American Pharoah went out Thursday morning for a gallop once around on Oaklawn Park's sealed track rated good after morning rain.
“He’s without a doubt the best horse I’ve ever sat on in my entire life, and I’ve been on some really good ones,” said Mike Johnson, who trains horses for Oaklawn President Charles Cella and doubles as an exercise rider. “He floated over the track. Even though it was his first time, he felt like he’s been here before. He was super. It was so much fun being on him I don’t even think I’m going to charge Bob.”
American Pharoah seeks to join Hoppertunity (2014), Secret Circle (2012), The Factor (2011), and Lookin at Lucky (2010) on the roster of Rebel winners from the Baffert barn.
“He’s a pretty good horse but I won’t try to compare him to any of the others,” said Baffert assistant Jim Barnes. “We also have Dortmund as another pretty good 3-year-old in the barn, so we’re concentrating on him as well.”
American Pharoah and Midnight Hawk, the latter entered in the Razorback, schooled in the paddock before the afternoon’s races and were on tap to gallop again Friday morning. Both horses will be partnered with Victor Espinoza, their regular rider, on Saturday.
Todd Pletcher trainee Madefromlucky galloped an easy mile before the break under assistant trainer Adele Bellinger. The son of Lookin at Lucky graduated from the maiden ranks at the 1 1/16 mile distance of the Rebel two starts back at Gulfstream Park. He then stretched out to take a 1 1/8-mile first level allowance test under his Rebel rider, John Velazquez.
“Madefromlucky has been training well and has a good foundation. He’s got a pair of two-turn races under his belt, and hopefully that will continue to move him forward,” said Pletcher, who won the 2014 Arkansas Derby with Danza. “Obviously, this is a very competitive race for him with American Pharoah and the other nice colts, but we’re pleased with what he’s been doing and he deserves his chance.”
Steve Asmussen’s contender Bold Conquest also galloped a mile Thursday morning. The son of Curlin, who was also an Asmussen trainee, finished fourth in the Southwest Stakes in his 2015 debut. The trainer was guardedly optimistic.
“I do expect him to improve,” Asmussen said. “But he’s going to have to improve a lot.”
Oaklawn’s two-time defending leading rider Ricardo Santana Jr. retains the mount for the Rebel.
The Truth or Else
Trainer Kenny McPeek was asked if there would be any early pressure put on American Pharoah.
“I can’t worry about what I can’t control," he said. "I just have to worry about if we are good enough. We think we have a nice colt.”
“We will see how things shape up Saturday. He’s doing well and training well, you have to take a shot at this race," said trainer Chris Richard. "Everything is going as expected."
The son of Candy Ride will have Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode him to a second place finish in a first level allowance race at the track last time out, back in the irons.
Ron Moquett, who will saddle Sakima in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes, says the rainy weather in Hot Springs is a non-issue.
“Wet or dry, it doesn’t really matter to us. I think he’ll handle the track either way."
As for the race setup and whether he thinks anything will pressure American Pharoah: "I certainly hope so. It won’t be us though; our plan is to lay off the pace as we’ve done in the past.”
Trainer/owner Tim Martin said, "He had an easy morning and just walked. We will do a little something with him tomorrow and take our chance Saturday."
Edited Oaklawn releases with additional content by Dick Downey