After riding Zedan Racing Stables’ Arabian Knight to a first-out 7 1/4-length debut victory at Keeneland Nov. 5, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez said the colt reminded him of the horse’s sire, Uncle Mo, the champion 2-year-old male of 2010 he piloted.
On Jan. 28 at Oaklawn Park, after newly turned 3-year-old Arabian Knight’s overpowering victory in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes, it was Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s turn to praise the colt, saying, “He’s progressing. He’s getting better and by summer, I think he is going to be ridiculous. We’re always looking for the next American Pharoah.”
American Pharaoh, the 2015 Triple Crown winner, is one of two such historic winners trained by Baffert, with the other being Justify in 2018.
Whether Arabian Knight even has an opportunity to pursue a full Triple Crown run is in doubt, at least with Baffert as his trainer, due to Churchill Downs Inc.’s ban of him from participating at its tracks through mid-2023. The action by CDI came after Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit tested positive for a prohibited race-day medication after crossing the finish line first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. He was later disqualified by Kentucky stewards, a decision under appeal.
Baffert has a court date Feb. 2 in Louisville, Ky., seeking an injunction that could allow him to participate in the 2023 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
One of Baffert’s lawyers, Clark Brewster, posed with the trainer in the winner’s circle after Saturday’s race. The California-based Baffert infrequently attends racing at Oaklawn but chose to do so Saturday despite also having horses competing in stakes at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park.
Absent legal success, Arabian Knight and other Baffert trainees would need to move into other stables to earn qualifying points to make the Derby field and compete in the race. Last year, two Baffert runners qualified for the Derby after moving into the barn of trainer Tim Yakteen, including Zedan Racing Stables’ Taiba, who ran 12th.
Irrespective of what shakes out in the weeks and months ahead, the 1 1/16-mile Southwest reinforced that Arabian Knight, a $2.3 million purchase last year, is one of the most talented 3-year-olds in North America.
Outbreaking most of the field in his first route, he shot to the lead with quick quarter-mile fractions of :22.98, :46.82, and 1:11.88, while always in hand, then drew away down the stretch to win by 5 1/2 lengths over late-running Grade 1-placed Red Route One. Pace-chasing Frosted Departure ran third.
Under just one strike from Velazquez down the lane, the winner was timed in 1:43.50 on a sealed-sloppy track, capped by a closing sixteenth in 6.25 seconds. He paid $2.80 to win.
“What he did today — he ran 1:43 and change — that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort, so he needs time in between [races].”
The victory was a record-breaking sixth for Baffert in the Southwest and a third for Velazquez.
His rider said Arabian Knight “made it look easy” despite “looking around a lot.”
“At the quarter-pole, I went after him, and he opened up and he saw the tire track [from the starting gate],” Velazquez noted. “I said, ‘Come on buddy, don’t do something stupid.’ I hit him once, right before we got to the tire track. He kind of hesitated and then he sees the light, and I hit him one more time and all of a sudden, he takes off on me. Going to the wire, I was like, ‘OK, that’s what I wanted to see.’ ”
Sun Thunder ran fourth, followed by Gun Runner Stakes winner Jace’s Road in fifth.
The second-through-fifth finishers earned qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby on an 8-4-2-1 scale. Counting points earned in other races, Jace’s Road and Red Route One are fifth and sixth on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve leaderboard with 15 and 13 points apiece, respectively.
Bred in Kentucky by Corser Thoroughbreds, Arabian Knight is the first starter from two foals produced from the placed Astrology mare Borealis Night.