LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Unlike the unfortunate Egyptian villain in the Old Testament, American Pharoah enjoyed a perfect trip in the biggest race of his life.
The brilliant colt stalked three wide in third behind Dortmund, made his move under Victor Espinoza at the top of the stretch and beat Firing Line by a length Saturday in the 141st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
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It was trainer Bob Baffert's fourth Derby win, tying D. Wayne Lukas and Herbert Thompson for second behind Ben Jones' six, but Baffert's first since 2002. It was a breakthrough for owner Ahmed Zayat, whom the Derby gods had tormented.
The previously undefeated Dortmund, also trained by Baffert, ran third, two lengths behind 9-1 shot Firing Line. Frosted (10-1) rallied wide for fourth before a record crowd of 170,513, 5,206 more than in 2012.
Triple Crown torment finally ended for Zayat, 52, a naturalized American citizen who was born in Cairo. His run of frustration began with a second in the 2009 Derby with Pioneerof the Nile, American Pharoah's sire. The next year, Zayat's Eskendereya would have been the Derby favorite but an injury kept him out of the race.
Nehro (2011) and Bodemeister (2012) also ran second in the Derby, and Paynter's runner-up effort in the 2012 Belmont aggravated Zayat further. Baffert shared some of his anguish, because he trained Pioneerof the Nile, Bodemeister and Paynter.
"We were very close many times, so this is very emotional," Zayat said. "This is a dream come true. We are very blessed.
"No more seconds!"
Espinoza, who won the Derby last year on California Chrome, became the sixth jockey to go back-to-back. "I feel like the luckiest Mexican in America," the former Mexico City bus driver said. Espinoza, 42, also won in 2002 on Baffert's War Emblem.
American Pharoah paid $7.80 after running 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.02. It was his fifth win in six career starts, and fifth in a row, all in stakes. He's the third consecutive winning Derby favorite. From 1980-99, 20 consecutive Derby favorites failed.
If you boxed the first three finishers, your trifecta formed as the California-based colts left the first turn, and nobody threatened to break it up. That's because Dortmund set a moderate pace: 47.34-second half-mile, 6 furlongs in 1:11.29 and a mile in 1:36.45.
Midway on the stretch turn, Firing Line briefly took the lead, but American Pharoah was right there on his outside. For the first time, Espinoza had to ask American Pharoah to give him all he had. The only knock on the effortless glider was that he'd never been in a fight. He hit the front with about a furlong to go and edged away from a gritty Firing Line as Dortmund tired.
"Pharoah is a freak of nature," Zayat said. "This was the first time he had to work, and I knew if he made the lead that nobody was going to catch him."
Todd Pletcher trains Materiality, Itsaknockout and Carpe Diem, who finished sixth, ninth and 10th respectively, dropping his Derby record to 1-for-43 after he swept four graded stakes in eight tries on the Oaks and Derby undercards.
Conversely, it had been a frustrating weekend for Baffert, who had gone 0-for-7, including a last-place finish Saturday by Bayern, the winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
Everything changed in a little more than two minutes, when Baffert got his Derby mojo back after a 13-year wait.
"Winning this race is so tough, and sometimes I thought I might never get another one," Baffert said. "When I got American Pharoah last year, I said to myself, 'Don't screw this up.'
"We were ready to rumble. Since their last workouts I was hearing how good they were and I was hoping it would come true. I felt very confident going in."