Ahmed Zayat’s Zayat Stables, a three-time runner-up in the GI Kentucky Derby, finally broke through in the “Run for the Roses” Saturday with homebred American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile), a son of Zayat’s 2009 Derby runner-up. Firing Line (Line of David) completed the exacta over pacesetting Dortmund (Big Brown), who gave Hall of Famer Bob Baffert a one-three finish with his two superstars.
— Thoroughbred Daily News

Supported as the 5-2 favorite coming off an eight-length romp last out in the GI Arkansas Derby, last year's champion juvenile broke sharply from the 16 post as Dortmund went right for the lead. Hung three or four wide outside of the pressing Firing Line into the first turn, American Pharoah settled into a comfortable rhythm out in the clear as his hulking stablemate clicked off a half in :47.34 and six furlongs in 1:11.29. Asked for more from Victor Espinoza along the home bend as Firing Line ratcheted up the pressure on Dortmund, American Pharoah spun wide into the lane as Firing Line wrestled the lead away from the pacesetter. Firing Line - who had previously lost two close calls at the hooves of Dortmund - gave American Pharoah all he could handle to the sixteenth pole, but the chalk tapped his reserves to edge clear late and prevail by a length in front of a record crowd of 170,513. Godolphin's Frosted (Tapit) came flying late to fill out the superfecta.

"I feel like the luckiest Mexican on Earth," said Espinoza, a 2015 Hall of Fame nominee who piloted California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) to a victory here 12 months ago and also rode 2002 Derby winner War Emblem for Bob Baffert. "He has been a special horse since the first time I rode him. He has a lot of talent and is an unbelievable horse. Turning for home, I started riding a little harder. At the eighth pole, I just couldn't put that other horse [Firing Line] away, but he got it done."

Fifth on debut as the 7-5 favorite last August in a 6 1/2-panel Del Mar maiden that produced GIII Sham Stakes winner Calculator (In Summation); GI Santa Anita Derby runner-up One Lucky Dane (Lookin At Lucky); stakes winner and GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up Daddy D T (Scat Daddy); and GISP Iron Fist (Tapit), American Pharoah bypassed the maiden ranks thereafter to run away with the GI Del Mar Futurity September 3 over the aforementioned Calculator and Iron Fist. He was equally impressive when defeating Calculator and next-out GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile hero Texas Red (Afleet Alex) in Santa's 1 1/16-mile GI FrontRunner Stakes September 27, but failed to make the year-end championship himself after having to be withdrawn the week of the race with a foot bruise.

Still having done enough to take home champion juvenile honors, American Pharoah resurfaced in the Oaklawn slop March 14, and picked up right where he left off with a devastating box-to-wire tally in the GII Rebel Stakes It was more of the same in the April 11 Arkansas Derby - won in 2012 by Zayat and Baffert's brilliant Derby runner-up Bodemeister (Empire Maker) - as American Pharoah justified 1-9 odds with an eight- length drubbing that earned him a 105 Beyer Speed Figure.

If his resume wasn't enough to merit plenty of hype, sparkling drills at Santa Anita (April 5, 6f in 1:11.60 {1/25}) and under the Twin Spires (April 26, 5f in :58.40 {1/33}) helped the $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga grad hog the majority of the pre-race spotlight despite a particularly well-credentialed Derby field.

"We were ready to rumble," added Baffert, referring to his formidable one-two punch. ASince their last works I was hearing how good they were and I was hoping it would come true. I felt very confident going in."

Baffert moved into a three-way tie for second with four Derby wins along with fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas and "Derby" Dick Thompson. Ben Jones holds the record with five.

"Those names are legends," said Baffert. "And to be in this position, you know, I never think about stuff like that... Victor and I, we have a lot of history going back. And he won that Derby. And to win this Derby, this is for the Zayats who have suffered so much running these seconds, since Bodemeister and Pioneerof the Nile. So we know what it is to just get completely punched right in the face."

Cairo, Egypt-born Ahmed Zayat, whose business success came predominantly in the beverage industry, has become a major player in the racing game over the past decade, but a Classic victory eluded the New Jersey resident until Saturday. In addition to close calls with Pioneerof the Nile and Bodemeister, Zayat's ill-fated Nehro (Mineshaft) finished second to Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux) in 2011. Bodemeister was second in the 2012 Preakness after nearly running away with the Derby two weeks earlier, and Zayat's Paynter (Awesome Again) came up just 1/4 length short in the GI Belmont Stakes three weeks after that.

"I was looking at my wife [Joanne]," Zayat said as he rewatched American Pharoah's stretch run during the post-race press conference. "And I was looking at this particular picture. Pharoah is a freak of nature. And, for the first time, I'm seeing him right now working, working hard. And I knew that, if he had the lead, nobody would catch him. He has such a brilliant speed. I start getting really, really nervous. And my wife started crying. Like, literally, in seconds, that emotion went from somebody who is crying out of fear that they're going to take it again from us to actually having done it. Tears of joy. It was like a euphoria of emotions. I still cannot believe it. I don't even know who finished second or third. I was so - I am asking him who got second? Who got third? So that's my feelings."

Extracts from Thoroughbred Daily News / Charleston Daily Mail (p)