SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Fred Hertrich, John D. Fielding and Golconda Stables' Eight Rings was all business in Friday's Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes, galloping to an easy five-length win on opening day at Santa Anita Park. The 2-year-old son of Empire Maker, named in honor of New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick's eight Super Bowl rings, was heavily favored in the Del Mar Futurity but lost his rider at the start. Also the heavy favorite for this Grade 1 contest at 6-5, Eight Rings was hustled to the lead by jockey John Velazquez and the pair never looked back. Trained by Bob Baffert, the colt ran 1 1/16 miles over Santa Anita's fast main track in 1:45.41.
“He's still not 100 percent confident in what he needs to do,” said Velazquez, who rode Eight Rings for the first time today and who won the Grade I Chandelier earlier in the day with Baffert's Bast. “If he can put his mind to running, he'll be a dangerous horse.”
A Breeders' Cup “Win and You're In” Challenge Race qualifier, the American Pharoah victory provides Eight Rings with a fees-paid berth in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
The victory gave Velazquez and Baffert a sweep of the 2-year-old stakes on Friday's card, and earns Eight Rings an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Velazquez sent Eight Rings hard out of the starting gate, and maintained a two-length advantage into the backstretch through fractions of 23.72 and 47.06 seconds. American Theorem was a clear second early on, but began to inch closer after the five-furlong pole. Fore Left was up close, as was Storm the Court.
Entering the far turn, Express Train split rivals and moved into a clear third. American Theorem tried to range into contention with Eight Rings, but the leader pulled away easily in the stretch. Eight Rings kicked away to win by about five lengths, while American Theorem finished a clear second.
Trained by George Papaprodomou and ridden by Tiago Pereira, American Theorem, a son of American Pharoah, finished 2 ¼ lengths in front of Storm the Court.
“I told Johnny V. to ride him with confidence,” said Baffert, who racked up his record ninth win in the race named for his 2015 Triple Crown winner. “I thought he might be in front. Johnny said let's get him away from there, and he's figured out this track. 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…My heart is still with American Pharoah, so I'm glad to see his babies are doing well. I'm blessed and fortunate to get these kinds of horses.”
Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Eight Rings is out of the Grade 3-winning Pure Prize mare Purely Hot. He commanded $520,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale, and won at first asking by 6 1/4 lengths. Barring the incident in the Del Mar Futurity, the colt would be undefeated; as is, he has won two of his three career starts for earnings of over $200,000.
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