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Shagaf favorite in 8-horse field for Wood at Big A

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NEW YORK (AP) So far, Shagaf has been a picture of perfection on the race track.

The biggest test for the 3-year-old bay colt comes Saturday, when he takes on eight rivals in the $1 million Wood Memorial, New York’s major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by Chad Brown, Gotham Stakes winner Shagaf was made the 2-1 morning-line favorite and drew the inside No. 1 post for the 1 1/8-mile race at Aqueduct Racetrack. No worries for Brown, who also sends out 8-1 shot Flexibility.

“Shagaf is doing well. His works have been good and so was his Gotham,” said Brown, a rising star in the training ranks, after Shagaf went for a morning gallop at Belmont’s training track Wednesday. “He’s certainly being doing everything right. He’s won all three of his races.

“We’ll be adding distance (in the Wood) and we’re looking for him to finish off the race strong. We’ll see the best of him the further he runs.”

Shagaf will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., the nation’s second-leading rider in earnings.

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Outwork, second in the Tampa Bay Derby after two wins to open his career, is the 5-2 second choice and drew the outside No. 8 post. Matt King Coal is next at 3-1, leaving from the No. 6 gate.

The Wood carries 170 Derby qualifying points, with 100 to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth. The Derby is limited to 20 starters. If more are entered, the field is determined by points. Earning points is not a concern for Shagaf, who has 50 for last month’s Gotham win.

All others need Derby points.

Outwork, trained by Todd Pletcher, has 20 points but still might need a top-four finish to make the Derby. Flexibility has 15 points and Adventist, trained by Leah Gyarmati, has 12.

Matt King Coal is making his stakes debut for trainer Linda Rice. The colt came off a four-month layoff from a fever and won a first-level allowance race last month.

Brown hopes Flexibility will rebound from his fourth-place finish in the Gotham. As a 2-year-old, the colt finished second twice to top Derby contender Mohaymen, and Flexibility won the Jerome in his first race this year.

“I think he’s coming into the Wood in great shape,” Brown said. “Hopefully, he can use this race to secure some additional (Derby) points.”

The field, from the rail out, is Shagaf (2-1), Adventist (10-1), Trojan Nation (30-1), Tale of S’avall (20-1), Flexibility (8-1), Matt King Coal (3-1), Dalmore (12-1) and Outwork (5-2).

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.