the new Winner’s Circles Suites for Derby horse owners. The project also included a new courtyard that provided up-close viewing for more than 600 Derby fans.
The new suites were a winner with Oxley, owner of Derby horse Danzig Moon.
“We’re near the finish line,” he said. “We have a nice view up the track at the far turn. And it’s convenient to get to the paddock from here.”
Oxley won the 2001 Derby with Monarchos.
The open-air suites are situated in a prime spot under the track’s iconic twin spires. Each Derby horse owner received 18 complimentary tickets for the suites as well as food and drinks. In the past, owners received a complimentary six-person box in the third-floor clubhouse.
“It’s the whole package,” Oxley said. “I’m coming back next year. All I have to do is get the horse to get me here.”
Sharon Rose, from Cleveland, stood on her tip toes against the gate at the red carpet, iPhone raised high in the air, and tried to snap shots as the famous people streamed by.
A mob of journalists and photographers blocked her path. She managed to catch a shoulder here, pant leg there through the masses.
“I don’t know if I got it!” she said, downtrodden as Nick and Vanessa Lachey strutted by.
Rose, 55, has been at the Derby five years in a row and never seen a celebrity up close.
Rose caught on camera only a sliver of Shannon Burton’s dress, made of fresh roses. Miss America was a blur
Early Derby odds have American Pharoah the 3-1 favorite and Dortmund the 4-1 second choice as fans begin sorting out their picks during advance wagering.
Even with the morning scratch of International Star, there are still horses to ponder.
After the two favorites — both trained by Bob Baffert — the odds jump to 7-1 for Carpe Diem, the third choice.
The prices will fluctuate throughout the day, right up to post time.
Greg Stumbo, Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives, sported a flashy pink tie as he headed up to Millionaire’s Row at Churchill Downs. But he wanted everyone to look at his wife’s giant, floppy blue hat.
“I paid more for that hat than the last horse I owned,” he said.
Stumbo, a Democrat, also boasted about his can’t miss betting strategy: pick the winners.
“We’re not gonna bet on Far Right, believe me,” he said.
Every committed Kentucky Derby-goer has a system that works. Getting to the track, picking horses and navigating the crowds can be a challenge for the uninitiated.
Longtime friends Tisa Lawless and Lisa Ware are doing their ninth Derby together. Lawless comes in from Dalton City, Illinois, and Ware from St. Petersburg, Florida.
A few years ago they found an Indiana hotel that doesn’t raise its rates for Derby weekend. They arrive around 8 a.m. and mark off their front-row spot in the grassy infield with police tape, and quickly lay down bets using a tried-and-tested system: Lawless chooses horses using the letters of her first name, and Ware bets the No. 3 horses in every race.
“Also any horses with cat in the name, or anything religious,” Lawless said. Ware hit a long shot on the first race of the day with Paganol’s win.
The Kentucky Derby is known for women’s fashion, especially the hats. But 48-year-old Jeff Rieg wasn’t going to let the women upstage him.
His hat, a flowing feather boa that reached down to his calves, included a “lucky monkey” and roses. He’s been wearing it to the Derby for 20 consecutive years.
“Each year I add something new to it,” he said.
This year’s addition: mini twin spires to match the famous icons of Churchill Downs.
“This is my vacation,” he said.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear arrives on the red carpet with his wife, Jane.
Miss Kentucky, Katie George, arrives on the red carpet.
The University of Louisville volleyball star apologized to the media.
“I’ve never done this before!” she said of her walk down the carpet.
George is wearing a pink dress and matching feathered fascinator.
On a normal day, Karen Vanzant, stands nearly 6 feet tall, a half foot taller than her husband Terry. On Derby Day, she plunked another two feet of bright yellow feathers on top of her head.
Passers-by gawked at the Colorado couple in glittering yellow. Some asked them to pose for selfies. The Vanzants happily obliged.
“We don’t ever dress up at home,” Karen said, as strangers snapped photos. “This is our one time a year to put on a show.”
They started coming to the Derby two decades ago and liked it so much they keep showing up, year after year, carefully planning their extravagant outfits.
“It was on our bucket list,” Terry said. “We said we were gonna come, we did and we haven’t stopped since.”
Karen sent a photo of her yellow sequin dress to a Louisville hat shop and told them to be creative. She paid $500 for the magnificent yellow plumes.
Star Jones arrives in white and pink on Churchill Downs’ red carpet. Her wide-brimmed hat teemed with pink flowers and feathers. A small crowd of Derby-goers is gathering at the gate to try to get a glimpse of celebrities.
For his first Derby, Rob Levit had to go with The Vest.
The 59-year-old from Amherst, Ohio, relies on it when he wants to make a statement. It’s emblazoned with orange, green and pink patterns and includes a dash of flowers similar to roses. It was a gift from his mother 20 years ago.
“It’s a little bit out of character in what I normally wear, but it blends in beautifully here,” he said from the infield of Churchill Downs.
He was feeling pretty good about himself until he was upstaged by a man wearing cutoff overalls and nothing else, his tie-dyed goatee waving in the wind as he breezed past him.
“I can’t beat that guy. He’s very natural,” Levit said.
Kentucky Derby Day has started in earnest with the first of 13 races going to post at 10:30 a.m., leading up to the 141st Run for the Roses at 6:24 p.m.
Gates opened at 8 a.m., and the grandstands, infield and paddock areas are already busy with racing fans milling and mingling. The forecast couldn’t be better: mostly sunny with temperatures in the low 70s. More than 160,000 are expected for the Derby, a day after a record 123,763 turned out for the Kentucky Oaks.
The morning has had some news with the last-minute scratch of International Star with a cracked hoof, reducing the field to 18 horses. The first race also produced the first upset, as 12-1 choice Paganol won going away and paid $30.20, $19.40 and $10.60.
That should make some bettors happy as a long day begins.
Associated Press writers Bruce Schreiner, Dylan Lovan, Adam Beam and Claire Galofaro and free-lancers Josh Abner and Mike Farrell contributed to this report.