(Reuters) - American Pharoah, using a sweeping move from the outside, won a thrilling duel with Firing Line to claim the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday.
For jockey Victor Espinoza, it was his third Kentucky Derby triumph and second in a row after his triumph aboard California Chrome last year.
“That was a tough horse,” Espinoza said about overtaking Firing Line in front of a roaring crowd of 170,000. “But turning for home, I knew I had him.”
“I feel like the luckiest Mexican on earth.”
American Pharoah, a 5-2 top choice going into the race, had won his last four races by a total of 22 lengths including an eight-length romp in the Arkansas Derby, but this time he had to fight his way to victory.
Second choice Dortmund (4-1), unbeaten in six races, led heading into the stretch but Firing Line, a 9-1 pick with 52-year-old Gary Stevens aboard, seized the lead shortly before American Pharoah joined the stretch run charge.
American Pharoah ran side by side with Firing Line before pulling away at the finish for a one-length victory, as Dortmund took third just ahead of Frosted.
The winning time was 2:03.02 after a slower than expected early pace, set up after expected frontrunner Materiality had trouble getting out of the gate.
The victory was the fourth for trainer Bob Baffert, who also saddled Dortmund, and the first for owner Ahmed Zayat, after three runner-up finishes in the Derby.
“Finally,” shouted Zayat after the race. “No more seconds.”
Baffert won his first Run for the Roses since 2002. “To win it never gets old. This American Pharoah is something. He makes a trainer really look good,” the silver-haired Baffert said.
“We were ready to rumble. I am so grateful to happen to have these horses. I‘m so happy for the Zayat family.”
Baffert was grateful for the smooth ride.
”It could have gone either way. Firing Line, we know is a good horse. We could’ve got struck in traffic. That’s the difference in winning the Derby.
“We got the Derby, the most important one, out of the way,” he said as American Pharoah has the chance at sweeping the Preakness and Belmont to complete racing’s first Triple Crown in 37 years.
American Pharoah, who went off as the 5-2 choice, paid $7.80 5.80 4.20 for a $2 bet. Firing Line paid 8.40 5.40, and Dortmund $4.20.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry/Frank Pingue