Zayat Stables’ Triple Crown champion American Pharoah departed Churchill Downs on Thursday morning en route to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s Southern California base at Santa Anita.
The 3-year-old homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile walked out of Barn 33, Stall 28 – his home for most of the last 67 days – just after 7:20 a.m. ET for a short Brook Ledge Horse Transportation van ride to Louisville International Airport to catch an H.E. “Tex” Sutton Forwarding Company charter flight back to his California base. The flight departed at 9:04 a.m. ET and was due to arrive at Ontario International Airport at 9:40 a.m. PT.
“My experience here was great,” said assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, who oversaw American Pharoah’s stay in Kentucky. “It was easy – everything I thought it would be. I’m glad that we can come back this way. It’s just the way we like to do it. He looks very good, it’s just a matter of wrapping up here, packing up and getting back to California.”
"It was a great experience,” said regular exercise rider George Alvarez. “I just wanted to win the Kentucky Derby and get it off my [list], but this horse just kept on going and that was a great experience.”
Both Barnes and Alvarez reported that American Pharoah would likely resume training on Friday morning at Santa Anita.
Travelling alongside the Triple Crown winner for Thursday’s flight were stablemates Cat Burglar, Fame and Power and Hoppertunity, all of which ran last Saturday night as a part of Churchill Downs’ 11-race Downs After Dark program.
A field of nine fillies and mares are set for Saturday’s featured event, the sixth running of the $70,000-added Roxelana overnight stakes at six furlongs.
MILAM COULD SCRATCH IF ROXELANA COMES UP MUDDY; FIRES TALKS PISTOLPACKINPENNY’S NAME – Donamire Farm’s unbeaten 4-year-old filly Willow Hills, a runaway allowance winner on May 21 for her third straight win, is the 2-1 morning line favorite. Meanwhile, Joseph W. Sutton’s Milam is the 3-1 second-choice and looks to give her owner and trainer Eddie Kenneally their second victory in the race after teaming to win the 2013 renewal with Burban.
“She’s coming in really well,” Kenneally said. “No problems.”
In five career starts on Churchill Downs’ dirt oval, the homebred daughter of Street Sense has been in the money three times, one of which came in last year’s Eight Belles (GIII) where she ran second behind Fiftyshadesofgold. She enters Saturday’s race off a fourth-place effort in the May 25 Winning Colors (GIII).
“She was second in the (2014) Eight Belles and she likes this track so we really like this spot for her,” Kenneally said. “She ran well in the Winning Colors, but the track came up muddy and she didn’t care for it. I think this is the logical spot for her.”
With Saturday’s National Weather Service forecast of a 70-percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, there is a possibility that Milam could scratch if the track comes up too muddy.
“If it comes up muddy we may scratch,” Kenneally said. “It [the Winning Colors] was her first time in the mud and she didn’t care for it too much. It may rain all day but it is a great track so it may be dry when post time comes. We’ll just play it by ear.”
Jockey Corey Lanerie, who rides Milam, will be seeking his second Roxelana victory after winning the race in 2012 aboard Salty Strike.
Also coming out of the Winning Colors is Penny Fires’ Pistolpackinpenny who ran a well-beaten seventh in that race. The Arkansas-bred daughter of Portobello Road is trained by William “Jinks” Fires, husband to the owner.
“She’s coming into the race good,” Fires said. “I was hoping to have a dry track and I was hoping not to be in the one-hole but that’s okay, we can deal with that part of it. I was hoping to have a dry track so we’ll see how it comes up. This was the most logical race for her. She’s an Arkansas-bred and I got to run her. She’s not eligible for that extra breeders’ money.”
Fires told the story behind the 5-year-old mare’s name, which involved a run-in with the police at Little Rock International Airport.
“She [Penny Fires] was arrested coming through the airport with a pistol bit for a horse,” Jinks Fires said. “They arrested her at the Little Rock Airport. She had it in her suitcase and she didn’t even know what it was. When the police called me I thought it was someone pulling a joke. I kept trying to recognize the voice; I thought maybe it was Lynn Whiting or someone like that. Finally I said, ‘Is this a joke?’ and the guy said, ‘We have your wife detained at the airport. I’ll have you know this is no laughing matter.’ So one of my friends said, ‘You should name a horse Pistolpackinpenny.’ So that’s the story behind her.”
Jon Court, son-in-law to the Fires, has the mount aboard Pistolpackinpenny.
The field for the Roxelana, which goes as Race 10 of 11 on Saturday at 5:20 p.m. ET, from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Pistolpackinpenny (Jon Court, 8-1); Milam (Corey Lanerie, 3-1); Chortle (Robby Albarado, 8-1); Donita’s Ruler (Francisco Torres, 4-1); Fioretti (Sophie Doyle, 12-1); Not Again Nancye (Aaron Court, 20-1); Toni’s Hollyday (Joe Rocco, Jr., 10-1); Willow Hills (James Graham, 2-1); and Tizzy Be Hot (Rafael Hernandez,12-1).
The Roxelana is named in honor of William Lanes III’s homebred daughter of Boundary, who won her first four career starts by a combined 29 ¼ lengths, including a 11 ¾-length romp in the La Troienne (GIII) (now known as the Eight Belles). Trained by the late William “Blackie” Huffman, she was the favorite in every start, with the exception of her debut where she was the 5-2 second choice.
DOWN THE STRETCH – Cliff and Michele Love’s Louisville Handicap (GIII) winner Xtra Luck breezed a half-mile in :48 Thursday morning for trainer Neil Howard. “He’s doing good,” Howard said. “He’s one of those horses that is pretty straight forward. We had to skip turf training today because of (Wednesday’s) rain so we’ll put him back on the turf on Tuesday.” Xtra Luck is scheduled to make his next start in the $100,000 Stars and Stripes (GIII) on July 11 at Arlington International. … Also breezing Thursday for Howard was Stoneway Farm’s Ahh Chocolate, who was third in the May 15 Black Eyed Susan (GII) at Pimlico. The 3-year-old homebred daughter of Candy Ride went five furlongs in 1:01.00. Howard is targeting the $200,000 Indiana Oaks (GII) at Indiana Grand on July 18. … John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird returned to the track Thursday for the first time since his victory in Saturday night’s Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). The son of Birdstone jogged one mile around the main track. “The goal is to run in the (Aug. 8) Whitney,” assistant trainer Norman Casse said. “But that’s a long ways away so we’ll see. If he isn’t training well, we won’t run him.” … Jamie Grubbs’ Missing Sefa will be making her 109th career start in Churchill Downs’ fourth race on Thursday evening. The 13-year-old mare will make her 17th start at Churchill Downs. Her first local start came 11 years ago on May 12, 2004. Missing Sefa seeks her first victory of the year. Her last triumph was May 10, 2014 at Belterra Park. John McKee has the mount aboard the veteran mare, who is trained by her owner. … Popular area country music artist J.D. Shelburne will perform between races on the Plaza stage during today’s Twilight Thursday eight-race card. Also featured are $1 beer of the 12-ounce variety from 5-8 p.m., food trucks and a special Handicapping 101 tent for newcomers. Gates open at 4 p.m. Thursday, the first race is 5 p.m. and the finale is set for 8:39 p.m. … Sunday doubles as Father’s Day and Family Adventure Day Presented by Kroger with more than 20 fun activities for children under 12. Kids’ activities include a Mighty Titans obstacle course, Father’s Day crafts, strawberry carnival ride, stick horse races in the historic Churchill Downs Paddock, petting zoo, miniature pony rides, inflatable bounce house, corn hole, face painting, sidewalk chalk art, Kona Ice trucks, video game truck, bubble station, interactive sports games, miniature horse meet and greet, a strolling magician, Carmichael’s Kids Story Time and more.