The buzz on the backstretch at Santa Anita Sunday morning was all about American

Pharoah, and it ranged from spectacular to speechless.

For those who might have missed it, American Pharoah emphatically enhanced his position as favorite for the 141st Kentucky Derby on May 2 with a jaw-dropping eight length win in Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

Even Neil Drysdale was impressed. Said Jerry Hollendorfer: “Words can’t describe it.”

Pharoah’s victory, the first in which he did not lead virtually from start to finish, as he did in his previous three triumphs, by a combined margin of 14 ¼ lengths, showed a new dimension, as if he needed one–stalking.

Bridget’s Big Luvy, at 38-1, led until the three-quarter marker in the mile and an eighth race, then Victor Espinoza “moved at will to collar the leader in the second turn” . . . and the bay son of Pioneerof the Nile owned and bred by Ahmed Zayat “drew out as he pleased through the stretch without being asked for his best,” according to the Equibase chart.

Espinoza never moved on the horse through the lane.

“Moved?” observed one insider, eyebrows raised. “Hell, he never even said ‘giddy up.'”

Bob Baffert watched the race on TV from his base at Santa Anita, leaving the maneuvers of execution to assistant Jim Barnes.

“I was ecstatic,” Baffert said Sunday morning of American Pharoah’s performance. “I liked the way he shut it down. We thought he might be able to do that, but you don’t know until you actually do it in a race, because the adrenalin’s going through and everything else.

“He got bumped leaving there a bit, and sometimes that gets them all charged up. But he was just so professional. I couldn’t have been happier the way it turned out. He got some things his own way, but it was good he showed he was not one dimensional; that’s a big plus.”

Undefeated Dortmund, the gargantuan Santa Anita Derby winner and the other half of Baffert’s one-two Derby punch–call them The Dazzler and The Diesel–will leave Santa Anita for Kentucky April 26, Baffert said. American Pharoah leaves Arkansas tomorrow for Louisville, while Santa Anita Derby runner-up One Lucky Dane will ship to Louisville on an as-yet-to-be determined date.

As American Pharoah and Dortmund continued to trump each other en route to the Derby, the fact remains that the playoffs are now over, and a full field of 20 could enter the starting gate for the mile and a quarter classic.

Or not. Perhaps the 2015 Run for the Roses is a fait accompli.

“If there ever was a year there shouldn’t be 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby,” said trainer Jim Cassidy, “it’s this year.”



Victor Espinoza, back at Santa Anita bright and early Sunday morning after steering American Pharoah to a geared-down victory in the Arkansas Derby, was not a victim of jet lag flying in from Arkansas.

He flew in on a private jet owned by the Hronis brothers.

“I was very confident in American Pharoah,” Espinoza said in a classic understatement, since the colt was favored at 10 cents on the dollar. “This was the first time I rode him that he was behind another horse, but I just went by him like he was standing still.

“Into the stretch, it didn’t feel like I was going that fast, and I was excited. I wanted to let him run a little, but I looked back and I was so far in front, I slowed him down a little bit. He did it all on his own, basically.

“Bob Baffert didn’t want me to win by that many lengths, but sometimes you can’t help it. I know it’s only three weeks until the Kentucky Derby and you want to save as much as you can for that race.

“But with a horse like him, he does things so easy, it was all I could do.”



            Known as “The Fiery Panamanian” throughout his legendary career, Manuel Ycaza, a winner of the 1964 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, will be on hand for today’s Woolf Ceremony honoring Mike Luzzi.

“This is the first time I’ve been to Santa Anita in about 25 years,” said Ycaza, 77, who retired with a lifetime win percentage of 22.4. “I first came here when I was 16, in 1954 and I lived in a dormitory. Everything looks about the same and I’m finding my way around pretty good.”

Known as a tremendous finisher who due to his intensity “led the league” in riding suspensions, Ycaza noted that he was indeed a pioneer. “I was the first Panamanian and the first Latin jockey to come here,” he said Sunday morning. “Milo Valenzuela was riding here and doing well, but he was born in Texas. I’m very proud that some great Panamanians followed me. Guys like Laffit (Pincay), Braulio (Baeza) and Jacinto Vasquez.”

Although Ycaza is commonly associated with several stakes horses trained by James Maloney in the late 1960s such as Gamely, who won the 1968 Santa Margarita Stakes with Ycaza, his first added-money success came much earlier.

“I had been leading rider at Golden Gate and my agent, George O’Bryan, got me on a nice filly here named Born Rich. She won the 1958 Santa Margarita and that was my first stakes win here at Santa Anita.”

Ycaza, who retired due to injury in 1971, was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1977, and made a brief return to the saddle in 1983. When asked to name the best horse he ever rode, he said, “I rode a lot of great horses, Dr. Fager, Lamb Chop, Ridan, Gamely, Dark Mirage, Damascus, Quadrangle, but the best horse I ever rode I think was Bald Eagle. He won the (Washington) D.C. International in 1959 and we came back and won it again in 1960. That was a really big race back then, at a mile and a half on the grass.”

Great memories, great riders–What else would you expect when the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award trophy is on display?


FINISH LINES: Peter Miller, currently tied with Jerry Hollendorfer for Santa Anita’s training lead at 30 wins each, has horses entered in four races today in an attempt to take the lead. Hollendorfer has 8-5 morning line favorite The Kentuckian going in race eight, the San Pedro Stakes. Winning would be more special, Miller said, “because I don’t think there’s ever been a trainer who’s won a meet from a training center. We’re going to try. We’re going to run everything we can. Jerry’s won enough titles.” Miller is based at San Luis Rey Downs . . . Hollendorfer said Santa Anita Handicap winner Shared Belief is scheduled to breeze Tuesday at Golden Gate Fields and leave Wednesday for Saturday’s $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia . . . Trivia question: approximately how many Americans work in the horse industry? 2.1 million, 4.6 million, 500,000, or 5.8 million . . . Richard Mandella said two-time champion Beholder came out of her 2015 debut romp in the Santa Lucia Stakes in good order and is ticketed for the Grade I Vanity Stakes on May 9 and a possible meeting with streaking stakes winner Warren’s Veneda, trained by Craig Lewis. It would be mindful of the 1995 Santa Anita Derby, when Larry the Legend, trained by Lewis, lunged at the last second to hang a desperation head defeat on Afternoon Deelites, trained by Mandella. “That,” recalled Mandella, “was a nightmare.” . . . Trivia answer: 4.6 million.

(Current Through Saturday, April 11)          
Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won  
Rafael Bejarano 299 71 46 41 24% $3,530,888  
Tyler Baze 329 47 43 35 14% $2,717,778  
Victor Espinoza 185 35 35 26 19% $2,437,156  
Kent Desormeaux 213 34 38 28 16% $2,100,220  
Martin Garcia 151 30 20 17 20% $2,758,740  
Joseph Talamo 255 27 27 43 11% $1,875,618  
Elvis Trujillo 239 26 35 25 11% $1,545,808  
Drayden Van Dyke 223 23 28 26 10% $1,506,413  
Mike Smith 114 22 22 17 19% $2,546,971  
Santiago Gonzalez 142 19 15 21 13% $843,304  
Corey Nakatani 114 19 11 16 17% $933,348  
Martin Pedroza 180 18 27 23 10% $781,994  
Fernando Perez 210 18 24 27 9% $880,888  
Flavien Prat 160 18 18 20 11% $989,114  
Gary Stevens 102 18 15 18 18% $1,606,738  
Edwin Maldonado 129 18 13 14 14% $625,704  
Tiago Pereira 131 18 9 15 14% $516,362  
Felipe Valdez 98 13 12 16 13% $429,837  
Mario Gutierrez 114 10 16 10 9% $559,052  
Aaron Gryder 90 7 11 8 8% $447,670  
Brice Blanc 62 7 3 5 11% $343,340  
Trainer Sts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won  
Peter Miller 162 30 28 20 19% $1,471,756  
Jerry Hollendorfer 172 30 22 26 17% $3,323,658  
Bob Baffert 113 26 19 15 23% $2,961,522  
Doug O’Neill 189 23 17 25 12% $1,127,792  
John Sadler 142 22 20 19 15% $1,485,820  
Philip D’Amato 84 20 12 15 24% $940,050  
Richard Baltas 84 17 15 7 20% $751,585  
Richard Mandella 72 17 10 13 24% $1,027,996  
Mark Glatt 86 15 17 12 17% $664,202  
Peter Eurton 88 15 13 15 17% $880,676  
Ron Ellis 65 15 5 10 23% $605,440  
Mike Puype 109 14 15 15 13% $606,946  
James Cassidy 75 10 8 13 13% $440,800  
Mark Casse 63 10 6 9 16% $810,186  
Jeff Bonde 38 10 2 4 26% $381,976  
Steven Miyadi 45 9 6 6 20% $305,070  
Michael Pender 54 8 9 6 15% $221,950  
Thomas Proctor 57 8 7 3 14% $582,078  
Jack Carava 55 7 10 8 13% $223,370  
J. Eric Kruljac 59 7 7 8 12% $361,610  
Hector Palma 37 7 5 2 19% $191,600  
Eddie Truman 25 7 4 2 28% $349,170  
A. C. Avila 25 7 2 3 28% $208,298  
Steve Knapp 41 7 2 3 17% $289,447