Derby winner American Pharoah draws unfavorable No. 1 post for Preakness

ESPN logo
Thursday, May 14, 2015

BALTIMORE -- Bob Baffert can only hope the finish of the Preakness Stakes turns out better than the post-position draw.

The trainer watched in disbelief Wednesday as his Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah drew the dreaded No. 1 post position for Saturday's second leg of the Triple Crown. A moment later, his other entry, Dortmund, was saddled with the No. 2 post.

A 1-2 punch he could do without after American Pharoah was made the 4-5 morning-line favorite and Dortmund the 7-2 second choice in an eight-horse field entered Wednesday. It's the smallest field for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness since 2000, when Red Bullet upset Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

"I can't believe I drew the 1-2 of all draws," a somewhat disappointed Baffert said, noting that if American Pharoah is the best horse, "we're going to find out.

"It's the luck of the draw. I don't love it, but it will be easy to watch."

Justin Zayat, the son of owner Ahmed Zayat and general manager of Zayat Stables, chimed in on Twitter: "The champ will just have to work for it from the rail. I have faith in AP."

Baffert has never liked the No. 1 post, and history backs him up. The last horse to win the Preakness from the inside post was Tabasco Cat in 1994; the last to win it from the No. 2 post was Snow Chief in 1986.

Baffert has 10 wins in Triple Crown races, and none started from the rail. Two weeks ago at the Derby draw, Baffert clapped his hands to his mouth after waiting until near the end of the draw before avoiding the No. 1 post for American Pharoah and having him draw No. 18. Dortmund wound up in the No. 8 gate.

"It's kind of a different vibe here," Baffert said, referring to a field less than half the size of the 18-horse Derby and a track that tends to be quicker than Churchill Downs. "But unless they re-draw it, we'll have to live with it."

If American Pharoah wins, it would set up Baffert for an unprecedented fourth Triple Crown try. The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.

Derby runner-up Firing Line was the third choice at 4-1, followed by Divining Rod (12-1), Danzig Moon (15-1), Mr. Z (20-1), Bodhisattva (20-1) and Tale of Verve (30-1).

"We've got options from out there," Firing Line's trainer Simon Callaghan said. "It's perfect. We're happy."

The first three Derby finishers arrived at Pimlico Race Course about 2 hours before the post-position draw. After Baffert walked them around the stakes barn, they settled down in stalls 29 and 30. Traditionally, the Derby winner is housed in stall No. 40.

Baffert had his reasons.

"There's a lot of crowd at the end there," he said of the stall where media tend to gather and the horse can be clearly viewed. "The noise sort of gets to them a little bit, so I'm just trying to keep him and Dortmund together.

He said the horses shipped well from Louisville, Kentucky.

"He was revved up," Baffert said. "His motor I can just feel, shut down. He's a very intelligent horse. This was just a routine walk, a new place and he settled in well."

Forecasts call for a 30 percent chance of rain showers.

In the months leading up to the Kentucky Derby, the Wynn offered a yes/no prop bet on "Will any horse win the Triple Crown?" Yes closed at plus-600, with no at minus-800.

"The wise guys always bet 'no,' " John Avello, executive director of Wynn race and sports, told ESPN. "They'll put like $24,000 to win $3,000."

American Pharoah opened as a 40-1 favorite to win the Kentucky Derby in September at the Wynn.

Avello estimated he took 50 bets on American Pharoah at 40-1 and additionally paid out several $75,000 winning futures tickets.

"Handle was great, very pleased," Avello said of the betting on the Derby, which took place May 2, before the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight.

Avello said his book would lose money if American Pharoah finishes off the Triple Crown, but he'll still be rooting for the favorite Saturday due to the increase in betting interest on the Belmont Stakes when the Triple Crown is on the line.

Avello, who's been working in Las Vegas since 1979, estimates the handle on the Belmont is "30 to 40 percent" greater when there's a Triple Crown opportunity.

American Pharoah, to be ridden again by Victor Espinoza, comes into the Preakness with five impressive wins in a row, two last year to be voted 2-year-old champion and three this year, in the Rebel, the Arkansas Derby and then the Kentucky Derby.

Dortmund, with Martin Garcia aboard, is looking to avenge the only defeat of his career. He had won his first six races before the Derby. Firing Line, with Gary Stevens looking for his second Preakness win in three years, has finished first or second in all six of his races.

In the Derby, American Pharoah struggled for much of the race, but challenged for the lead coming out of the far turn. He then passed Dortmund in the stretch and outdueled Firing Line to wire for a one-length victory.

Mr. Z gives six-time Preakness winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas a shot at tying the record for wins in the race. Earlier on Wednesday, the horse was sold by Zayat to Calumet Farm, and then entered.

The field, from the rail out is: American Pharoah (Espinoza, 4-5); Dortmund (Garcia, 7-2); Mr. Z (Corey Nakatani, 20-1); Danzig Moon (Julien Leparoux, 15-1); Tale of Verve (Joel Rosario, 30-1); Bodhisattva (Trevor McCarthy, 20-1); Divining Rod (Javier Castellano, 12-1); and Firing Line (Stevens, 4-1).

Information from The Associated Press and's David Purdum was used in this report.