American Pharoah rules Derby, next stop Preakness

Reuters

(Reuters) - American Pharoah confirmed his status as a Triple Crown favorite after running down Firing Line to win Saturday's Kentucky Derby, and trainer Bob Baffert sees no reason to stop now.

A victory in the May 16 Preakness and June 6 Belmont Stakes for the classy colt would produce thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Baffert, after winning his fourth Kentucky Derby, said if American Pharoah came out of the race in good health the next stop would be the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

"If all goes well, I don't see any reason not to go. So we're looking forward to it," the silver-haired trainer said.

"The next one is ... the fun one. You're coming off a Derby high, going in there to Baltimore. And the Preakness is one of my favorite races.

"We have two weeks to really watch the replay about a thousand times, enjoy it," added Baffert. "I'm looking forward to the next race."

American Pharoah, the 5-2 favorite, won his last four races by a cumulative 22 lengths including an eight-length romp in the Arkansas Derby, but had to fight his way to victory at Churchill Downs before 170,000 roaring fans.

He rushed to the front from his 16th starting position in the 18-horse field, then bided his time before swinging outside at the closing turn to chase down Firing Line in the stretch run for a one-length triumph.

Winning jockey Victor Espinoza, who won his third Derby and second in a row after last year's win on California Chrome, said Baffert had given him a green light to be aggressive.

"Yesterday, he texted me," said Espinoza. "He said, 'you know what? Just send it. I don't care. Just go to the front.'

"And, you know, it worked out well. American Pharoah is just an awesome horse. Bob Baffert, he is just an amazing trainer."

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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