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    Before a record crowd of 170,513 on a gorgeous afternoon at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., American Pharoah grabbed the win in the 141st running of the $2 Million Kentucky Derby. It was the fourth Kentucky Derby victory for trainer Bob Baffert, who previously won with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002). Jockey Victor Espinoza returned to the Kentucky Derby winner's circle for the third time, his most recent appearance coming with last year's winner California Chrome. Espinoza is the sixth jockey to win back-to-back Derbies. Espinoza's first Kentucky Derby came with Baffert's last, War Emblem.

    "I feel like the luckiest Mexican on Earth," said Espinoza as he was riding American Pharoah back to the winner's circle. Espinoza worked as a bus driver to put himself through jockey school and set himself up as a professional jockey. "I was growing up and I wanted to be successful," he continued. "I want to be a millionaire and successful in my career and I chose to be a jockey and here I am."

    But for owner Ahmed Zayat, this was his first Kentucky Derby win after finishing second three times in the past six editions of the race, including a second-place finish with American Pharoah's sire, Pioneerof the Nile, in 2009, and Bodemeister in 2012; both trained by Baffert.

    "We know what it is to get completely punched in the face," said Baffert. "What we saw today, even Dortmund, he ran a really game race. I told Victor you just ride the horse. I know if he breaks well, if he fires, he's going to win."

    For the Zayats, it was also a very emotional race. Zayat described watching the race with his wife and seeing her crying. He described how he was thinking that victory was about to be snatched from them once again as the horses were coming for home and American Pharoah was battling down the stretch against stablemate Dortmund and a very competitive Firing Line. Mrs. Zayat's tears quickly became tears of joy when it was clear that American Pharoah would not be defeated this day.

    "Pharoah is a freak of nature and for the first time I see him working hard," said Ahmed Zayat.

    ​For Zayat's son and stable manager, Justin, it was more of a physical reaction. "I was actually throwing up because of emotions," exclaimed Justin Zayat in the after race press conference.

    The eventual finish of the race wasn't much of a shock with American Pharoah, Firing Line and Baffert's other entry Dortmund making up the trifecta. As the 18-horse field broke from the starting gate, Dortmund went out for the early lead with Firing Line settling in just behind him. American Pharoah quickly worked his way over from post 16 and followed the leaders through much of the 1 1/16 mile race under a moderate pace of 23.24 for the first quarter and 47.34 for the second. The rest of the field settled in behind them and not much changed until the front-runners reached the final turn. It was at this point that the favored American Pharoah began to show that he was the king in the Baffert barn.

    "We were ready to rumble," said Baffert. "Since their last works I was hearing how good they were and I was hoping it would come true. I felt very confident going in."

    With Dortmund on the rail under jockey Martin Garcia and hall-of-famer Gary Stevens in the middle on Simon Callaghan's Firing Line, Espinoza urged American Pharoah forward from the center of the track. The gutsy Dortmund didn't show his usual fight and gave way to Firing Line deep into the stretch. Firing Line, who came into the race off a 14 1/2-length win in the Sunland Derby (G3), was not going to give American Pharoah an easy win and dug in yards from the finish. It proved futile as the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner overcame the contest and powered home to a one-length win. 

    "He was aggressive today," said Gary Stevens of Firing Line's game effort. "He was on it. Coming for home I thought I might get there, but it wasn't to be. My horse showed his braveness today. He just got beat. I'm very proud of him."

    Firing Line finished two lengths in front of Dortmund who was just a neck in front of Kiaran McLaughlin's Frosted. Frosted had made his way from 15th to fourth by the top of the stretch and may have gotten out in front of Dortmund with a little longer stretch. Mark Casse's Danzig Moon, who was fourth with a quarter-mile to go, was another 3 1/4 lengths back in fifth.

    "He's a really good horse and he ran like it today," said Garcia of Dortmund's third-place performance. "He always comes to run; that's the kind of horse he is. He got beat today by really good horses. That can happen."

    American Pharoah returned $7.80, $5.80, and $4.20. Firing Line paid $8.40 and $5.40 and completed the $2 exacta for $72.60. Dortmund paid $4.20 and completed the $2 trifecta for $202. Frosted completed the $0.10 superfecta for $63.41. The final time for the 1 1/4 mile race over the fast dirt was 2:03.02.

    Photos: Adam Creech

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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