Newly renamed in honor of the 2015 Triple Crown winner, Saturday’s $300,000 American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita fittingly went to the 1-5 favorite trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert – Game Winner. Moreover, the unbeaten colt was completing the same double turned by American Pharoah during his juvenile campaign, landing the Del Mar Futurity (G1) en route to this two-turn test formerly known as the FrontRunner (and earlier the Norfolk).
The 1 1/16-mile American Pharoah Stakes offered a free pass to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs, where Game Winner hopes to clinch an Eclipse Award. The Gary and Mary West colrbearer also scored 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), putting him into a tie atop the leaderboard with Iroquois (G3) winner Cairo Cat.
Game Winner was heavily favored over just four rivals on Saturday. Two were trying to reverse form from the Del Mar Futurity, runner-up Rowayton and distant fourth Sigalert, and Gunmetal Gray was coming off a maiden romp over Jefe.
As in the Del Mar Futurity, Rowayton took the early lead, but this time Game Winner was glued to his flank through fractions of :23.43, :47.50, and 1:11.85. Parked just behind was Gunmetal Gray, the 3-1 second choice who appeared to be in the garden spot. But the top two began to get away from him, and Game Winner clearly had the upper hand in the virtual match race.
In command down the stretch for Joel Rosario, aboard for the first time since his debut win, Game Winner ran up the score to 4 1/2 lengths at the wire. The son of Candy Ride clocked 1:43.77 to extend his record to three-for-three.
Gunmetal Gray hit his best stride late to pass the tiring Rowayton, a second-place effort worth 4 Derby points. Rowayton received 2 points in third, and the maiden Jefe got 1 point for running evenly in fourth. Sigalert trailed throughout.
Game Winner, a $110,000 Keeneland September yearling, increased his bankroll to $396,000. Bred by Summer Wind Equine in Kentucky, he is out of the unraced A.P. Indy mare Indyan Giving, a daughter of champion Fleet Indian.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Game Winner’s co-owner, Gary West: “He came out of the Del Mar Futurity really well. He’d been training well and we thought he’d like two turns. His family all liked a mile and a quarter, but you never know until they do it. I didn’t think he deserved to be that big of a favorite (1-5), but he ran great. We’re looking forward to the Breeders’ Cup for sure…I’ve been in the horse business about 40 years. All days are not like this one.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on Game Winner: “I can’t take credit for this horse. The Wests and their team found this horse and trusted me with him. Clients put their trust in me.
“I just want to get there (Breeder’s Cup) with a nice healthy horse. This horse tipped us off this summer that he was going to be a good one. He is strong and he still looks a little heavy. It’s exciting to have this horse. These horses sort themselves out. Circumstances dictate who gets there. I had one bullet here and I just want to keep him healthy; I don’t plan to do too much with him before the Breeders Cup. The good ones get there.
“I was very happy to win the first American Pharoah. Pretty cool and nice of Santa Anita to name a race after him. We had the same groom on this horse as American Pharoah (Eduardo Luna).”
Winning rider Joel Rosario: “He broke well out of there. I just chirped at him a little bit, put him on the outside, and he responded to that really well.
“I wasn’t trying to be too far back and that worked out.
“He’s a very good horse. He kinda just waits for other horses, he’s a one run horse. He stays galloping and kinda waited for some company. He’s an easy horse to ride, I was just a passenger today.”
Jockey Flavien Prat on runner-up Gunmetal Gray: “It was a good run. We had a good trip and he made a nice run down the lane. The winner was just better than us today.”
Gunmetal Gray’s Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer: “No excuse for running second. I don’t know yet whether we’ll go to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup.”