As Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Preakness Stakes (GI) winner American Pharoah attempts to make history as the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, some of Churchill Downs’ horsemen gave their expertise on whether or not the 3-year-old has what it takes. Here’s what they had to say:
Hall of Fame Trainer D. Wayne Lukas: “I think he’ll win and win easy. The thing that makes American Pharoah probably in a better position than most of them in the past 30 years is the fact that he’s had two easy races [Rebel and Arkansas Derby], one tough one [Kentucky Derby] and then another easy one [Preakness]. So he’s got that going for him.”
Trainer David Vance: “I like him. I haven’t seen a horse as good as him since Secretariat.”
Trainer Neil Howard: “I think we all have the same feeling about him; he’s just an amazing animal.”
Trainer Tom Amoss: “I think American Pharoah is up against it. I think there are good horses that have been waiting for this spot. [Todd] Pletcher’s horse Materiality, he’s got a proven formula for winning the Belmont in his own backyard and certainly Frosted would be another one. If he wins it, I won’t be rooting against him. It would prove he’s a great horse that falls in the category of Secretariat and Seattle Slew.”
Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel: “I think he can do it. He’s the best horse in the race. The only thing that he needs is a little bit of luck. He’s a powerful horse, just looking at his dimension, it’s all there and the talent is there. The big question is the distance.”
Trainer Jimmy Baker: “The way he breezed, I think he’ll be tough. He’s got the demeanor, he’s got the talent, he’s got all the qualities of a Triple Crown horse. He might go down as one of the best, you never know.”
Trainer Ron Moquett: “He’s [American Pharoah] the best horse in the race. It’s just a matter of if he gets the right trip or not. It will take a scenario to beat him – if Frosted presses him or if Materiality jumps on him early on. If he loses, it will be a scenario that beats him, not a horse.”
Jockey Channing Hill: “The way he breezed out here, I don’t see anyone beating him. Frosted could be tough since Belmont’s in Kiaran’s [McLaughlin] backyard, but Pharoah is the best horse in the race.”
Trainer David Carroll: “I absolutely love the horse. To see him, in person and then watch his breeze was absolutely awesome so I’m behind him. If he can’t do it, I’ll be rooting for my man Dallas [Stewart] and Tale of Verve.”
Trainer Paul McGee: “I think that American Pharoah is going to be very tough to beat on Saturday.”
Jockey Jesus Castanon: “I think he’s got it. We think about it every year when a horse wins the Derby and then the Preakness and always think we got a Triple Crown winner, but this horse has really proved a lot. He’s fresh and doesn’t have very many races in his belly.”
Trainer Murat Sancal: “I like him. There is no one that I think can beat him. The crop is not strong in my opinion.”
HORSE-FOR-COURSE STRIKE CHARMER LOOKS TO STRIKE AGAIN IN OLD FORESTER – Courtland Farms’ Strike Charmer looks to return to the winner’s circle in Saturday’s featured event, the 39th running of the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap (Grade III) at 1 1/16 miles on turf for fillies and mares. The daughter of Smart Strike is the morning line third choice at odds of 6-1 and last saw the winner’s circle in the Cardinal Handicap (GIII) last fall. David Carroll trains the 5-year-old mare, who is no stranger to success at Churchill Downs as she is a three-time winner on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
“She came out of a nice work and is doing very well,” Carroll said. “She trains well and runs well over the Churchill turf. It’s a good spot for her since we don’t have to ship. We’re right here so it makes sense to stay at home.”
Carroll, who won the 2009 edition of the Mint Julep with Helen Alexander and Helen Groves’ Acoma, discussed the bad trip Strike Charmer got in her last start which was a sixth-place effort in the Distaff Turf Mile (GII) on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
“She got stuck into on the first turn in that race and came back with a gash,” he said. “She got struck into on her left hind. Another horse [Water Hole] bumped her pretty hard on first turn and we were much further back than we had planned.”
Chris Landeros has the mount on Strike Charmer.
Also coming out of the Distaff Turf Mile is Hit the Board Stables I’m Already Sexy who finished eighth in that race and is the morning line favorite at 7-2 odds. Wayne Catalano trains the 5-year-old daughter of Ready’s Image who has one win out of six starts over the Matt Winn Turf Course.
“She’s coming into the race well,” Catalano said of I’m Already Sexy. “She should get a good class relief from her last start.”
Brian Hernandez, Jr. has the mount on I’m Already Sexy. Should she run, Channing Hill is named the rider aboard Aurelia’s Belle.
The field for the Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap, from the hedge out (with jockey, weight, morning line odds): Aurelia’s Belle (Hill, 118, 10-1), Femme Fatale (Luis Quinonez, 114, 30-1), I’m Already Sexy (Brian Hernandez Jr., 118, 7-2), Canny Nanny (Joe Rocco Jr., 114, 5-1), Bitty Kitty (Shaun Bridgmohan, 115, 8-1), Strike Charmer (Landeros, 117, 6-1), Kiss Moon (Corey Lanerie, 115, 10-1), Maid On a Mission (Marcelino Pedroza, 114, 10-1), Kitty Wine (Rafael Hernandez, 115, 12-1), Kepi (Jareth Loveberry, 115, 15-1), Keening (Jesus Castanon, 114, 20-1) and Personal Diary (Jon Court, 118, 5-1).
MEDAL COUNT BREEZES, ALLOWANCE TURF RACE LOOMS – Spendthrift Farms’ Medal Count breezed six furlongs on the Matt Winn Turf Course in 1:16 on Thursday morning. Trainer Al Stall Jr. said that the son of Dynaformer is on schedule to make his comeback in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the turf at Churchill Downs on June 20. His last start took place on Sept. 27 in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (GI) at Belmont Park.