Kentucky Derby Recap

Derek Simon

May 7th, 2015

Before Saturday’s 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, nearly everyone agreed that this year’s crop of three-year-olds was special.

It took a shade over two minutes for some to question that view — 2:03.02 to be precise. That was the time it took for American Pharoah to overtake a very game and determined Firing Line and win the Run for the Roses, as trainer Bob Baffert and many in the record crowd of 170,513, who made the son of Pinoeerof the Nile the 5-2 betting favorite, were confident he would.

American Pharoah’s Brisnet speed rating of 100 was tied with Giacomo for the lowest figure given to any Derby winner since the BRIS numbers were first introduced in 1990. And, coupled with a stretch run that looked like the end of a triathlon contested over course doused with maple syrup, it left many people wondering (this writer included) exactly how good the Derby winner is.

After all, this is the colt who looked like a monster in the Arkansas Derby; the wonder horse that respected turf writer Steve Davidowitz compared to Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew on my pre-Derby podcast.

Yet even the colt’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, admits that American Pharoah had to work for his victory in Louisville.

“Turning for home I started riding a little harder,” Espinoza said. “At the eighth pole, I just couldn’t put that other horse (Firing Line) away, but he got it done.”

He did get it done… in 2:03.02 — the sixth slowest time over a fast track in the Kentucky Derby since 1950.

Still, it’s worth noting that three of the five horses that recorded slower times — Canonero II (2:03-1/5 in 1971), Charismatic (2:03.29 in 1999) and California Chrome (2:03.66 last year) — went on to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown… and I expect American Pharoah will be the fourth.

Look, despite what some will tell you, the clock matters: When’s the last time you saw a wide receiver record a 5.2 forty at the NFL Combine and, then, heard scouts raving about the way he ran? Fast is fast, slow is slow — and Pharoah’s Derby was slow. Accept it, embrace it and quit making excuses like a Zenyatta fan after the Breeders’ Cup Classic (that’s gonna leave a mark — and generate some nasty e-mails, no doubt).

That said, it needs to be noted that American Pharoah raced extremely wide throughout the Run for the Roses and thus had, at least in my opinion, a much tougher go of it than his primary rivals Dortmund and Firing Line, who are both seeking a rematch in the Preakness.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Bob Baffert’s stable star explode in Baltimore (not literally, of course — that would be a surprise) and earn a lifetime-best Brisnet speed figure. I don’t think the Derby champ is in the same league as Seattle Slew at this point — he’s not near as fast — but I do think he’s got a ton of ability. Plus (and I think this is key), he’s still got considerable upside, as he’s yet to run a truly fast race.

Note: The Perceived Ability Rating, or PAR, is a measurement of how bettors view the horse in question. Horses with a rating of 1.00 or greater are generally deserved favorites in the races they compete in.