Thirteen years ago Bob Baffert watched as War Emblem clinched the legendary thoroughbred stakes trainer’s third career victory at the Kentucky Derby. Baffert’s saddled at least two contenders in the first leg of the Triple Crown every year since 1996, but ever since War Emblem’s blazing run Baffert’s yet to notch another win at Churchill Downs.
Now that streak could be broken with Baffert sending out the widely touted tandem of favorites American Pharoah and Dortmund in the 141st Run for the Roses early Saturday evening at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Bred in Kentucky by owner Zayat Stables, American Pharoah has won four straight races including an overpowering eight-length triumph at the Arkansas Derby that made him the favorite.
And there’s Dortmund, a descendant of 2008 Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown, who’s riding a six-race winning streak and would have been the prohibitive favorite if it weren’t for American Pharoah.
The pair have never shared a starting gate before, an effort by Baffert to keep both not only fresh but confident before the biggest contest of their young careers.
“Everyone’s on pins and needles,” Baffert said to the Boston Globe. “A lot of anxiety, all this week.”
Also, neither has stared down a track as long as Churchill’s 1 1/4-mile dirt trail, but their results in previous races suggest each owns that all-important kick down the homestretch. In addition to his win in Arkansas, American Pharoah sprinted to a 6 1/4-length victory at the Rebel Stakes in March.
Dortmund came through in another of the Derby’s top prep races, claiming the Santa Anita Derby last month by 4 1/4 lengths.
But the Derby’s proven unforgiving to the big favorites before, and much of Baffert’s competition comes from fellow renowned trainer Todd Pletcher and his three contenders.
Successful at every level and a seven-time Eclipse award winner, Pletcher’s contenders have totaled more than $287 million in career earnings, but he has only one Derby title under his belt.
Though he would’ve saddled four in this year’s race if Stanford’s connections hadn’t decided to pull out Thursday, Pletcher will send out the top threats to American Pharoah and Dortmund in Carpe Diem and Materiality. Itsaknockout, a longshot, is Pletcher’s fourth entrant.
A victor in four of his five career starts and a runner-up in the one he didn’t win, Carpe Diem last took down the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes early last month, and charged away with the G2 Tampa Bay Derby.
Progeny of 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes champion Alfeet Alex, Materiality’s proven victorious in all three of his career starts, including the G1 Florida Derby in late March.
Originally slotted at the No. 11 post, Stanford’s scratch, as well as El Kabeir’s on Friday and International Star’s on Saturday, will shift most of the field over one post. American Pharoah gets a bump over from No. 18 to 16, with Frammento acting as Stanford’s replacement at No. 18.
Now only 18 thoroughbreds will participate, as opposed to the 20 maximum that typically fill out the entire field. El Kabeir and International Star both pulled out after Friday’s 9 a.m. Eastern Time deadline, thus no thoroughbreds can take their places.
Post Time: 6:24 P.M. ET
Actual Start Time: Typically every contender struts out to the post, and once the final horse enters the gate and the door is closed, the race will start in a matter of seconds. The Derby should actually commence at roughly 6:25 or 6:26 P.M.
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online: A live stream will be available at NBC Live Extra here.