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Racing Hall of Fame: Rachel, Zenyatta, Dominguez, Asmussen

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Steve Asmussen hit the jackpot seven years ago with Rachel Alexandra. Soon, they’ll be together again — in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.

Sort of difficult for the 50-year-old trainer from South Dakota to believe.

“In horse racing, it’s unique in the fact that you go in (to the Hall of Fame) while you’re still doing it and being honored,” Asmussen said Monday at Churchill Downs, where he’s training Kentucky Derby hopefuls Gun Runner and Creator. “I feel like we’re just in the middle of the career, in the middle of what we’re going to get done. Just very blessed with the opportunities we have and continue to be given, and will try to make the best of them.”

Rachel Alexander was a special horse. She was the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924 and had 13 wins in 19 starts, earning $3.5 million.

“To be able to go in with Rachel is special, and then some,” added Asmussen, who ranks second all-time with more than 7,280 wins and fourth in earnings with $241 million since starting his training career in 1986.

Also elected Monday were jockey Ramon Dominguez, whose career was cut short by injury, and champion racehorse Zenyatta, who won 19 of 20 starts and earned $7.3 million.

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It was as a 3-year-old that Rachel Alexandra zoomed to stardom, winning all eight of her starts in 2009. The wins came at seven different tracks, starting with a victory in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park. She then won the Fair Grounds Oaks and Fantasy Stakes before her 20 1/4-length win in the Kentucky Oaks.

Rachel Alexandra defeated Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness. She then romped by 19 1/4 lengths in the Mother Goose, defeated Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird in the Haskell Invitational by six lengths and topped older males in a dramatic Woodward victory at Saratoga to conclude her undefeated campaign.

The 39-year-old Dominguez, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, won 4,985 races and $191,620,277 from 1996-2013 before suffering a fractured skull in a spill in January 2013. His mount, Convocation, stumbled and fell in a race at Aqueduct, pitching Dominguez onto the winterized inner track.

The injury ended an impressive career.

Dominguez, who had the 20-year requirement for induction waived because of the injury, captured the Eclipse Award three straight times (2010-12) and led all North American riders in earnings each of those years, setting a record of $25,639,432 in 2012. He also won 20 meet riding titles on the New York Racing Association circuit, including a record 68 wins at Saratoga in 2012.

Zenyatta won 17 graded stakes, including 13 Grade 1s, and was undefeated until her final start, losing to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Still, she had earnings of $1,830,000 and was named Horse of the Year in 2010.

Induction is Aug. 12 in Saratoga Springs, New York.

World’s No. 1 horse Arrogate returns to racing at Del Mar

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Arrogate is returning to racing after a nearly four-month layoff with a bulls-eye on his back.

The 4-year-old colt ranked the world’s No. 1 horse brings a seven-race winning streak into the San Diego Handicap on Saturday at Del Mar. He won the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup in January and the $10 million Dubai World Cup in his last start on March 25.

His career earnings of $17,084,600 are a North American record.

So what’s a big-shot like him doing in a $300,000 stakes?

It’s a tuneup for more prestigious races later on and the first of three potential starts the colt will make at the seaside track north of San Diego. Arrogate’s target this summer is the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19. This fall, he will defend his title in the BC Classic, which he won last year at Santa Anita.

The field for the Grade 2 San Diego was reduced to five on Friday when trainer Keith Desormeaux decided to run Dalmore in Sunday’s $75,000 Wickerr Stakes instead of taking on Arrogate.

That leaves Accelerate, Cat Burglar, El Huerfano and Donworth to challenge Arrogate, who figures to be the odds-on favorite in the 1 1/16-mile race. Bob Baffert trains both Arrogate and Cat Burglar.

Arrogate will carry high weight of 126 pounds, including Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. The colt is spotting Cat Burglar eight pounds, Accelerate nine pounds, Donworth 10 pounds and El Huerfano 11 pounds. In a handicap race, weights are assigned by the racing secretary.

Arrogate hasn’t carried that much weight since winning a minor race at Del Mar last summer. After that, he grabbed the sport’s attention with a record 13 +-length victory in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. It’s been one big-money victory after another ever since.

The colt has distanced himself from the competition in ways not seen in racing recently.

He knocked off fan favorite and Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome in the BC Classic and beat Chrome again in the Pegasus World Cup. Traveling thousands of miles to Dubai didn’t faze Arrogate, either. Despite a poor start out of the gate, he went on to victory in the desert.

Baffert has masterfully managed Arrogate’s career for owner Juddmonte Farm, with the Hall of Fame trainer carefully picking his spots and the colt’s performance backing him up every time. His only loss came in his career debut when he finished third.

Still, Baffert knows better than most what it’s like leading a world-beater to the track only to watch him lose.

That’s what happened two years ago, when American Pharoah was stunned by Keen Ice in the Travers barely two months after becoming horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

And Arrogate’s rivals are spoiling for a similar upset at Del Mar.

“One great thing about this sport is that they’re not machines,” said Doug O’Neill, who trains Donworth. “As much as Arrogate looks unbeatable, they all are beatable. If he’s not feeling it on Saturday and we are, we’ll shock the world.”

Irap wins Indiana Derby; AJ Foyt’s horse finishes 2nd

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SHELBYVILLE, Ind. — Irap won the $500,000 Indiana Derby by five lengths over Colonelsdarkemper, owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Irap ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.21 on Saturday night at Indiana Grand. He paid $4.80, $3.20 and $2.60 in the Grade 3 race for 3-year-olds. Irap is trained by Southern California-based Doug O’Neill.

Colonelsdarktemper returned $9.60 and $5.80, while Untrapped was another length back in third and paid $2.80 to show.

Foyt is in Toronto for this weekend’s IndyCar race, so he sent grandson A.J. Foyt IV to the track outside Indianapolis.

“He’s always shown a lot of heart and he showed it tonight,” the younger Foyt said about the colt. “He ran a great race.”

The younger Foyt works in the Indianapolis Colts’ front office. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where his father Tony trained horses.

“Horse racing holds a special place in my heart, and I’m glad my grandfather still has it going on,” A.J. IV said.