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Wire-to-wire for Nyquist as No. 1 contender for Derby

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Unlike Pharoah-phever a year ago, Nyquist-mania hasn’t yet struck in the days leading to the Kentucky Derby. It might by next Saturday night if the undefeated colt ends up in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.

American Pharoah came into the Derby off rousing wins in two races in Arkansas, then won the Derby as the favorite and went on to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Nyquist, meanwhile, will attempt to become just the eighth 3-year-old to win the Derby with an unbeaten record. Big Brown in 2008 was the most recent. Nyquist has won all seven of his races, including a showdown over highly regarded Mohaymen in the Florida Derby.

RELATED: How to watch the Kentucky Derby

The son of Uncle Mo has done everything right up to now, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to clinch 2-year-old champion honors. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Nyquist won the San Vicente in his 3-year-old debut prior to being shipped to Gulfstream Park for the Florida Derby.

And with that, Nyquist completes a wire-to-wire run through the prep season at No. 1 in the final AP Run to the Roses Top 10. Last year, Dortmund wired the AP Top 10 as well with six wins in six starts in 2015 before running third in the Derby to stablemate American Pharoah.

“Of course,” O’Neill said of added pressure in having the clear-cut Derby favorite. “But you might say it’s good pressure. I’d rather be the Derby favorite than a horse that snuck in.”

Nyquist seems settled in at Keeneland, and is expected to arrive at Churchill Downs as Derby week begins. He worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 last Saturday under regular exercise rider Jonny Garcia.

“He’s fit and ready,” O’Neill said.

Newly elected Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has two shots at winning his first Derby, with No. 2 Gun Runner and No. 9 Creator. Gun Runner took the Louisiana Derby on March 26 in his last start, and Creator stormed from last-to-first to win the Arkansas Derby on April 16.

“I’m extremely proud of the shape that both of these horses are in going into the Derby,” Asmussen said after both colts had workouts at Churchill Downs earlier in the week.

Also with two horses in the final Top 10 is Todd Pletcher, who trains No. 7 Outwork and No. 8 Destin.

Here’s our final Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): All good on Nyquist front after final workout at Keeneland. … Owner, trainer, rider won 2012 Derby, Preakness with I’ll Have Another. … A perfect 7-0 record. … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. … Derby odds: 3-1 (future wager).

2. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Trainer now a Hall of Famer in search of first Derby win. … Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner worked 6 furlongs in 1:12.20 at Churchill on Monday. … Geroux has first Derby mount. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

3. Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): Santa Anita Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 at Santa Anita on April 20. …. Santa Anita Derby winners have won two of last four Derbys. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 27-1.

4. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Can Baffert do it again? … Colt has been first or second in seven career starts. … Runner-up in last two preps, San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 11-1.

5. Brody’s Cause (Dale Romans, Luis Saez): Might be peaking at right time based on Blue Grass win. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.80 at Churchill Downs on Saturday. … First of three wins came at Churchill last year. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 10-1 (mutuel field).

6. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Looks to make amends for only loss in six starts. … Ran fourth in Florida Derby after five Grade 2 wins. … Worked 4 furlongs in 47.40 at Churchill on Friday. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

7. Outwork (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Wood winner is one of three sons of Uncle Mo in Derby. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 at Churchill on Friday … Ran second to stablemate Destin in Tampa Bay Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 30-1.

8. Destin (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Eight-week layoff for Tampa Bay Derby winner. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 at Churchill on Friday. … Has three wins in five starts. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

9. Creator (Asmussen, Ricardo Santana): Arkansas Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:02.40 at Churchill Downs on Monday. … Likely long shot with just two wins in nine races. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 58-1.

10. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise, Jr., Mike Smith): San Felipe winner among strong contingent of California-based horses. … Ran fourth in Santa Anita Derby. … Worked 6 furlongs in 1:12 at San Luis Rey Downs on April 23. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

 

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.