‘He likes to wear them out a bit’: Grade I winner A.P. Indian the one to beat in Phoenix Stakes

On form, trainer Arnaud Delacour had high hopes for the smallish bay gelding joining his barn ahead of 2015. Once the affable horseman actually laid eyes on the Green Lantern Stables homebred that had been off since January 2014, he gently concedes to adjusting his expectations.

“I liked the horse on paper, he had a couple of nice races running good numbers, especially at Churchill,” Delacour said of A.P. Indian, currently known as arguably the best sprinter in the country. “But physically, he was coming off the field and he had a big fat, pot belly and looked like a little pony really. Physically, I didn’t think much of the horse but then we started legging him up and jogging and galloping and, right away, we could tell he had a lot of ability.

“We got excited when we started breezing him.”

The more A.P. Indian moves, the more the gelded son of Indian Charlie breaks the spirit of his would-be challengers this year, the more expectations build as to what may happen on November 5 when the Breeders’ Cup Sprint is contested at Santa Anita Park. Delacour, to his credit, is focused squarely on this Friday when his multiple Grade I-winning charge breaks from the rail in a field of seven for the Grade II, $250,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes on the opening day of the Keeneland Fall Meet.

Originally trained by Tony Dutrow and then Rusty Arnold, A.P. Indian spent his first few seasons battling soundness issues but was an ultra consistent sort when he did run. Since coming into Delacour’s care in advance of the 2015 season, the 6-year-old gelding has steadily gotten himself right physically and, in turn, has been able to showcase his full talent.

Unbeaten in five starts this year, A.P. Indian has stamped himself as the potential favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint off his victories in the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap and Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga this summer. That he is reaching this level is not a surprise to Delacour, not after the Fair Hill-based trainer saw flashes of what the gelding could do when at top speed.

“I thought he could get there last year to be honest. But he had some health issues, had to deal with a splint and a couple other things that set him back a little bit,” Delacour said. “We couldn’t train him as much as we wanted so he never really had a chance last year to face that kind of competition while being at his best.

“With the break, this winter, and everything…we knew what we had a little more. I think that has been a big advantage for me and we’ve been lucky enough this year to train through without any major issue.”

A.P. Indian came to the six-furlong Phoenix after being scratched out of the Grade I Vosburgh at Belmont last weekend when the track came up sloppy. He finished sixth in last year’s edition of the Phoenix – one of only two times in his 16 career starts he has been worse than second.

An easy keeper around the barn, Delacour says A.P. Indian turns into a relentless, no-nonsense figure on the track. One the best displays of his mettle came during his Vanderbilt triumph when Holy Boss had him measured in the lane only to end up with his heart broken after his elder rival repeatedly turned him back en route to a 1 ¼ length win.

“It looked like Holy Boss was going to come by us like nothing and he tried and tried and tried again and he never did and he got discouraged,” Delacour said. “(A.P. Indian) is a tough older horse, it’s a big difference, it’s an edge. But he likes to wear them out a little bit.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl