Eight Rings Faces Eight in American Pharoah

By Margaret Ransom

Eight Rings Horse

Eight Rings – Photo by Ernie Belmonte

Also on the Friday card is the second running of the $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes (GI), which is set to be run for the 51st time this year. Originally contested as the Norfolk Stakes when Oak Tree maintained the fall racing dates, then the Frontrunner Stakes for a handful of years, it’s now named for the 12th Triple Crown winner, who was victorious here in 2014 and who was trained by Baffert. It is the main prep for California-based 2-year-olds whose connections hope to make the Breeders’ Cup and this year maybe means more with the event held at Santa Anita for a record 10th time.

Other notable names to have won the Norfolk/Frontrunner/American Pharoah through the years include champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner a year ago, Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist, and other champions/millionaires Lookin at Lucky, Dixie Union, Free House, Bertrando, Best Pal, Capote, Snow Chief, Chief’s Crown and Flying Paster.

Baffert has saddled a record eight winners and retired Hall of Famer Alex Solis booted home seven over his lengthy career.

Velazquez will be in town to ride favored Eight Rings for the first time for Baffert, picking up the mount from the injured Van Dyke (who suffered an arm injury when this son of Empire Maker ducked in sharply and dropped him at the gap in the chute of the Del Mar Futurity almost a month ago.) Though Van Dyke will ride Friday, his status was uncertain enough for Baffert to call on Velazquez to ride this $520,000 yearling. So because of this colt’s bad luck in his last, all we can go by is his impressive 6 ¼-length maiden win, which is enough to lead anyone to believe he’s deserving of his 9-5 morning line favorite odds. Though he tries two turns for the first time, he is bred for distance and has been training well at Santa Anita for this race. He most certainly will be part of the early pace scenario from the break and will be tough to beat.

American Thoerem Horse

American Thoerem – Photo by Ernie Belmonte

CRK’s Express Train lived up to his name when he broke his maiden by a whopping 14 lengths in his second career start on Aug. 28 at Del Mar. The John Sheriffs-trained Union Rags colt, who was a $500,000 yearling a year ago, will surely be on the lead from the gate and will likely show the way under Smith, and he already has a win around two turns, which will only help him here. This colt’s best makes him very dangerous for the mild upset.

Kretz Racing’s American Theorem is another talented son of American Pharoah, who broke his maiden at first asking at Del Mar a month ago. George Papapadromou trains the flashy gray, who was a $190,000 RNA as yearling a year ago and was subsequently purchased privately by his current connections. He’s obviously bred to like the two turns, is a closing type who will get a pace to run at, and if he can overcome the inside post he figures to be a factor for a larger share at the wire. Tiago Pereira will be back aboard.

Best Pal Stakes (G2) winner Collusion Illusion is back after skipping the Del Mar Futurity and a seven-week break, but didn’t miss a beat and has a nice series of works heading into this race. Mark Glatt trains this $300,000 son of Twirling Candy, who will carry jockey Joe Talamo in his first two-turn attempt. He is another who will sit off the early pace and wait for it to back up to him when he launches his best bid.

Collusion Illusion Horse

Collusion Illusion – Photo by Ernie Belmonte

Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen ships in Hopeful Stakes (G1) runner-up Shoplifted probably with two missions in mind – to win this race and also begin preparations for the Breeders’ Cup, as he’s been known to ship in early and train over the surface for weeks beforehand. This well-bred $800,000 son of Into Mischief has to improve to run with the top here, but he is bred to improve with more distance. Regular jockey Joel Rosario thinks enough of this colt’s chances to ship in to ride so a win would not be a big shock.

Del Mar Futurity winner Nucky was the beneficiary of Eight Rings’ bolting in the race and earned a nice Grade 1, though he absolutely benefited from the race’s change of dynamics when the favorite blew the gap that day. He is a Grade 1 winner nonetheless and is back searching for a third win in a row. Pete Miller trains this well-bred son of Ghostzapper who can only improve with added distance under Norberto Arroyo Jr.

Storm The Court received the short end of the stick in the Del Mar Futurity when bumped hard by Eight Rings and dropped jockey Flavien Prat. However, judging by his maiden win by 1 ½ lengths from just off the pace back in early August, he figured to a least pick up a share that day. Trainer Pete Eurton has kept the horse training well at Santa Anita all month and Prat chooses to roll the dice again with this son of Court Vision.

Fore Left

Fore Left – Photo by Daniella Ricci

Reddam Racing’s Fore Left was such a bright star when winning the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park in June for O’Neill, but has struggled in two starts back here in California since, including a well-beaten fifth by 14 lengths in the Del Mar Futurity. He has to improve a lot to beat the top runners here. Mario Gutierrez will be back aboard.

The maiden Defense Wins, a $175,000 son of Flatter who is trained by O’Neill was a decent third in the Del Mar Futurity, but is still a maiden also making his two-turn debut. He seems to be in a bit tough here, especially if everyone gets a chance to run their races.

Post time for the American Pharoah has been set for 4:40 p.m. PT.