It should come as no surprise that the first American Pharoah Stakes would be won by American Pharoah’s trainer.When it comes to 2-year-olds, Bob Baffert is winning everything. He had 12 maiden winners at Del Mar and another one in the first race at Santa Anita on Saturday.
One of those Del Mar winners was Game Winner, who won his third consecutive race with an easy 4 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes on Saturday. Game Winner had a perfect trip, setting up on the outside of Rowayton and then gliding to the front of the 1 1/16-mile race.
“It was sort of weird to see all the horses saying American Pharoah on their towels,” Baffert said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s exciting the race was named after him. It was really nice of Santa Anita to do that. It’s great to win it the first time and hopefully for the next 10 years.”
Game Winner paid $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10. Gunmetal Gray was second, followed by Rowayton, Jefe and Sigalert.
“He’s a very good horse,” said winning jockey Joel Rosario. “He kind of waits for other horses. He’s a one-run horse. He stays galloping and kind of waited for some company. He’s an easy horse to ride. I was just a passenger today.”
Baffert says he’s now pointed for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
“He’s a heavy, strong horse,” Baffert said. “You can’t go real easy on him or he’ll get real heavy on you. This should set him up. I shouldn’t have to do much with him.”
The American Pharoah was one of four Grade 1 stakes on Saturday culminating with the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes, the final California prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which was won by Accelerate.
The identical 2-year-old race for fillies, the $300,000 Chandelier Stakes, had an equally dominant winner in Bellafina. She ran about the same race as Gamer Winner, setting up on the outside of the leader, made a move off the far turn and won easily by 6 1/2 lengths.
Bellafina paid $3.80, $2.80 And $2.10. Vibrance was second followed by Brill, Der Lu and Del Mar May.
After Bellafina won the Del Mar Debutante, Simon Callaghan called her the best filly he has ever trained. It was probably a shot at the China Horse Club which moved Eclipse Winner Abel Tasman from his barn after a jockey silk mixup.
“I’m not changing my mind at the moment,” Callaghan said of his proclamation. “The big key was to see her relax and going two turns is very important.”
Bellafina has been having trouble changing leads, which horses normally alternate on turns and straightaways. Callaghan took the blinkers off and it seemed to help.
“Last time out, she was pretty aggressive,” winning jockey Flavien Prat said. “They took off the blinkers and did some work in the mornings and she ran much better today than at Del Mar. She relaxed and did everything right.”
In the other Grade 1, Vasilika won the $300,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/4 miles on the turf. It was her seventh straight win and eighth in nine races since she was claimed for $40,000. This brings her earnings this year to just shy of a half-million dollars.
“Sometimes it comes down to luck,” winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said of the claim. “We were just looking for a horse that can win a race. I think there are no secrets to this, sometimes horses get good, they go to a different spot and get better for one reason or another.”