Derby 2016: 5 horses to watch in 142nd Kentucky Derby

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The starting gate will once again be full with 20 horses for the 142nd Kentucky Derby.

Even though the majority of horses have little chance of winning and over the half the field is typically eliminated in the opening quarter-mile, owners and trainers cannot resist the prestige of having a horse in America’s greatest race.

Most of the 3-year-olds will be running 1 1/4 miles for the first time on May 7, leaving it up for grabs to see which handles the distance, track surface and traffic-choked conditions the best.

Trainer Doug O’Neill has the likely wagering favorite in undefeated Nyquist.

Three trainers are expected to have two horses each in the race. Steve Asmussen will saddle Gun Runner and Creator, Todd Pletcher has Wood Memorial winner Outwork and Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin, and Chad Brown has Shagaf and Blue Grass runner-up My Man Sam.

RELATED: How to watch the Kentucky Derby

Here are five horses to watch:

EXAGGERATOR

A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. He’s trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey who is Keith’s younger brother. The colt has three wins in eight career starts and earnings of $1 million. He has lost to Nyquist three times, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Exaggerator is a versatile sort who can press the pace or stalk the leaders. He is coming off an impressive 6 1/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby on a sloppy track.

GUN RUNNER

The colt topped the Derby leaderboard with 151 points earned in prep races. He has four wins in five career starts, including the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star this winter. Trainer Steve Asmussen, recently elected to racing’s Hall of Fame, is seeking his first Derby victory. He will also saddle Creator. Gun Runner has the second-highest earnings of $1.6 million among the horses expected to make the field.

MOHAYMEN

The colt had his five-race winning streak snapped in the Florida Derby, when he finished fourth behind Nyquist as the 4-5 favorite. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin tosses out the clunker, saying Mohaymen has had “only two bad minutes in his entire life.” The colt is one of two (Shagaf is the other) in the race owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the 70-year-old deputy ruler of Dubai. The Maktoum family is 0 for 8 at the Derby. Mohaymen’s blood lines include Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

MOR SPIRIT

Any Derby horse trained by Bob Baffert is worth consideration. The Hall of Fame trainer has four Derby victories, including last year when American Pharoah began his journey to Triple Crown glory in this race. Another Hall of Famer, Gary Stevens, will ride the Pennsylvania-bred colt. Stevens has three Derby wins, the last coming in 1997 aboard Silver Charm, who was trained by Baffert. Mor Spirit has never been worse than second in seven career starts.

NYQUIST

The colt brings a 7-0 record into Churchill Downs, bettering the marks of Seattle Slew in 1977 and Smarty Jones in 2004 when they were 6-0 and won the race. He comes in off a five-week layoff, having last won the Florida Derby. The colt has won from just about everywhere: on the rail, from the far outside, leading all the way or coming from off the pace. Nyquist is a son of Uncle Mo, who also went undefeated in his 2-year-old season. Uncle Mo was the early favorite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby, but he was scratched the day before because of illness and was later diagnosed with a rare liver disease. The colt is named for Detroit Red Wings player Gustav Nyquist; owner Paul Reddam is a big fan of the hockey team. Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez were the same team behind I’ll Have Another, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012 before being scratched on the eve of the Belmont Stakes with a career-ending leg injury. Nyquist is the richest horse in the Derby field, having earned $3.2 million. He was purchased for $400,000.

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.