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Keeneland has provided a training option for Derby hopefuls

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — While the path to the Kentucky Derby has wound through Florida, New York, California and other places, some hopefuls have found a quiet little stopover down the road from Churchill Downs at Keeneland.

No matter what happens in the 142nd Run for the Roses on May 7, some trainers have found a comfort zone for preparation at the picturesque little track in Bluegrass country.

Keeneland has stabled four of 20 Derby qualifiers for various stints this month and even more filly hopefuls in the Oaks on May 6. The Blue Grass Stakes produced a possible Derby contender in winner Brody’s Cause, who has another Grade 1 victory along with a third in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile here.

A peaceful setting including lush, rolling meadows might explain his love of the track.

“It’s laid out for horses,” said trainer Dale Romans, who quickly moved Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine, who finished third in the Blue Grass, to Churchill Downs.

“It’s big and nice, almost like a park environment. I think the horses enjoy being there.”

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Many have returned this spring.

Keeneland welcomed 45 horses who competed in the Breeders’ Cup last October, including four winners who raced during the spring meet that concludes on Friday.

Blue Grass runner-up My Man Sam has also trained at Keeneland before moving to Churchill a couple of weeks ago.

One notable Breeders’ Cup champion at Keeneland has been Juvenile winner Nyquist, who has trained here since winning the Florida Derby on April 2. The unbeaten colt figures to draw a sizable crowd for Friday’s final workout on the main track before heading to Louisville, and trainer Doug O’Neill is eager see him take another big step toward the Derby.

O’Neill has an Oaks hopeful in Land Over Sea here as well and has been pleased with all of his horses’ workouts and temperament. He credits being at Keeneland for providing a friendly training atmosphere.

Bad weather hasn’t been a deterrent thanks to a training track with a synthetic surface that sits just below the main track that switched to dirt nearly two years ago. The view is pretty good, too.

“It’s the best of both worlds here,” O’Neill said of Keeneland. “If every race track had enough real estate to add a synthetic track as a training track, it’s really gold. It has a big barn area, a full barn area, yet it’s spread out. It’s a place where horses are happy.”

Though Nyquist didn’t race at Keeneland, O’Neill praised track officials for making him and his horses welcome and comfortable during their extended visit. Those qualities didn’t surprise him nor Romans, who added that horsemen have always received “first class treatment” there.

Whether Nyquist’s comfort level helps him earn the garland of roses in eight days remains to be seen. O’Neill certainly believes being here trumped the logistics of trying to ship the horse back to his California base.

Keeneland vice president of racing W.B. Rogers Beasley said creating that option was part of the plan. The goal was bringing the track in line with the industry in hopes of attracting top-flight competitors, trainers and events such as the Breeders’ Cup.

Keeneland’s plan came to fruition with the track’s first Breeders’ Cup and paid off with the presence of Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, who capped his stellar career by dominating the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The subsequent return of past competitors and Derby contenders suggest good feelings remain.

“Having all those horses come and run here, especially for a lot of people from California who would not come in very often, I think it was a big boost for us,” Beasley said. “That tells you several things: how much they liked racing here and how much they liked the services.”

Beasley is hopeful that horsemen will spread the word and help lure others to Keeneland in prepping for the first jewel in racing’s Triple Crown. For now it’s just a matter of whether training here produces a Derby champion, a prospect Romans feels good about.

“It’s by far the best choice I’ve had there,” he said. “I like prepping at Keeneland and doing all my work in Kentucky.”

Arrogate remains on course for Pacific Classic at Del Mar

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert wasn’t beating himself up a day after Arrogate’s upset loss in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar that snapped the seven-race winning streak of the world’s top-ranked horse.

The Hall of Fame trainer said Sunday that other than getting a lot of dirt in his eyes and mouth the 4-year-old colt emerged in good physical condition after finishing fourth, beaten by 15 \ lengths as the 1-20 favorite.

Baffert says that as long as Arrogate continues working out well and nothing comes up, the colt will run in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19 at Del Mar. Baffert says Arrogate “will be ready next time.”

Arrogate was never better than fourth among the five-horse field during the race. Accelerate led all the way and won by 8 + lengths.

Arrogate soundly beaten by Accelerate in stunner at Del Mar

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Mike Smith tried everything he could with Arrogate. He moved the colt to the outside, but he didn’t pick up the pace. Smith dropped him down near the rail before wheeling him outside once more.

Nothing worked.

“He just wasn’t trying,” the Hall of Fame jockey said.

Accelerate stunned overwhelming favorite Arrogate to win the $300,000 San Diego Handicap by 8 1/2 lengths Saturday at Del Mar, snapping the seven-race winning streak of the world’s top-ranked horse.

Arrogate finished fourth, beaten by 15 1/4 lengths in the 4-year-old colt’s first race since March 25 in Dubai.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Smith said. “He was just flat, so flat.”

His trainer, Bob Baffert, was blunter, saying Arrogate “laid an egg.”

It wasn’t the first time Accelerate got the best of Arrogate. Last year at Los Alamitos, Accelerate beat Arrogate by a neck in the colt’s career debut in a race won by another horse. It was Arrogate’s lone loss until Saturday.

“I thought he’d run better than that,” Baffert said, “but he just didn’t want to go.”

Accelerate lived up to his name, leading all the way while covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.15.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Accelerate paid $17.60, $32.60 and $22 as the 7-1 second choice in the field of five.

“He got in a nice rhythm; he was going easy,” said Espinoza, aboard for the first time. “I was surprised by how far I won. I wasn’t surprised that I did; I was here to win.”

Donworth, a 24-1 shot, returned $119.80 and $67.40. His payoffs were a track record, bettering the old mark of $101.60 and $40.20 set by Cipria on Sept. 1, 1955.

Baffert-trained Cat Burglar paid $38.20 to show.

All but $214,466 of the $2,671,938 total win, place and show pool wagering was bet on Arrogate, the 1-20 favorite.

Arrogate’s winning streak included the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup and the $10 million Dubai World Cup. He earned $18,000, boosting his career total to $17,102,600, a North American record.

It wasn’t the first time Baffert had led a world-beater to the track only to watch him lose.

That’s what happened in 2015, 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.

“That’s why my hair is white,” Baffert quipped after the race.

Under the race’s handicap conditions, Arrogate carried high weight of 126 pounds, spotting Accelerate nine pounds. But Baffert said the weight difference had nothing to do with the result.

Heading to the rail beforehand, Accelerate’s trainer, John Sadler, said he thought the race would be closer than people thought.

“You want to win, you don’t want to concede anything, but I’m surprised we won because Arrogate is the best horse in the world,” Sadler said. “A couple of things went right for us and one of them was that Arrogate didn’t fire his best. That’s what has to happen for these big upsets.”

With Accelerate setting the pace, Smith had Arrogate last through the opening half-mile before they began making their move into the far turn. But Arrogate’s rally was brief while Accelerate cruised to the finish line in front of a shocked crowd at the seaside oval north of San Diego.

Arrogate will have a chance to turn the tables in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19, when the two colts are expected to meet again.

“We’ve got to go back and start over again,” Smith said. “Get it back right.”