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Kentucky Derby 2019 Radar:

Walking Thunder stars in Dubai

By Jonathan Lintner


The Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, an offshoot of the Phoenix Thoroughbreds group that campaigns Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski, is right to have some Triple Crown race dreams of its own after Thursday’s $100,000 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial.

Walking Thunder moved his record to 3-for-3 in the most impressive fashion, showing gate speed from the outside and No. 15 post position, stalking the pace and taking over as they turned for home.

The Violence colt went on to win by nine lengths at Meydan, setting him up to continue on toward the March 30 UAE Derby (G2), which awards 2019 Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the Top.4 finishers.

“He’s a different class horse,” said trainer Ahmed bin Harmash. “…It looks like the horse can travel the Derby distance.

Bin Harmash also conditions for Phoenix Ladies the 3-year-old Superior, another winner during his juvenile season at Meydan who could point toward races such as the 2000 Guineas (G2) on Feb. 7 and UAE Derby.

Walking Thunder, a Florida-bred purchased for $42,000, was off at 3-1 on the U.S. tote Thursday. His victory came at the cost of Royal Marine, a Group 1 winner for Godolphin on the turf who broke while odds-on. Royal Marine raced wide to avoid some of the kickback but did so at one pace, finishing fourth.

As for the winner, jockey Connor Beasley said he let Walking Thunder “find his feet” from the outside post. Kicking away from the gate, the colt crossed over all but one in the field, the pace-setting Power Link.

“As soon as I asked him off the bend there, he felt like he put it to bed in two strides, to be honest,” Beasley said. “He’s just so very professional in his mannerisms — the way he goes to the start, just everything. I haven’t rode many good horses, but to me he feels like a good horse.”

Walking Thunder completed a one-turn mile on the Meydan dirt in 1:38.43.

“Off that, I’d dare say,” said Beasley, asked if the horse can go even farther. “Obviously it was a bit of a question mark these two runs previous. Today he settled a lot better just having a bit more of a rein. I’d say…he never stopped, and I couldn’t pull him up after the line.”





Kentucky Derby 2019 Radar:

Walking Thunder rises in Dubai

By Jonathan Lintner

December 17, 2018 9:27 AM

Phoenix Ladies Syndicate

Whereas Phoenix Racing made an impact on the 2018 Triple Crown with Gronkowski second in the Belmont Stakes, the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, an offshoot designed to increase female participation in Dubai, could have a 2019 Kentucky Derby prospect or two on its hands.

Walking Thunder, a son of Violence trained by Ahmed bin Harmas, is 2-for-2 after striking Dec. 6 in a 1-mile race at Meydan. Next, the colt will target the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) on Feb. 7, according to the latest batch of Dubai Racing Club notes.

Superior, also a debut winner for Phoenix Ladies, will contest January’s 2000 Guineas Trial, keeping stablemates separated on the lead up to the UAE Derby (G2), which on March 30 awards Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the Top 4 finishers.

“Part of the plan was for him to get an education — put him behind and take the (kickback) to see if he could handle it before he faces it in bigger races,” Amer Abdulaziz, principal of Phoenix Thoroughbreds, said of Walking Thunder’s most-recent effort. It followed a seven-furlong debut win, with the UAE 2000 Guineas a next step.

Jockey Connor Beasley “did an amazing job and kept him in the right place and then he just took off,” Abdulaziz added. “It was very impressive. The Phoenix Ladies have some very good young horses and we also look forward to the older Phoenix big guns coming for the Carnival.”

Those big guns, by the way, are Gronkowski and Axelrod, the soon-to-be 4-year-old colts who will prep locally for runs in the Dubai World Cup, also on March 30. Axelrod has one more domestic start to make in Santa Anita’s Dec. 26 Malibu Stakes (G1) before both horses are turned over to trainer Sandeep Jadhav in Dubai.

Gold Town won the 2018 2000 Guineas before heading into a UAE Derby matchup with Mendelssohn, who romped. Before that, Thunder Snow completed the 2000 Guineas-UAE Derby double in 2017.

Beasley told the Dubai Racing Channel after the Dec. 6 victory that Walking Thunder’s “attitude is unbelievable for a 2-year-old who’s only run twice.” Pamela Cordina, of the Phoenix Ladies syndicate, added that, “He has us dreaming of some big targets during the Carnival and with luck we can win some nice races.”

Both Walking Thunder ($42,000) and Superior ($50,000) were relatively cheap purchases as 2-year-olds at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale last April. We’ll see moving forward if they can hang with the likes of Royal Marine, a Godolphin runner — and already a Group 1 winner — who could also target the UAE Derby.

Baffert trains American Pharoah his way for Triple Crown try

Dan Wolken, USA TODAY Sports

 ELMONT, N.Y. – When Triple Crown attempts go awry, there is always a culprit. From Spectacular Bid stepping on a safety pin the morning of the 1979 Belmont Stakes to Stewart Elliott pushing the button too soon on Smarty Jones in 2004 to California Chrome owner Steve Coburn fuming over fresh horses that waited for the final leg, excuses are on a 36-year undefeated streak here.

As the world prepares for American Pharoah’s attempt to become horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner on Saturday, trainer Bob Baffert knows the odds are against him. But he also knows he has the best 3-year old in training and a horse that has shown good signs physically since his dominating, 7-length victory in the May 16 Preakness.

“It’s about the horse now,” Baffert said. “Is he good enough to do it? It always happens to me when I go up (to New York). I start feeling pressure because I don’t want to let those fans down. Every year, people say, ‘This is the one.’ So hopefully, maybe this is the one. We don’t know. All indications show me he’s doing well.”

By bringing Baffert back to the Kentucky Derby winners circle for the first time in 13 years and giving owner Ahmed Zayat his first classic after several near-misses, American Pharoah has already made it a memorable spring for his connections. Baffert has been adamant that the Triple Crown, while it would be nice to win for the history books and the potential boost for the sport, was never the priority.

“I really feel like it’s a different vibe this year with this horse,” Baffert said. “It’s been so long and I just feel like I’ve probably mellowed out a little bit more.”

Maybe that’s past heartbreak talking. Touch Gold caught Baffert’s Silver Charm in deep stretch of the 1997 Belmont and Victory Gallop got Real Quiet by the bob of a head in 1998. Baffert’s other Triple Crown attempt with War Emblem in 2002 was pretty much over when he stumbled out of the gate.

Those experiences, however, have given Baffert a good grasp of what to expect this week and how to get American Pharoah ready to run 1½ miles, a distance few modern Thoroughbreds are bred for or trained to handle.

After a light week following the Preakness, American Pharoah has been based at Churchill Downs and will ship to Belmont on Tuesday. Aside from his regular morning gallops, American Pharoah breezed a half-mile in :48 on May 26 and is scheduled to have his final serious workout Monday morning.

Billy Turner, who trained 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, said he was surprised Baffert didn’t bring American Pharoah to New York earlier to get used to the surroundings and the unique 1½-mile Belmont oval with its sweeping turns.

“It does give you an edge if you’ve trained over it,” Turner said. “Not only (having) a work over the track, but just galloping around a big oval, it’s different. When you’re used to going around mile ovals, it makes a big, big difference for the horse and the rider.”

Baffert, however, said he doesn’t think the racing surface will matter and that shipping in from Churchill Downs the week of the race – something he’s done with success at Belmont in other big races – keeps him in his “comfort zone.”

“Every trainer has their own philosophy and I feel more confident doing that than if I was up there sitting around,” Baffert said. “I know what I’m dealing with and what to expect so it makes it much easier to go through this. All my staff, we’ve been through it, so we just treat it like it would be a Breeders’ Cup or anything else, we just stick to the game plan and hope there’s no hiccups.”

Should American Pharoah lose Saturday, of course, the decision not to train over the Belmont track will be a convenient scapegoat. After 13 near-misses since Affirmed, the blame game will pretty much be an annual tradition – until someone breaks the streak.

“I don’t think it matters for American Pharoah,” said Belmont-based trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, whose Frosted finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby and immediately pointed to the Belmont. “He’s a very, very nice horse. He could probably run down the street over broken glass or over Belmont Park. I don’t think working over the track is going to make him like it, but I don’t think it’s a track horses dislike. It’s more the distance and the race shape because nobody’s run 1½ miles and you don’t know if any of us want to run that far.”



“Super horse” American Pharoah only needs to turn up the Belmont Park fit and healthy on June the 6th for the Belmont Stakes, to etch his name into racing immortality as the 12th horse to complete the American Triple Crown and first since Affirmed did it 37 long years ago. 

American Pharoah, the son of Pioneerof The Nile out of Littleprincess , had shown super star qualities prior to his racetrack debut, but the bubble burst in his first race track appearance when American Pharoah making his debut in a maiden race over six and a half furlongs on the Polytrack surface at Del Mar Racetrack on August 9. Ridden by Martin Garcia, he started as the 7-5 favorite against eight opponents. He became unsettled before the race and, after running in second place until the top of the straight, he faded to finish fifth behind Om, Iron Fist, One Lucky Dane, and Calculator, more than nine lengths behind the winner. 

He ran in blinkers that day, which appeared to unnerve him, as did the commotion in the saddling paddock. But master trainer Bob Baffert isn’t one of Americas best trainers for nothing and he proceeded to put his genius to full work. 

Just like “grandma’s home remedy” cotton wool was used by Baffert to rectify American Pharoah’s issues. The colt who gets very anxious and unsettled in front of crowds and around other horses was settled by Baffert placing cotton wool in his ears around crowds & horses to block out the noise & since Baffert has done that the juggernaut that is American Pharoah has been unstoppable winning all subsequent 6 race starts.

Despite his debut defeat, American Pharoah was moved up to Grade I class for the Del Mar Futurity over seven furlongs on September 4. He was ridden by Victor Espinoza for the first time and started as the 3.2-1 second favorite behind Best Pal Stakes winner Skyway, with Calculator and Iron Fist also in the field. American Pharoah took the lead from the start and went clear in the straight to win by four and three quarter lengths from Calculator, with a gap of more than eight lengths back to Iron Fist in third. Commenting on the colt’s improvement, 

Baffert said, “We took the blinkers off, put cotton in his ears and schooled him a lot. He trained well, we decided he was ready and we put him in there. Today, he behaved himself and showed what he could do. He did what we thought he’d do the first time.”

On September 27, American Pharoah was made the 1-2 favorite for the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes over eight and a half furlongs at Santa Anita Park. As in his previous race, he was immediately sent to the front by Espinoza and stayed there, pulling away from his rivals in the straight to win by three and a quarter lengths over Calculator, with Texas Red a length and a half away in third. After the race, Espinoza said, “All the way he was on a high cruising speed. He has such a long stride. He moves really nice and is light on his feet.” 

Baffert commented, “I can’t believe his demeanor, how he has changed since his first out. He’s so professional. He’s really mentally there.”

American Pharoah was aimed at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on November 1 but was scratched from the race after sustaining a “deep bruise” to his left front foot in a workout on October 27.

In the Eclipse Awards for 2014, American Pharoah was voted American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse, beating Texas Red by 126 votes to 111.

Five and a half months after his last start, American Pharoah began his second season in the Grade II Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park on March 14. He carried top weight of 119 pounds and started as the 2-5 favorite against six opponents, headed by the Todd Pletcher-trained Madefromlucky. The colt led from the start and drew away in the closing stages to win by six and a quarter lengths. Espinoza called the winner “an amazing horse”, while Baffert was satisfied with the run, especially as the colt returned with a twisted shoe which would have hampered his progress. Four weeks later at the same track, American Pharoah started as the odds-on favorite against seven opponents in the Grade I Arkansas Derby. After racing in second place behind outsider Bridget’s Big Luvy, he took the lead a quarter of a mile from the finish and steadily increased his advantage to win by eight lengths from Southwest Stakes winner Far Right. 

Baffert commented, “He’s matured substantially. He’s a good horse and he keeps moving forward. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but Dortmund [also trained by Baffert] is another one who we don’t yet know how good he is. We’ve got a one-two punch and that’s a good position to be in.” 

After the race, Ron Moquett, the trainer of runner-up Far Right, described American Pharoah as “a superhorse”.

On May 2, American Pharoah started as the 2.9-1 favorite in an eighteen-runner field for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. His opponents included Dortmund, winner of the Santa Anita Derby; Carpe Diem, who won the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes; Firing Line, winner of the Sunland Derby; Wood Memorial winner Frosted; Florida Derby winner Materiality; international entry Mubtaahij, who earned his way to Kentucky with a win in the UAE Derby; and Upstart, winner of the Holy Bull Stakes. The crowd surrounding the horse during the walk-over from the barns to the paddock upset American Pharoah, and several grooms were required to keep him under control. He continued to misbehave until he was loaded into the starting gate, creating worry amongst his connections that he was using up energy he needed for the race.
Espinoza positioned the colt in third place early in the race as Dortmund took the lead, followed closely by Firing Line. The three remained ahead of the pack throughout the race, and broke clear of their rivals entering the straight with American Pharoah making a forward move on the outside. The favorite took the lead entering the final furlong and won by a length from Firing Line and Dortmund, with Frosted finishing strongly in fourth. Espinoza, who won the race for the third time, said, “I feel like the luckiest Mexican on earth. He has been a special horse since the first time I rode him. He has a lot of talent and is an unbelievable horse. Turning for home I started riding a little bit harder. At the eighth pole I just couldn’t put that other horse away, but he got it done.”

Two weeks after winning the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah entered the second leg of the Triple Crown, the 2015 Preakness Stakes, run over nine and a half furlongs at Pimlico Race Course. 

Despite an unfavorable inside draw of the number one post position, he was installed as the morning line favorite ahead of Firing Line and Dortmund. No horse had won the Preakness starting from the rail since 1994. Immediately prior to start time, the weather changed to a heavy downpour with thunder. The last time the Preakness had been run on a sloppy track was in 1983, and American Pharoah was the only horse in the field to have previously won under similar conditions, having triumphed at the Rebel Stakes running in rain and mud.
American Pharoah had the lead within the first quarter-mile and was challenged by Mr. Z early on, but held the lead on the inside throughout the race. He was challenged by Dortmund and then Divining Rod, but American Pharoah broke from the pack in the homestretch and won by seven lengths, as Tale of Verve made a strong rally to overtake Divining Rod to place. Firing Line slipped badly at the start and was eased in the stretch. The winning time was 1:58.45. The margin of victory was tied for the sixth-largest in Preakness history. 

Baffert commented, “When I saw those ears go up [on the backside of the track], I thought, ‘Oh, yeah. Oh yeah.’ “The win by American Pharoah set up an attempt for the Triple Crown for the second straight year. It was also the second straight year that Espinoza had won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and the jockey’s third time winning both races. Espinoza did not even pull his whip at all in the Preakness Stakes. For trainer Baffert, it was the fourth time in 19 years that he won the first two Triple Crown races.

After the Preakness Stakes win it was announced that global breeding giant Coolmore had bought the rights to stand American Pharoah at their Ashford Park stud. They paid a fee which is unknown, but reportedly it was a minimum $20million deal. 

American Pharoah is a horse of a lifetime and I’m very confident he will become the 12th American Triple Crown winner and the first in nearly 4 decades. The 2400m shouldn’t be any concern and Baffert after 4 misses in the Belmont when looking for a triple crown would have learnt from the past and have him cherry-ripe to win the crown.

A win would not only be huge for American racing but also International racing.


(He’s currently a $2.14 race favourite on Betfair to complete the Triple Crown)


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