No more Triple talk for Baffert, Espinoza after 2016 Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The American Pharoah hangover is over for Bob Baffert, Victor Espinoza and Ahmed Zayat — and maybe everyone else.

With Nyquist winning the Kentucky Derby on Saturday and heading to the Preakness in two weeks with an unbeaten record, Triple Crown chatter now turns to racing’s newest star.

Baffert’s Derby hopes on Saturday rested with Mor Spirit. But the Santa Anita Derby runner-up was never in contention and finished 10th under jockey Gary Stevens.

Espinoza, meanwhile, was bidding to become the first rider to win three consecutive Derbys. He was a late replacement aboard Whitmore, who was in fifth place with about a half mile to go in the 1 1/4-maile race but faded and finished 19th in the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs.

Zayat, the owner of American Pharoah, did not have a horse in the Derby, and was home in New Jersey. He was impressed with Nyquist, and would like nothing more than to see the colt join the Triple Crown club.

“What a horse. Awesome,” Zayat said Saturday night. “So proud of team O’Neill and many congrats to my friends the Reddams. Let’s have another Triple Crown back to back. Wouldn’t that be special.”

Espinoza, a winner of five of the past six Triple Crown races heading into Derby, said “I had a great trip around the first turn, but it felt like he was just spinning his wheels.”

The jockey won the Derby and Preakness aboard California Chrome in 2014, and then was along for the magic ride on American Pharoah. This time, it was no go.

“I felt like he was uncomfortable the entire race. He never picked up the bridle,” Espinoza said. “It’s just how it goes sometimes. Sometimes they like the track and sometimes they’re picky. He’s one of those. It was a great, great race. The winner, I knew he was the one to beat and he got the perfect trip.”

Baffert tried to low-key his Derby week, but really couldn’t. He made appearances and signed autographs in the mornings on the backstretch and hoped Mor Spirit might come up with a big race.

“He came away from there OK, and he got a good spot going into the first turn,” Baffert said. “Then it just didn’t happen from there. He didn’t engage. He just didn’t have anything to fire for the finish.”

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.