ARCADIA, CA – Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey John Velazquez completed a sweep of the Friday Grade 1 action when Eight Rings answered the call with a gate-to-wire effort in $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
The American Pharoah is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Eight Rings receiving an automatic berth in the TVG Juvenile at Santa Anita Park this November.
Breaking from post 3 under Velazquez as the 6/5 favorite in the nine-horse field, Eight Rings hustled right to the front. Steering toward the clubhouse turn, the bettors’ choice held command initially by a head, but by the time he hit the backstretch, he began to open up. American Theorem, representing the first crop from the race’s stallion namesake, gave closest chase as the leader posted opening fractions of :23.72, :47.06, and 1:11.71.
Rounding the far turn still a handful of lengths clear, Eight Rings opened up in the stretch under only mild urging from Velazquez. Despite changing back to his wrong lead at the 1/8 pole, Eight Rings crossed 6 lengths clear of American Theorem in a final time of 1:45.41 for the 1 1/16-mile event over the fast main track.
“I wanted to put him into the race, and that way, he could get his mind on running,” said Velazquez, who teamed up with Baffert earlier on the card to win the Chandelier Stakes (G1). “I was pretty comfortable with the way he was moving in the backstretch, but he kept kind of wandering, so I felt like I had to keep reminding him to focus. It’s only his second start, so he’s still learning, basically.”
Storm the Court raced three-wide in the stretch to neck out third over Express Train, who split horses in the far turn and looked loaded but hit a wall shortly after straightening out. Shoplifted shipped in from New York but couldn’t muster a finish better than fifth. Behind him came Defense Wins, Fore Left, Nucky, and an eased Collusion Illusion to complete the order of finish.
Eight Rings’ win was his second in three career starts, having broken his maiden at first asking before dumping jockey Drayden Van Dyke as the 1/2 favorite in the Del Mar Futurity (G1). The 2-year-old son of Empire Maker has now earned $216,951 for co-owners SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Frederick Hertrich III, John Fielding, and Golconda Stables.
“The horse was training really well,” Baffert said. “I told Johnny V to ride him with confidence. He gigged him a little bit, but he said, ‘Wow, he’s really fast.’ He just got out there really quick, and I was actually just watching his ears the whole way. Johnny said he’ll be going good, then he’ll start looking around and lagging, and all the way down the stretch, he was still looking around. But it was a good race for him, coming off that last disastrous race.”
Eight Rings returned $4.40 to win, $3.20 to place, and $2.80 to show. American Theorem brought back $7.60 to place and $6 to show, while Storm the Court paid $8.80 to show.