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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.

RELATED: How to watch the Kentucky Derby

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.

Bob Baffert sweeps Futurity and Starlet at Los Alamitos

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert became the first trainer to win the $300,000 CashCall Futurity and $294,000 Starlet in the same year at Los Alamitos on Saturday.

McKinzie won the Futurity for 2-year-olds via disqualification after Solomini, Baffert’s other entry in the race, was cited by the stewards for interference in deep stretch and dropped from first to third.

In the next race, 2-5 favorite Dream Tree won the Starlet by 3 1/4 lengths to improve to 3-0 for the Hall of Fame trainer.

Baffert has won the Futurity a record 10 times, including the last four at Los Alamitos, where it was moved from now-closed Hollywood Park, where he won it six times.

McKinzie, named for Baffert’s late friend and Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, was carried wide into the first turn and kept clear by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. McKinzie rallied approaching the stretch in tandem with Instilled Regard while Solomini started to gain outside of that pair.

The three horses came together and with a sixteenth of a mile to go, Solomini came in and bumped Instilled Regard before going on to finish three-quarters of a length in front of McKinzie, who was a head in front of Instilled Regard.

Baffert was surprised when the three stewards voted 2-1 to disqualify Solomini.

“It’s really too bad they took him down,” he said. “He was the better horse today.”

McKinzie returned $3 and $2.40. Instilled Regard paid $6.80. There was no show wagering because of the small field.

The final time for the Futurity was 1:42.57. McKinzie earned $180,000, increasing his career earnings to $210,000.

In the Starlet for 2-year-old fillies, Dream Tree and jockey Drayden Van Dyke covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.87 and paid $2.80 to win. It was Baffert’s fourth career win in the race.

Yesterday’s News was second and Piedi Bianchi was third.

Trainers rushed to save terrified horses as flames closed in

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BONSALL, Calif. — A routine day at an elite training center for racehorses transformed into terror and chaos in minutes, with hundreds of thoroughbreds stampeding out of their stalls in a desperate attempt to flee a Southern California wildfire that set their barns ablaze.

Turned loose by their trainers in a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the huge, muscular animals, their eyes wide with fear, charged through thick smoke and past dancing flames.

While hundreds made it to the safety of a nearby racetrack, others galloped in circles, unsure which way to run. Still others, too frightened to leave their paddocks, stayed there and died.

Workers at San Luis Rey Downs said an estimated 30 to 40 horses perished Thursday in the wildfire still raging out of control north of San Diego on Friday. At least two stable workers were injured, and their conditions were not immediately known.

Trainers described a terrifying scene that erupted at the facility Thursday afternoon, recalling how only minutes after smelling smoke, they saw flames roaring down a nearby hillside.

“I was heading to my barn to drop my equipment off and I smell smoke,” trainer Kim Marrs said Friday as she stood outside the still-smoldering facility. “Within two minutes, I look up the hill and you could just see it come up over the ridge.”

She and others tried to turn back the flames with hoses and fire extinguishers before firefighters arrived. But when embers from burning palm trees began igniting the roofs of barns, they realized they had no other alternative than to turn loose the approximately 450 horses stabled there.

“The next thing, there’s a stampede of 100 horses coming through here,” said Marrs, who was trying to lead one of the horses she trains, a 5-year-old named Spirit World, through a tunnel. “We almost got trampled to death.”

At one of the center’s many barns, video showed a group of trainers frantically tearing down a wooden fence and shouting at their horses to run.

One large black horse, its forelocks wrapped in white leggings, bolted toward safety but then spooked by the burning palm trees, turned and fled back toward its stable. Scores of others charged through thick smoke to safety.

Trainer Cliff Sise suffered burns on his chest and arm trying to get a 2-year-old filly named Scat Home Lady out of her stable. She wouldn’t budge, and he said she burned to death there.

“She was one of my favorites,” Sise said as he sat outside the facility.

Trainer Jerry Contreras said one of his best friends, a fellow trainer, was hospitalized.

“He was trying to get his horses out and was burned,” Contreras said.

At San Luis Rey Downs, the phone rang unanswered and the owners quickly barred outsiders from the sprawling facility.

It is Southern California’s premier training center for thoroughbreds, with a competition-sized racetrack, a smaller one for training, numerous trails for horses to relax on and even a swimming pool for them to work out in.

The center can house as many as 500 horses and states proudly on a sign out front that it is the “Home of Azeri,” racing’s U.S. Horse of the Year in 2002.

Other thoroughbreds that have trained there include Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.

The facility sits among rolling hills, picturesque vineyards and farms down a winding, two-lane road just a few miles off busy Interstate 15, the main thoroughfare connecting Southern California to Las Vegas.

The horses that fled were quickly rounded up, and many were taken to the nearby Del Mar racetrack, where a veterinary center was set up for the injured.

The tragedy resulted in an outpouring of support from the racing community, with Southern California’s Los Alamitos Race Course canceling its daytime thoroughbred program Friday out of respect.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the Stronach Group, owners of San Luis Rey Downs, have set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for hospital and rehab costs.

Santa Anita racetrack officials in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia collected clothes and other items for stable workers who lost their possessions.

“I lost everything. Forty years. I lost all my tack, all my machines, my webbings. It was all burned. My whole livelihood. I feel like quitting,” the 66-year-old Sise said.