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Stakes races highlight Keeneland’s spring opening weekend

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are up for grabs this weekend as Keeneland begins its 16-day spring meet.

The historic, picturesque track opens Friday and will feature five of this month’s 16 stakes races worth $4.225 million on Saturday. The marquee events are the $1 million Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass and $500,000 Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland for fillies, both of which offer 170 points toward next month’s Derby and Oaks at Churchill Downs. The winners get 100 points.

Zulu, one of three Blue Grass entrants trained by three-time race winner Todd Pletcher, has 20 Derby points and is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the 14-horse field for 3-year-olds.

Pletcher’s other horses are Donegal Moon, a 5-1 choice starting from the No. 2 post, and Cards of Stone.

Zulu arrived at Keeneland on Tuesday from South Florida and galloped a second time Thursday with Donegal Moon in preparation for the 1 1/8-mile race on dirt.

“He had a nice gallop around the track, a mile and an eighth, and went back and stood in the gate,” assistant Tristan Barry said of Zulu’s workout. “Did that very well.”

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Unbeaten Cathryn Sophia is even money leading a five-horse field in the 1 1/16 mile Central Bank Ashland. She has been impressive in both Grade 2 starts this year, winning the Davona Dale Stakes by seven lengths and the Forward Gal Stakes by 5 1/2.

Trainer John Servis is just as encouraged about Cathryn Sophia’s chances after Sunday’s workout.

“She worked super here and likes the track,” he said. “This will be her first time going two turns and should she get the job done, it would give her a lot of confidence going into the Kentucky Oaks. And me, too.”

Rachel’s Valentina, another Pletcher pupil, is the 3-1 second choice; she was second in last fall’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland. Also entered are Carina Mia (7-5), Weep No More (20-1) and Banree (20-1).

Another notable Grade 1 stakes race is the $300,000 Madison for fillies and mares, which features Breeders’ Cup winners StopchargingMaria and Wavell Avenue.

“That’s an ungodly race,” oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said of the 13-horse Madison field. “You love to see a race like that.”

Keeneland will race Wednesdays through Sundays through April 29.

Baffert hoping Arrogate gives him third Dubai World Cup win

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having taken over the mantle as the world’s best racehorse from California Chrome, Arrogate will attempt on Saturday to wear another crown that last fitted his illustrious American compatriot, the Dubai World Cup.

All eyes are on the 4-year-old Arrogate, who lost on debut 11 months ago but hasn’t lost since.

He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup this year to stretch his unbeaten streak to six. In both races, Arrogate defeated Chrome, who won the Dubai World Cup last year at Meydan Racecourse by five lengths despite jockey Victor Espinoza hanging on to a loose saddle for most of it.

Under jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate has forged a winning combination in his last three Group 1 races: Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.

In Dubai, they have drawn stall nine among 14 contenders, a position which fails to douse the confidence of his trainer Bob Baffert.

“Nine is fine,” said Baffert, who also trained 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“He’s settled in pretty well. As long as he shows up, that’s the key. If he runs his race, we know what he can do.”

Smith was all praise for his mount, ranked the No. 1 racehorse in the world.

“I have been blessed with some really, really good horses, but I am not sure I have ever sit on one like this,” Smith said.

“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, the way he gets over the ground … at times you feel as if you are running downhill instead of a level ground. What amazes me most is when the race is over, it looks as if he did not put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick.”

Arrogate’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup wins came over 2,000 meters on dirt, the same distance and conditions as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Baffert hopes Arrogate can give him a third Dubai World Cup victory after Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).

He suffered a heart attack during his last visit to Dubai in 2012, and watched the World Cup five nights later with stents in two of his blocked arteries. He also watched from even farther afield last year as his other horse, Hoppertunity, finished third behind Chrome and Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij.

He’s giving Hoppertunity another chance.

“Both my horses are happy and healthy,” Baffert said. “He (Hoppertunity) should be collecting a check again. That is what he does, picks up the pieces in these big races. He reminds me of Pac-Man, he just keeps going. A Dubai World Cup 1-2, that would be something.”

Mubtaahij is also back, although he will start under Christophe Soumillon from the widest of stalls.

“Like everyone, we wanted low,” the Belgian jockey said. “I will have to … hope for some luck.”

The Dubai World Cup features a nine-race card offering $30 million across six Group 1 and three Group 2 races on turf and dirt.

Six three-year-olds nominated late to Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, is among six 3-year-olds made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the late nomination period.

The late nominees, which required a payment of $6,000 each, raise the total nominations to 425 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late nomination period closed Monday. The early nomination window closed in January and required a payment of $600.

Ireland-bred Thunder Snow, owned by Godolphin Racing, is set to run Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. The colt has three wins in seven career starts for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

The other late nominees are Hollywood Handsome, trained by Dallas Stewart; More Than Words, trained by Charlie LoPresti; Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally; Rapid Dial, trained by Ingrid Mason; and Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Thoroughbreds that weren’t nominated to the Triple Crown have one final chance by paying a supplemental fee. The fee for the Derby is $200,000; $150,000 for the Preakness; and $75,000 for the Belmont.