American Cleopatra rolls in debut, one-ups brother Pharoah

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

August 1st, 2016

Being a full sister to a champion brings the burden of high hopes – all the more so when your older brother is American Pharoah, the first U.S. Triple Crown winner in 37 years. It’s often tough to live up to that kind of pedigree. But the beautifully named American Cleopatra made that weight look light as a feather as she rolled to a convincing debut victory in Sunday’s 3RD race at Del Mar.

American Cleopatra assembles nearly all of Team Pharoah, as a Zayat Stables homebred trained by Bob Baffert. The obvious missing piece was jockey Victor Espinoza. Instead, she was ridden by Stewart Elliott, best known as the rider of 2004 Triple Crown near-misser Smarty Jones.

Despite her pedigree and connections, American Cleopatra went off at a tepid 7-1. That was in part because Baffert let it be known she’d be better going longer, as opposed to this 5 1/2-furlong dash. Indeed, fellow Baffert trainee Jeweled was burning up the worktab, and was accordingly bet down to 4-5 favoritism. And to top it off, American Pharoah himself had lost his debut at Del Mar, checking in fifth as the favorite in the summer of 2014.

Yet it was American Cleopatra who had speed to spare. Forcing early leader War Factor to sprint a sizzling opening quarter in :21.87, American Cleopatra cleared away from them at the half in :45.17 and opened up in midstretch. Her five-furlong split was a swift :57.01, and she kept on motoring to finish in 1:03.38.

Union Strike rallied smartly after a tardy start to take second, without threatening the handy two-length winner. Sandy’s Surprise was a further 3 1/4 lengths back in third. Jeweled wound up a slow-starting fourth, and War Factor, the only one going with American Cleopatra early, faded to last.

In the postrace interview, Baffert told Christina Blacker that American Cleopatra entered this a bit “soft” and would come on for the experience. Considering how much Pharoah moved forward off his debut, look out. Whatever she does from this point forward, little sis can always tease big brother by saying she won first out, and he didn't.

But perhaps the highest praise one can offer is this: if you didn't know her pedigree, and just watched her win, you'd mark her down as one to follow -- on her own merit.

The September 3 Del Mar Debutante (G1) is likely next.

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