LOUISVILLE, KY. — It's exceedingly rare for a horse to be anointed the most gifted in his 2-year-old crop and cling to that distinction all the way through a win in the Kentucky Derby.
Which is another way of saying American Pharoah is a rare horse. His effortless stride has long stirred the passions of the most cynical trackside observers, who've compared the muscular colt to Seattle Slew.
Today he officially made good on his promise, beating one of the most talented fields of 3-year-olds in recent memory to win the 141st running of the Derby.
A record crowd of 170,513 witnessed American Pharoah, the 5-2 favorite, running down his stablemate Dortmund and Firing Line to capture the race in 2.03:02.
American Pharoah's final kick got him past Firing Line as Dortmund finished third.
But it was the brilliant bay colt winning and giving trainer Bob Baffert his fourth Derby title and first since 2002. He paid off the sizable investments of Egyptian-born owner Ahmed Zayat, who had watched three of his horses finish second at the Derby since 2009. One of those runners-up was American Pharoah's sire, Pioneer of the Nile.
For jockey Victor Espinoza, the Derby win was his second in a row and third overall. As the racing word's attention turns toward the May 16 Preakness Stakes and a possible first Triple Crown winner since 1978, recall that Espinoza's previous two Derby winners — War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome last year — both won at Pimlico before faltering in the Belmont Stakes.
The story all week was Baffert's remarkable duo of American Pharoah and undefeated Dortmund, the second choice in the morning line. Common wisdom held that no horse in the field could keep up with American Pharoah one on one. But many handicappers suggested the massive Dortmund might be tougher and better equipped to deal with the traffic created by an 18-horse field.
For all his talent, American Pharoah looked like no sure thing last summer when he finished fifth in his first career start. He seemed so rattled on race day that Baffert's assistant, Pascual Rivera, labeled the colt "pendejo" which translates as idiot.
But a month of tweaking by Baffert's team turned American Pharoah into a sweet-tempered speed demon who ran away from the competition in four subsequent prep races. The only question coming into the Derby was how he might handle a sturdy challenge from one of his talented rivals.