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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.

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.