- ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL FOR PHAROAH, ESPINOZA
- BEHOLDER, WARREN’S VENEDA VANITY SHOWDOWN LOOMS
- MARTIN PEDROZA AND PRIVATE ZONE: TWO PEAS IN A POD
- ‘BILLION DOLLAR’ BAL A BALI IS READY FOR U.S. DEBUT
FAIRYTALE RIDE CONTINUES FOR VICTOR ESPINOZA
It wasn’t quite Cecil B. DeMille’s “Cleopatra,” but Bob Baffert’s fourth Kentucky Derby win was 13 years in the making.
It was worth the wait.
Starring American Pharoah, the 141st Run for the Roses had a predictable ending, at least in the eyes of many experts, with the favored hero gaining gold and glory before “finis” appeared on the screen.
Unlike last year, when the country was ensconced in the fairytale ride of California Chrome, a horse from the other side of the tracks who wasn’t supposed to win the Derby, American Pharoah was.
This was the classic Thoroughbred, a picture to look at, impeccably prepared by Bob Baffert and his team, and ridden to perfection by Victor Espinoza, who became only the sixth jockey to win the Derby back to back, having done so last year with California Chrome.
Despite all the fanfare before and after the race, Espinoza was his typical unflappable self, smiling, happy and taking everything in stride.
Sunday, however, it was business as usual for the self-proclaimed “happy Mexican” who was back to more mundane tasks at Santa Anita, where he was named to ride three horses.
“Victor handled all the hoopla and publicity the week before the Derby and immediately after like he always does,” said his low-key agent of two years, Brian Beach. “He handled every interview and all the charity events up until Friday night.
“Then he put on his game face and got ready for Saturday.
“It was a relief for him to get to the races Saturday, and he was pretty pumped up after he won. Once the post-race interviews were over and things settled down, he put in appearances at a couple of restaurants, but I picked him up sat 4:45 this morning (Eastern Time) and got him on a 6:05 flight out of Louisville to honor his commitments at Santa Anita.”
For good measure, Espinoza rode Finnegans Wake to a stirring head victory in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, coming from ninth and last.
The two victories were worth $1,716,400 in purse earnings.
American Pharoah got a perfect trip in the mile and a quarter Derby breaking from the 15 post position in a field reduced to 18 after scratches. Espinoza held him in third behind pacesetting stable mate Dortmund and another Santa Anita-based runner, Firing Line, before he hit the quarter pole.
Then, for the first time since he had ridden him in four previous victories by a combined margin of more than 22 lengths, Espinoza went to the whip. It was show time.
American Pharoah responded, edging clear at the wire to win by a length.
“Victor felt he had the race the entire length of the stretch,” Beach said. “He wasn’t surprised he had to run that hard to get by Firing Line.
“We knew all the California horses would run well.”
COUNTDOWN ON FOR BEHOLDER, VENEDA IN VANITY
The “Match Race” of the year is on tap next Saturday, when two-time Eclipse champion Beholder and Warren’s Veneda, winner of three straight stakes including the Grade I Santa Margarita, are scheduled to face off in the Grade I, $300,000 Vanity Stakes at a mile and an eighth.
“Beholder couldn’t be doing better, but (trainer Craig) Lewis has a good filly and I respect her, so it will be a good race,” said Richard Mandella, who conditions Beholder, a champion at two in 2012 and at three in 2013.
Legacy, second to Beholder in last year’s Santa Lucia Stakes, is among the few expected to face the top pair. The daughter of Sightseeing worked six furlongs for John Sadler Sunday in 1:13.20.
PEDROZA, PRIVATE ZONE: TWO PEAS IN A POD
Martin Pedroza was back on the beat at Santa Anita early Sunday morning after riding Private Zone to a 4 ¼-length victory in Saturday’s Grade II, $500,000 Churchill Downs Stakes.
Pedroza and Private Zone: a match made in heaven. Each is a fierce competitor, Pedroza who will be 50 on July 20 and Private Zone a 6-year-old warhorse of a gelding trained by Jorge Navarro and managed by Pedroza’s long-time friend and former jockey, Rene Douglas.
Douglas, paralyzed in a May 2009 spill and confined to a wheel chair since, has been on hand to see Private Zone win in the past, but not yesterday, with a record 170,000 people milling around Churchill Downs.
“It would have been too much,” Pedroza said. “But it was special to win for Rene even though he was not there. We’ve been childhood friends since we grew up together in Panama.”
Of Private Zone, Pedroza acknowledged, “We’re both fighters. We both love to win. Even at our advanced ages, the fire of desire still burns bright.”
Pedroza recorded similar rail-trip triumphs on Private Zone twice in the Grade I Vosburgh Invitational, in 2013 and again last year. Each time he appeared beaten through the stretch run by a horse outside him, but fought back tenaciously to gain the victory.
Pedroza had no such luck trying to get out of Kentucky in time to reach Las Vegas for last night’s welterweight title fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquaio. He had a tougher time getting back to LA than he did winning on Private Zone.
“Martin had to have a police escort leaving Churchill Downs to get to the airport in Louisville,” said his long-time agent, Richie Silverstein. “That flight went through Detroit and I picked him up at LAX at 9:54 last night.
“With the big sports night, all traffic from the fight, the Clippers’ game and the Kentucky Derby, it took an hour and a half to get back to his apartment.”
FINISH LINES: Bal a Bali, winner of 11 of 12 starts in his native Brazil where he earned $510,078, makes his U.S. debut in next Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 American Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at one mile on turf. Flavien Prat, tied for the riding lead with Tyler Baze at six wins each through Saturday, has the mount. “He’s terrific, training like a billion dollars,” Richard Mandella said of the 5-year horse that has been favored at odds-on in 10 of his 12 races. “A million wouldn’t be enough.” Mandella won the 2,000th race of his storied career when Catch a Flight captured Saturday’s Precisionist Stakes by three-quarters of a length under Prat. “It’s good, but it took a long time,” Mandella said of the milestone. “I did it one inch at a time, 42 years; this didn’t come overnight.” . . . American Stakes nominees Gabriel Charles (five furlongs in a bullet 1:01.40), Talco (six furlongs in 1:15.40) and Winning Prize (five furlongs in 1:03.40) each worked on turf Sunday. . . San Felipe runner-up Prospect Park worked five furlongs at San Luis Rey Downs Saturday in 1:00.40. Trainer Cliff Sise Jr. is preparing the son of Tapit for the Grade III Affirmed Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on June 7 . . . Congrats to Daily Racing Form’s Randy Goulding for picking cold the Kentucky Derby superfecta of American Pharoah, Firing Line, Dortmund and Frosted, good for $634.10 . . . Shemp, a 4-year-old son of Curlin who won Thursday’s eighthrace by a neck, is not necessarily named for one of the Three Stooges, portrayed at varioustimes in their heyday back in the 40s by Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp. Vann Belvoir, who trains the bay colt for owners Brian or Cicelia Raduenz, wasn’t sure if the origin emanated from the slapstick comic, Shemp Howard. But when the horse paid $34.80 and earned $18,600 for the win, it certainly brought a chuckle. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!
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