Empire Maker scores new G1 winner with Eight Rings in American Pharoah

Sent to the front out of the gate by John Velazquez, Eight Rings dominated proceedings throughout in Friday’s Grade I, $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita, winning by six lengths while getting 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.41.  Trained by Bob Baffert, Eight Rings made amends for a disastrous trip in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity, a race in which he ducked in at the break, unseating Drayden Van Dyke as the 1-2 favorite.

“I told Johnny V. to ride him with confidence,” said Baffert, who racked up his record ninth win in the race named for his 2015 Triple Crown winner.  “I thought he might be in front.  Johnny said let’s get him away from there, and he’s figured out this track.  He gigged him a little bit, but he said, ‘Wow, he’s really fast.’  He just got out there really quick and I was actually just watching his ears the whole way.

“Johnny said he’ll be going good, then he’ll start looking around and lagging, and all the way down the stretch he was still looking around…My heart is still with American Pharoah, so I’m glad to see his babies are doing well.  I’m blessed and fortunate to get these kinds of horses.”

Off as the 6-5 favorite in a field of nine juveniles, Eight Rings paid $4.40, $3.20 and $2.80.

Owned by SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Frederick Hertrich, III, John D. Fielding and Golconda Stables, Eight Rings, a Kentucky-bred colt by Empire Maker, out of the Pure Prize mare Purely Hot, was trying two turns for the first time and now has two wins from three starts.  With the winner’s share of $180,000, he has earnings of $216,951.

“He’s still not 100 percent confident in what he needs to do,” said Velazquez, who rode Eight Rings for the first time today and who won the Grade I Chandelier earlier in the day with Baffert’s Bast. “If he can put his mind to running, he’ll be a dangerous horse.”

A Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Race qualifier, the American Pharoah victory provides Eight Rings with a fees-paid berth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 1. The race is named for American Pharoah, who is of course a grandson of Empire Maker.

Sire of now 12 Grade 1 winners, Empire Maker stands at Gainesway.