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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.

Native River gets wire-to-wire win in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.

Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.

After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths – a year after finishing third in the race.

For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup – 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.

“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.

“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”

Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.

It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors – especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup

“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.

“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”

Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).

Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.

Jockey Ruby Walsh to miss rest of Cheltenham Festival

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Jockey Ruby Walsh will miss the remainder of the Cheltenham Festival after aggravating a leg injury when falling off his horse during the RSA Insurance Novices’ chase on Wednesday.

Walsh, the most successful jockey in the festival’s history with 52 wins, had only recently returned to competition after a four-month layoff due to a broken leg. He was taken to a hospital for X-rays and his sister Jennifer said in a statement that “unfortunately he has aggravated a recent leg injury and will see his consultant in Dublin next week for further assessment.”

Walsh had been set to ride Killultagh Vic in Friday’s Gold Cup.

On Wednesday’s second day of the festival, Altior extended his unbeaten record over jumps to 13 in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Altior had a slow start eventually powered seven lengths clear of the Willie Mullins-trained Min.

It was also a good day for trainer Gordon Elliott who took home three wins, headlined by Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

The 8-11 favorite beat Black Op by two and three-quarter lengths.