LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The American Pharoah hangover is over for Bob Baffert, Victor Espinoza and Ahmed Zayat — and maybe everyone else.
With Nyquist winning the Kentucky Derby on Saturday and heading to the Preakness in two weeks with an unbeaten record, Triple Crown chatter now turns to racing’s newest star.
Baffert’s Derby hopes on Saturday rested with Mor Spirit. But the Santa Anita Derby runner-up was never in contention and finished 10th under jockey Gary Stevens.
Espinoza, meanwhile, was bidding to become the first rider to win three consecutive Derbys. He was a late replacement aboard Whitmore, who was in fifth place with about a half mile to go in the 1 1/4-maile race but faded and finished 19th in the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs.
Zayat, the owner of American Pharoah, did not have a horse in the Derby, and was home in New Jersey. He was impressed with Nyquist, and would like nothing more than to see the colt join the Triple Crown club.
“What a horse. Awesome,” Zayat said Saturday night. “So proud of team O’Neill and many congrats to my friends the Reddams. Let’s have another Triple Crown back to back. Wouldn’t that be special.”
Espinoza, a winner of five of the past six Triple Crown races heading into Derby, said “I had a great trip around the first turn, but it felt like he was just spinning his wheels.”
The jockey won the Derby and Preakness aboard California Chrome in 2014, and then was along for the magic ride on American Pharoah. This time, it was no go.
“I felt like he was uncomfortable the entire race. He never picked up the bridle,” Espinoza said. “It’s just how it goes sometimes. Sometimes they like the track and sometimes they’re picky. He’s one of those. It was a great, great race. The winner, I knew he was the one to beat and he got the perfect trip.”
Baffert tried to low-key his Derby week, but really couldn’t. He made appearances and signed autographs in the mornings on the backstretch and hoped Mor Spirit might come up with a big race.
“He came away from there OK, and he got a good spot going into the first turn,” Baffert said. “Then it just didn’t happen from there. He didn’t engage. He just didn’t have anything to fire for the finish.”