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Creator pulls away to win $1 million Arkansas Derby

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Steve Asmussen wasn’t completely sure what to expect from Arkansas Derby entrant Creator after a solid but not spectacular start to the 3-year-old’s campaign.

The trainer couldn’t have been happier with how the colt closed out his second victory of the year Saturday, emerging from the field with a furious final kick on the home stretch to win the $1 million Kentucky Derby prep race.

The win seemingly gives Asmussen two of the top contenders for next month’s Kentucky Derby, with Gun Runner entering Saturday atop the race’s qualifying standings and Creator earning 100 points with his victory.

“With Gun Runner and with Creator, what a blessed position we’re in, to have the pedigrees and individuals like that and the opportunity with it,” Asmussen said. “We’re very fortunate and we take it very seriously and will do our best possible with it.”

It also gives the trainer his third Arkansas Derby victory, second only to Todd Pletcher’s four victories in Oaklawn Park’s signature race.

And while the win wasn’t completely unexpected, it was somewhat of a surprise after an overlooked Creator finished third in last month’s Rebel Stakes and went off at 11-1 on Saturday.

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Overlooked or not before the race, the colt — who has yet to finish lower than third in any of his three races this year — showed the strongest finishing kick after running in last for much of the 1 1/8-mile race.

“The horse is getting good at the right time,” Asmussen said. “It took a while for the light to turn on for him. His last two races have been very impressive. I love how he came home and went for the wire today.”

While Asmussen celebrated his stable of Kentucky Derby hopefuls, pre-race favorite Cupid disappointed with by finishing 10th.

The Bob Baffert-trained colt was fast out of the gate and settled into second for much of the race behind Gettsburg. However, the early pace took its toll on the Rebel Stakes winner — who entered Saturday as a virtual Kentucky Derby lock with 50 qualifying points.

“It wasn’t his day today,” Cupid jockey Martin Garcia said. “… When I asked him to go at the 3/8ths (pole), he wasn’t responding. I asked him, and he didn’t respond.”

Ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., Creator paid $25.20, $8.60 and $5, while runner-up Suddenbreakingnews returned $6 and $4 — with Whitmore returning $3.80 to show.

Despite an overcast sky and light mist that fell at Oaklawn Park into the early afternoon, the track conditions held at fast throughout Saturday’s races.

A year after eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah solidified his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite with an eight-length victory in the Arkansas Derby, Creator shocked many in the crowd of 65,000 at Oaklawn Park by overtaking the 12-horse field down the stretch.

While Gettysburg and Cupid separated themselves from the trailing pack for much of the race, a large group began to track them down on the final turn.

That’s when Creator emerged from the outside with the strongest finishing kick, winning in a time of 1:50 and holding off Suddenbreakingnews — who won the Southwest Stakes and finished fifth in the Rebel Stakes.

Asmussen, winner of the Preakness Stakes in 2007 and 2009 with Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, also won the Arkansas Derby in 2002 and 2007. The Arkansas Derby victory was the first for Santana.

In addition to the qualifying points, Creator earned $600,000 for Saturday’s win.

Suddenbreakingnews, trained by Donnie Von Hemel, earned 40 points and $200,000 for finishing second while Whitmore earned 20 points and $100,000.

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.