LOUISVILLE — At this point for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat, their major source of stress is the same horse that routinely brings them calm.
Champion and expected Kentucky Derby favorite American Pharoah flaunted his customary ease at Churchill Downs Sunday as he worked five furlongs in a bullet :58.40 under jockey Martin Garcia, his lone major move before the first leg of the Triple Crown on May 2.
The work was the first for American Pharoah since his 8-length victory in the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 11. Garcia asked for little as they recorded splits of 11.40, 23, 34.60, and 46.40 with a gallop out in 1:11.40 and 1:27.
"He was just clipping along. He was doing it in hand, but that's the way he works," Baffert said of the move. "Mr. Zayat was wondering if he was going too fast, but that's the way he does things. He does things really effortlessly. He galloped out strong, came back and wasn't blowing. He hasn't regressed and looks great."
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Added private clocker Gary Young, "I have been doing this for 35 years and he might be the best horse I've ever seen. He's simply like Michael Jordan and stays in the air like he did in his rookie year."
Even with undefeated Grade I winner Dortmund as his stablemate, American Pharoah has owned a large chunk of the pre-Derby hype. The reigning juvenile champion has won four of five career starts, with his lone defeat coming in his career debut at Del Mar last Aug. 9.
Since missing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November with what the Zayats termed a foot injury and possible tweaked suspensory, the bay son of Pioneerof the Nile won the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park gate-to-wire by 61/4 lengths and then drew off in the Arkansas Derby.
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has already declared his plans to make American Pharoah the morning-line favorite when post positions are drawn on Wednesday. Sunday's move did nothing to dispel the notion that the colt who has won his last four starts by a combined 221/4 lengths may be an extra cut above what has been a depth-laden 3-year-old class.
"The higher up you are, if you get beat, the fall is pretty steep," Baffert said. "But ... we feel really strong coming in here. The main thing right now, we just focus on preparing, having them ready. Today's work was typical American Pharoah.
"(The draw) will probably be the last stressful moment we have," he continued. "It's like when they send a man into space and they're shooting off those stages, like 'Stage 1, okay all looks good.' But at the same time, we want to enjoy it."
On Saturday, Daily Racing Form reported on a protective plate covering the sole of American Pharoah's left front foot that the colt has been racing and training with. When asked about the plate following his work, Zayat dismissed it as a non-issue, saying it has been in place since around February.
"It's old news. He's had that since he came back into training," said Zayat, who watched the work alongside his 23-year-old son Justin Zayat, who is the racing and stallion manager for Zayat Stables. "It's not a bar shoe. It's to protect the frog (of the foot). He's raced in it. It's a nonissue for us."
Dortmund on the grounds
Unbeaten Dortmund, the other half of Baffert's wicked 1-2 Derby punch, made his own impression Sunday as he arrived at Churchill Downs from Southern California.
"He worked yesterday so he won't do a whole lot this week," Baffert said of the 17.2-hand Santa Anita Derby winner.
The same flight that brought in Dortmund also carried Sunland Derby winner Firing Line and Bolo, third in the Santa Anita Derby.
Oaks fillies work
Two-time Kentucky Oaks-winning trainer Larry Jones sent both of his contenders for this year's test out for their final works on Sunday. Multiple graded stakes winner I'm a Chatterbox and Grade I winner Lovely Maria both worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 and :59.60, respectively. Donegal Racing's Puca went 4 furlongs in :48.20, with Regis Racing's Shook Up also going a half in :49.60.