The weight of expectations rested on American Patriot long before a saddle ever touched his back.
As a son of world-class sire War Front out of the Tiznow mare Life Well Lived—a full sister to Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) winner Well Armed—the homebred colt was well-regarded enough by WinStar Farm to result in an $850,000 RNA from Taylor Made Sales Agency's consignment to the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale.
"He's such a beautiful horse, and we were hoping to get a million dollars for him, and we didn't," WinStar president and CEO Elliott Walden said. "Being a War Front, out of the pedigree he has, and being such a good-looking horse, we decided to go ahead and race him."
American Patriot broke through at the highest level April 14 at Keeneland, nipping hard-trying Heart to Heart in the final strides of the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile (G1T) with a powerful rally under jockey Javier Castellano. The 4-year-old picked up his first grade 1 win by a neck in his second start of the year, and gave trainer Todd Pletcher a record 51st stakes score at Keeneland.
The final time for the mile on firm turf was 1:34.70.
"I felt good the whole way," Walden said. "He was traveling well the whole way, and he was in the bridle. You don't know which way a photo goes, but you could tell that he was going to run big. When he came off the turn and lengthened his stride, it was really good to see."
American Patriot came off a Feb. 16 allowance victory going 1 1/16 miles on the Gulfstream Park turf. That score was a confidence boost after things did not go the colt's way Oct. 8 at Belmont Park, where he was ninth in the Hill Prince Stakes (G3T).
"He's a horse we always throught a lot of," Pletcher said. "It just seemed like he really made that great transition from 3 to 4, matured, and physically filled out a bit. I think the freshening did him well, and the good spacing from the prep race to this race today. Everything seemed to fall into place, including a good inside draw and ground-saving trip, and he delivered a big kick at the end."
Castellano kept American Patriot covered up after breaking from post 3 in a field of 11, and the duo made a steady progression from eighth as a quarter went in :23.25 to seventh behind a :47.18 half. With California shipper What a View winging along on the lead and Heart to Heart in close pursuit, American Patriot swung into the six path entering the lane after three-quarters in 1:10.98, and Castellano set him down for the drive.
“It was a good setup: a lot of speed in the race," the jockey said. "I rode with a lot of patience, a lot of confidence. I took my time and turning for home, I let him go a little bit. The way he finished was tremendous. I really like this horse. I rode him here when he broke his maiden on this surface. I had a lot of optimism that he would get it done today.”
That maiden win came April 10, 2016. Three starts later American Patriot picked up his first graded trophy, winning the Kent Stakes (G3T) at Delaware Park. Next out he was a troubled third in the Secretariat Stakes (G1T) at Arlington International Racecourse.
"He was a little unlucky not to win the grade 1 last year," Pletcher said. "He had a bit of a rough trip in the Secretariat. He came back and trained exceptionally well all winter. I think his allowance win was more impressive, maybe, than it looked on paper. I spoke to Elliott Walden right after that race and we decided the Maker's 46 was a great opportunity for him. He had run well at Keeneland before ... we knew he liked the turf course. More than anything, it just seemed like he was in great form and trained really, really well here at Palm Beach Downs all winter."
Off at odds of 10-1, American Patriot returned $23, $10.80, and $7.20. Heart to Heart, coming off a Canadian Turf (G3T) score at Gulfstream for trainer Brian Lynch, paid $5.40 and $3.80. Conquest Panthera, third in the Canadian Turf last out, missed the place by a nose and returned $13. Completing the order of finish were Ballagh Rocks, Blacktype, What a View, Western Reserve, Inspector Lynley, 7-2 choice Bolo, Bondurant, and Calculator. Conquest Enforcer was scratched.
“You can’t ask for any more than he gave us today," Lynch said of Heart to Heart's effort. "He even tried to stick his nose out at the wire. I think Julien (Leparoux) gave him an unbelievable ride, and (Heart to Heart) laid it down too. It’s just one of those things in racing ... we’ll get put our heads together and come up with a game plan (for his next start). I think coming back quick after the effort he put in today certainly wouldn’t be an option.”
The connections of the winner also will head to the drawing board where their colt's next target is concerned.
"We'll look at the (May 6) Woodford Reserve (Turf Classic, grade 1, at Churchill Downs), but it might be a little quick back off this big effort," Walden said.
"I think he's a versatile horse," Pletcher added. "He's proven he can run effectively from a mile to a mile and three-sixteenths, and he might even handle a little more than that. I think everything's in play for him. He's got a great disposition and a great mind. We'll see how he comes out of it, I'll talk to the guys at WinStar and we'll come up with a game plan, but we have high hopes he can continue on the roll he's on."