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American Pharoah, with loose shoe, wins Rebel Stakes; moves to 5th in Kentucky Derby rankings

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HOT SPRINGS, Arkansas — American Pharoah, last year's 2-year-old champion, made his return to the track appear easy Saturday, winning Oaklawn Park's Rebel Stakes by 6 1/4 lengths despite a loose shoe on a sloppy track.

The victory gave trainer Bob Baffert his fifth Rebel victory in six years and moved the Zayat Stables colt to fifth in the Kentucky Derby point standings. Zayat's El Kabeir tops the standings.

American Pharoah bobbled to the left out of the gate — as the shoe came loose — but recovered and took the lead immediately.

"Once he got into the first turn and his groove, he was galloping," Baffert said by telephone after the race. "When he can run like that all the way around ... it shows you how good he is."

The 3-year-old was making his 2015 debut after missing last year's Breeders' Cup, perhaps with a foot bruise. His last race was the Front Runner at Santa Anita in September.

"The race, on paper, was his to lose," owner Ahmed Zayat said. "He's healthy and he showed us that he can relax and enjoy very, very hard circumstances."

PHOTO: American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza (4) win the $750,000 Rebel Stakes horse race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., Saturday, March 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza (4) win the $750,000 Rebel Stakes horse race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., Saturday, March 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Jockey Victor Espinoza called American Pharoah "an amazing horse."

"This is the real deal. He (Baffert) knows what he has," Espinoza said. "It makes me more confident to ... be on him and ... not be afraid to let him run because he has the talent and ability."

Saturday's $750,000 race was American Pharoah's first outside California, and the conditions were brutal. Three days of steady rain made a mess of the track, and the colt had never before run in the mud. The loose shoe didn't appear to affect American Pharoah's footing.

"The track was very demanding. We learned a lot from this race because he handled it well. He handled the shipping and he handled the off track," Baffert said.

Madefromlucky ran second and moved to 10th in the Kentucky Derby standings, Bold Conquest moved to 13th after finishing third and The Truth or Else moved to 19th after running fourth. The Kentucky Derby will take the top 20 horses for the May 2 race.

Madefromlucky tucked in behind American Pharoah for the entire race, keeping pace with the leader until the turn for home. He passed Bold Conquest in the stretch but didn't have enough to finish.

"Madefromlucky got the worst of it being on the worst part of the track the whole way, and he still ran a great race," said Adele Bellinger, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher.

American Pharoah paid $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10. Madeforlucky returned $3.40 and $2.80, and Bold Conquest paid $2.80 to show.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza (4) lead Bold Conquest and jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., left, Paid Admission and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, center, and the rest of the field onto the stretch of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes horse race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., Saturday, March 14, 2015. American Pharoah was the eventual winner. (AP Photo/David Quinn)
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