Triple Crown winner American Pharoah has been walking the shed row of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s Barn 33 daily since returning to Churchill Downs on Sunday, but he’s scheduled to return to the track Friday around 6:45 a.m. for a clockwise job around the one-mile oval.
“He’s absolutely fine – solid,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said of American Pharoah. “He’s the same as he’s always been.”
American Pharoah has been greeted by numerous horsemen and barn area guests daily looking for a picture and a chance to visit with horseracing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first since 1978.
“The people love him,” Barnes said. “They’ve been coming by and we’ve been friendly to everyone who’s wanted to visit him. This goes right to the top of all of our achievements and accomplishments and we’re just glad that we finally got it done.”
While the barn area remains secured and closed to the public, fans will be able to salute horse racing’s newest rock star Saturday night when American Pharoah will be paraded on the main track after the fifth race around 8 p.m. (all times Eastern) during Churchill Downs’ 11-race “Downs After Dark” presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka. Owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat and his family, Baffert and his family and jockey Victor Espinoza will be on hand to accept their engraved Kentucky Derby 141 trophies in a G.H. MUMM Winner’s Circle ceremony scheduled immediately after Race 6 at 8:32 p.m.
Admission gates open Saturday at 5 p.m. and the first race is 6 p.m. The evening’s theme is “White Party,” so guests are encouraged to wear their best summer whites.
Baffert is scheduled to return to Louisville on Thursday night and will be at the barn Friday morning. American Pharoah is scheduled to return to his Southern California base on Thursday, June 18.
FREE AMERICAN PHAROAH TRIPLE CROWN PRINT TO FIRST 5,000 FANS ON SATURDAY – Thanks to a partnership between Churchill Downs Racetrack and Courier-Journal, the first 5,000 fans in attendance Saturday night will receive a free commemorative print of American Pharoah that celebrates his Triple Crown achievement. The stirring photo of the print was taken by Courier-Journal photographer Michael Clevenger. The shot was taken from underneath the inside rail and depicts jockey Victor Espinoza looking back at his seven rivals following his 5 ½-length Belmont Stakes triumph with a ravenous crowd in the background. Churchill Downs admission gates open Saturday at 5 p.m. and the first of 11 races is 6 p.m.
GET YOUR PHOTO WITH THE KENTUCKY DERBY TROPHIES AND TRIPLE CROWN TROPHY – Fans in attendance at Churchill Downs on Saturday will be able to take pictures with American Pharoah’s engraved Kentucky Derby 141 trophies as well as the soon-to-be-engraved Triple Crown trophy. The trophies will be on display on the north side of the paddock in the Plaza area from 5-7 p.m. for guests to take their own pictures.
BAFFERT’S HOPPERTUNITY, CAT BURGLAR READY FOR STEPHEN FOSTER – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends out two of his best older horses in Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) winner Hoppertunity and Michael Lund Petersen’s Cat Burglar will look to give the four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer his first Stephen Foster victory. Baffert has finished second in this race twice with Captain Steve in 2001 and Kentucky Derby-winner Silver Charm in 1998.
Cat Burglar and Hoppertunity went to the track Thursday around 6:30 a.m., galloped one mile and schooled in the starting gate under the supervision of Baffert’s chief assistant Jimmy Barnes. The original plans were not to run Hoppertunity in the Foster, but Baffert decided to give the race a shot.
“He’s coming into the race really well,” Barnes said. “We were very pleased with his last work so Bob said, ‘You know what? Let’s run him’ so we’re ready to go.”
The son of Any Given Saturday breezed a five-furlong bullet in :58.20 on Monday. He will be making his first start since a distant third-place finish behind Shared Belief and last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner California Chrome in the San Antonio Invitational (GII) at Santa Anita on Feb. 7.
Baffert’s other contender Cat Burglar is coming off of a third-place finish behind fellow Stephen Foster contender Commissioner in the Pimlico Special (GIII) on May 15.
“With Cat Burglar, we didn’t go to New York and this was the next best place to run,” Barnes said. “We’re leaving here next week so we figured that we might as well run what we have here before we go back out to California.”
Exercise rider Jorge Alvarez was aboard Hoppertunity and Cat Burglar during their gallop.
“They went really good this morning,” Alvarez said. “We schooled them in the gate and they went did everything really well.”
Also going to the track this morning was WinStar Farm’s Commissioner and Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Lea, the 7-5 morning line Foster favorite. The former of the two galloped 1 3/8 miles under Adele Bellinger, who has been overseeing the son of A.P. Indy’s training for trainer Todd Pletcher since arriving at Churchill Downs on Sunday afternoon.
“He went out good and held the track well,” Bellinger said. “He’s a blessing of a horse. He just goes out there really relaxed and does his thing. The first day, they had only scratched the surface because they knew that rain was coming. He didn’t struggle over the surface at all but he’s doing a lot better since they had it fully open.”
Commissioner looks to give Pletcher his first Stephen Foster victory and is aiming for a third consecutive win. The 4-year-old colt is coming off of two Grade III victories in the Skip Away at Gulfstream Park and the Pimlico Special, respectively.
Lea galloped 1 ½ miles on the main track under Bill Mott’s exercise rider Penny Gardiner.
“He felt really good” Gardiner said. “He’s such a nice horse was all class. He’s wanting to do something and I think he’ll run a big race on Saturday. We have big expectations. He always shows up.”
The son of First Samurai will make his first start since racing halfway across the world in the Dubai World Cup (GI) at Meydan Race Course, where he finished behind eventual winner Prince Bishop and California Chrome. He is the only one in the field, other than Hoppertunity, with a graded stakes win at Churchill Downs, which he got in the Commonwealth Turf (GIII) in the fall of 2012. Lea looks to give Churchill Downs’ all-time leading trainer Mott his second Stephen Foster victory, his first being with Ron the Greek in 2012.
John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird galloped one mile at 7:30 a.m. with Will Cano in the irons for trainer Mark Casse. The son of Birdstone comes into the race off of a close second-place finish behind Protonico in the Alysheba (GII) on May 1. He was originally scheduled to make a trip to New York for the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) on the Belmont Stakes undercard, but opted to run in the Stephen Foster instead.
“I think the Met Mile was coming up a little tougher than the Foster,” said Norman Casse, assistant trainer to his father. “But more importantly, his best race was run over this track, and he’s been training extremely well over the track as well.”
Noble Bird breezed a half-mile Saturday in :47.40.
“We think he can run well like he did in his last race,” Casse said. “Since the Alysheba, he’s been working extremely well.”
Mark Casse looks for his second victory in the Stephen Foster. He won the race in 2011 with 36-1 longshot Pool Play.
Gallant Stables’ Majestic Harbor galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday morning with exercise rider Luis Rodriguez in the irons for trainer Paul McGee. The son of Rockport Harbor’s last start was a well-beaten ninth in the Louisville Handicap (GIII) on May 23, which was the 7-year-old horse’s third start on grass.
“We’re throwing out the turf race,” McGee said. “He is 0-for-3 on the turf so we’re just going to draw a line through that one. I thought he looked really good, since he’s coming out of a mile-and-a-half race I didn’t breeze him in between races but that was by design to have him relatively fresh and ready to go. It’s a tough race for a seven-horse field. It’s a very solid seven.”
James and Ywachetta Driver’s Paganol was out for exercise Thursday at 7 a.m. at Churchill Downs’ Trackside training center. Robby Albarado will be aboard the son of Tiz Wonderful and is seeking his fourth Stephen Foster victory. Albarado won three editions of the Stephen Foster in a row from 2007-09 with Flashy Bull, Curlin and Macho Again, respectively.
The field for the 2015 Stephen Foster Handicap (from the rail out with jockey, assigned weight and morning line odds): Commissioner (Castelllano, 120, 3-1), Lea (Rosario, 120, 7-5), Paganol (Robby Albarado, 114, 20-1), Noble Bird (Shaun Bridgmohan, 116, 10-1), Hoppertunity (Garcia, 121, 5-2), Majestic Harbor (Lanerie, 115, 12-1) and Cat Burglar (Espinoza, 116, 8-1).
The Stephen Foster goes as Race 8 at 9:42 on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card for Saturday night.
SHEER DRAMA BACK AT CHURCHILL DOWNS FOR FLEUR DE LIS – Harold Queen’s Sheer Drama returns to Churchill Downs for Saturday’s $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) to redeem herself after a runner-up effort in the La Troienne (GI) on May 1 where she was beaten three-quarters of a length by recently retired Molly Morgan. David Fawkes trains the 5-year-old daughter of Burning Roma, who is a half-sister to 2010 Champion Sprinter Big Drama.
"She’s coming into the race really well,” Fawkes said via telephone. “She got a nice breeze last week and is coming in excellent.”
Sheer Drama tuned up for the race with a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.03 on June 4 at Gulfstream Park. Fawkes likes the Fleur de Lis for the Florida-bred mare mainly because of the distance of the race. The Fleur de Lis is a sixteenth-of-a-mile longer than the La Troienne.
“This seems to be the most logical spot for her,” he said. “It’s a ‘Win and You’re In’ race and it’s also a further distance and that should suit us well. It’s a mile-and-an-eighth and I think she’s a lot better going further.”
Four other fillies and mares also came out of the La Troienne. Pin Oak Stable’s Gold Medal Dancer, Jim Tafel’s Tiz Windy, Bobby Flay’s America, and G. Watts Humphrey’s Frivolous, ran third, fourth, seventh and ninth, respectively.
The field for the Fleur De Lis from the rail out (with jockey, weight and morning line odds): America (Joel Rosario, 116, 10-1), Tiz Windy (Julien Leparoux, 116, 8-1), Pearl Turn (Jesus Castanon, 115, 15-1), Yahilwa (James Graham, 117, 15-1), Glory’s Last Chance (Ricardo Santana Jr., 113, 30-1), Frivolous (Jon Court, 116, 20-1), Sheer Drama (Bravo, 120, 2-1), My Sweet Addiction (Mike Smith, 121, 5-2) and Gold Medal Dancer (Luis Quinonez, 118, 3-1).
The Fleur de Lis goes as Race 7 at 9:08 on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card for Saturday night.
RETURN TO GRACE READY FOR REGRET TEST – Calumet Farm’s Return to Grace will be making her first start against graded-stakes company in Saturday’s $100,000 Regret (GIII) run at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course for 3-year-old fillies. While the daughter of English Channel is just fresh off breaking her maiden, she is the only filly in the seven-horse field with a victory on the Matt Winn Turf Course and at the 1 1/8-mile distance. Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark, feels good about the direction the filly is going.
“We think she’s a good horse,” Casse said. “Looking at the race, we’re the only one in there to win at a mile-and-an-eighth and plus we’ve ran over this turf course. She’s been doing well since we ran so we just think the horse is doing well and we think she has a chance to run a big race.”
Return to Grace schooled in the gate Thursday morning and galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Nikki Bernstein. She will be ridden by Corey Lanerie, who looks for his first victory in the Regret.
Pin Oak Farm’s Don’t Leave Me is the 3-1 morning line favorite for the Regret and comes into the race off a runner-up effort in the Selene (GIII) at Woodbine on May 24 after her victory in the Bourbonette (GIII) at Turfway on March 21. Trainer Malcolm Pierce says that the filly is coming into the race in good order.
“She’s doing very well,” Pierce said via telephone Thursday morning. “She put in her final breeze on Friday and we haven’t done much with her since then.”
Pierce likes this spot for the homebred daughter of Lemon Drop Kid stating that other races came up a little too tough to enter.
“There really wasn’t a whole lot else,” Pierce said. “The 3-year-old filly race at Belmont [The Wonder Again] was very tough with that filly [Lady Eli] of Chad Brown’s running in it, so we just felt like this race at Churchill was the best spot for her.”
Don’t Leave Me will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who seeks his second victory in this race after winning the 2012 edition of the Regret aboard Centre Court.
The Regret field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Don’t Leave Me (Javier Castellano, 3-1); Return to Grace (Corey Lanerie, 7-2); Lady Zuzu (Robby Albarado, 7-2); America Mon Amie (Rosemary Homeister Jr., 10-1); Cristina’s Journey (Miguel Mena, 8-1); Prado’s Sweet Ride (Florent Geroux, 4-1); and Urtheoneeyelove (Joel Rosario, 5-1).
The Regret goes as Race 6 at 8:28 p.m. on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card for Saturday night.
PHENOMENAL PHOENIX RETURNS IN MATT WINN FOR NEW OWNER, TRAINER – Harlow Stables’ Phenomenal Phoenix will be making his first start for his new owner Harlow Stables as well as trainer Ron Moquett in Saturday’s $100,000 Matt Winn (GIII) for 3-year-olds going a 1 1/16 miles over the Churchill Downs main track. The homebred son of Summer Bird was privately purchased following his third-place finish in the Illinois Derby (GII) at Hawthorne on April 18.
“He’s very happy and he’s telling us that he wants to run,” Moquett said. “The people we bought him off of did a real good job with him so we’re just looking to carry that on. We’re still trying to figure him out, but we expect to run well.”
Phenomenal Phoenix was formerly owned by Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch and trained by Donnie Von Hemel. Moquett was on the fence between a few races. Other than the Matt Winn, Moquett was considering running in the $250,000 Iowa Derby (GIII) on June17 at Prairie Meadows or the $150,000 Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard, but felt the horse would be better off staying at Churchill.
“I didn’t like the way the track was playing at Prairie Meadows,” he said. “It was favoring speed and I didn’t want him to be forced to be in a speed set so I decided between those two races that I would lean toward here. I also looked at the Easy Goer on Belmont Day, but this race looks like it’s turning out to be a lot harder than that race. I chose the safest spot, but it turned out to not be the easiest spot. But a good horse bails us out every time.”
Juddmonte Farms’ Fame and Power is the 6-5 morning line favorite and is coming off a victory in the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico run on the Preakness Stakes undercard, where he beat fellow Matt Winn entrant Bold Conquest. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert trains the son of First Defense who galloped one mile on the Churchill Downs main track this morning.
“He’s been doing very well,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “He’s here and we’re here until next week so we figured that this race would be a good fit for him.”
The Matt Winn field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Phenomenal Phoenix (Joel Rosario, 8-1); Island Town (Julien Leparoux, 6-1); Nileator (Javier Castellano, 8-1); Private Prospect (Channing Hill, 20-1); Fame and Power (Espinoza, 6-5); Henry Jones (Mike Smith, 12-1); Bold Conquest (Ricardo Santana Jr., 5-2); and Alabaster (James Graham, 15-1).
The Matt Winn goes as Race 9 at 10:13 on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card for Saturday night.
NBCSN, HRRN TO BROADCAST LIVE FROM CHURCHILL DOWNS SATURDAY FROM 8-10 P.M. – NBCSN, which airs on Time Warner Cable channels 549 and 971 (HD) in Louisville, AT&T U-verse channels 640 and 1640 (HD) and DISH Network channel 159, will be onsite Saturday for a live “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In” broadcast from 8-10 p.m. ET. The two-hour telecast will showcase Triple Crown winner American Pharoah being paraded on-track and three stakes races: the Regret, Fleur de Lis Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap. Laffit Pincay III, Randy Moss, Jerry Bailey, Donna Brothers and Kenny Rice comprise the on-air talent team. Additionally, Mike Penna and Ellis Star of Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will air coverage of the three stakes races from 8-10 p.m. ET on 93.9 The Ville in Louisville as well as Sirius 92 and online at www.horseracingradio.net.