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Mar 13, 2015

American Pharoah to smoke short field in Rebel

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst


 Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - American Pharoah, last year's 2-year- old champion, hits the starting gate for the first time this year in Saturday's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Unfortunately, not much will be gained except Kentucky Derby points.

Only six other colts are entered in the Grade 2 event and not one of them has ever been on the lead in the early stages of a race at six furlongs or more. That means American Pharoah will be loose on the lead for the third consecutive race.

It has been a long time since the Kentucky Derby was won gate-to-wire. War Emblem was the last to do so 13 years ago. Ironically, he was trained by Bob Baffert, American Pharoah's conditioner.

Prior to that year, it hadn't been accomplished since 1988, when the filly Winning Colors hit the winner's circle.

Can American Pharoah make it just three gate-to-wire Derby champions in the last 27 years? Based on his 2-year-old form, I would not be surprised. However, there are a few question marks that could make it unlikely.

American Pharoah lost his first start by 9 1/4 lengths. It is not often a horse breaks his maiden in a stakes race, but that is exactly what happened when Baffert took the blinkers off for American Pharoah's second start. The bay colt won the Del Mar Futurity by 4 3/4 lengths, stopping the teletimer in a magnificent 1:21 1/5 for the seven-furlong event.

After going off at 3-1 odds in the Del Mar Futurity, the public was all over American Pharoah in his first dirt try - the Frontrunner Stakes. The 1-2 favorite made the most of it on the front end, carrying his speed to a 3 1/4- length score. He stopped the clock at 1:41 4/5 - the fastest time in the race formerly known as the Norfolk Stakes in over a decade.

Unfortunately, the son of Pioneerof the Nile got hurt and had to miss the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

We shall see if American Pharoah has improved with the time off. If workouts are any indication, the answer will be a resounding yes. The $300,000 weanling purchase has lit up the Santa Anita surface in the mornings with a pair of blistering bullet works over six and seven furlongs, respectively, his last two times on the track.

The sky is the limit for American Pharoah in the Rebel, but how it will transcend into April and May is a different story. Unless the layoff adversely affects him, it is doubtful he will get much out of this race due to the lack of meaningful competition. That means he will have just one key race in over a seven-month span prior to the first Saturday in May.

Furthermore, his pedigree is not suited to win at 1 1/4 miles. Pioneerof the Nile did not sire a top-notch distance horse in 2011 - his first season at stud. Social Inclusion, Cairo Prince and Vinceremos all were part of the Triple Crown trail last year and all three were best up to 1 1/16 miles.

Another key aspect of his pedigree is the Storm Cat angle. As mentioned back in January, Storm Cat first hit the breeding shed in 1988 and none of his descendents have ever won the Kentucky Derby. Many have run second (Menifee, Lion Heart, Bluegrass Cat, Ice Box, Bodemeister and, most recently, Commanding Curve), but none have won the Run for the Roses.

Finally, American Pharoah is one of those rare horses that does not have Turn- To anywhere in his pedigree. All of the last 12 Kentucky Derby winners have been a descendant of Turn-To.

American Pharoah may be the best 3-year-old by the end of the year, but I am not convinced he will win the main prize.

WHICH HORSE HAS BEST CHANCE TO UPSET AMERICAN PHAROAH?

The Truth Or Else is the most accomplished Rebel runner outside of American Pharoah. He has three third-place graded stakes finishes, including one in his last start, the Southwest Stakes.

That race was run in the slop and a week after it was originally scheduled. The Truth Or Else made a menacing outside move from last place to gain the lead with a furlong to run. Far Right got the best of him down the lane to win by three-quarters of a length, but the Southwest was The Truth Or Else's first start since running sixth in the Remsen in late November.

It is doubtful The Truth Or Else will have a quick pace to close into this time around and his three third-place stakes finishes all have come on off tracks. Rain is in the forecast for Thursday and Friday, but the track should dry out come Saturday afternoon.

The two other possibilities are Madefromlucky and Bold Conquest.

Madefromlucky is Todd Pletcher's sixth-string horse after the colt won first- time-out for him in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4. If any horse is going to challenge American Pharoah for the early lead, it will be him.

He has won his last two starts - both around two turns. However, the first win was helped by a couple of fallen horses, which allowed Madefromlucky to sit third behind the two speeds. The latest win was in a five-horse field and the pace was extremely slow.

Madefromlucky has a bad habit of bearing in once he hits the stretch. That and the fact he will be used up chasing American Pharoah are two reasons to find another horse.

Bold Conquest was highly regarded by trainer Steve Asmussen as a 2-year-old. After breaking his maiden at Saratoga, the colt ran second by a neck in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. He followed that effort up with a troubled third in the Breeders' Futurity as Rosie Napravnik had to steady the colt twice prior to the far turn.

Asmussen had trained Bold Conquest hard for his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest Stakes. The son of Curlin posted two bullet five-furlong works, which is rare for an Asmussen-trained colt.

The week-long postponement and the sloppy track might have affected Bold Conquest as he seemed disinterested the first half of the race. He picked it up inside the final furlong and only lost by 3 1/2 lengths after being about eight lengths behind the leaders around the final turn.

It was a tough trip once again as Bold Conquest was bothered at the start and then went about six-wide into the stretch. Asmussen got two workouts into him since the race and the colt should be a much-improved second off the layoff.

Rebel Stakes - 1) American Pharoah 2) Bold Conquest 3) The Truth Or Else

THE 2015 JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Prospect Park - Has the look of a tremendous 1 1/4-mile prospect

2) Dortmund - Undefeated star keeps on motoring after San Felipe

3) Carpe Diem - Returned in the pink with dominant win in Tampa

4) American Pharoah - Will he get enough out of the Rebel Stakes?

5) Firing Line - On way to Sunland Derby to guarantee Ky Derby points

6) Upstart - Florida's finest must bounce back from "average" FOY

7) Far From Over - Gets only one more race before Run for the Roses

8) Itsaknockout - Slightly overlooked due to DQ win in the FOY

9) Maftool - Should get best of Mubtaahij once again in UAE Derby

10) El Kabeir - Will get another crack at Far From Over in the Wood

11) Metaboss - Flattered by Bolo's solid effort in San Felipe Stakes

12-T) War Story - How good can he be with a decent break from gate?

12-T) International Star - A win next time out makes it a Louisiana sweep



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