HOT SPRINGS, AR (News release) – Champion American Pharoah, the runaway winner of $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14, arrived back in Hot Springs Wednesday just in time to draw the number 6 post position and be installed as the 1-2 favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). The Zayat Stable colorbearer arrived via a Tex Sutton flight from his Southern California base along with several other Racing Festival of the South contenders.
American Pharoah was named champion 2-year-old of 2014 by virtue of his wins in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and Front Runner Stakes (G1) and despite missing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) with an injury. His 3-year-old debut came in the Rebel and he will once again be partnered with jockey Victor Espinoza, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner.
“We didn’t want to be the one-hole so I was happy with the draw,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert of American Pharoah’s place in the starting gate. “We should be fine. He just needs some racing luck.”
Just to the outside the favorite will be Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes (G3) Far Right, who was made the 9-2 second choice in the 1 1/8 mile race. Trainer Ron Moquett and owners Harry Rosenblum and Robert LaPenta elected not to run their Notional ridgeling in the Rebel. The Arkansas Derby will be the first meeting between the top two contenders.
Ackerley Brothers Farm’s Bold Conquest has faced both American Pharoah when third in the Rebel and Far Right when fourth in the Southwest Stakes. He’ll be looking to stamp his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with an improved performance Saturday. He drew post five and will have the services of leading jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
“In an eight-horse field when they’re going a mile-and-an-eighth, nobody can complain,” said Bold Conquest’s trainer Steve Asmussen.
Cheyenne Stable and Mac Nichol’s Madefromlucky, second in the Rebel, makes the return trip to Oaklawn from his South Florida base seeking to give trainer Todd Pletcher his third consecutive Arkansas Derby victory. Pletcher has pulled the upset the last two years with Overanalyze in 2013 and Danza last year. Madefromlucky drew post four and will be ridden by John Velazquez.
“In an eight-horse field I am not overly concerned with any post position but right in the middle is a fine place to start,” said Pletcher.
The Arkansas Derby field also attracted Mr. Z, another Zayat Stables runner who was third in both the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes before an unsuccessful trip in the Louisiana Derby, and maiden Win the Space. Bridget’s Big Luvy shipped in from Maryland April 1 after winning the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel in his last start.
The complete field for the 79th running of the Arkansas Derby (G1), in post position order, with riders and morning line odds: The Truth or Else, Calvin Borel, 15-1; Mr. Z, Ramon Vazquez, 10-1; Bridget’s Big Luvy, Angel Cruz, 20-1; Madefromlucky, John Velazquez, 6-1; Bold Conquest, Ricardo Santana Jr., 20-1; American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza, 1-2; Far Right, Mike Smith, 9-2 and Win the Space, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1.