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Derby winner Nyquist heads to Preakness; new rivals await

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist heads to Baltimore on Monday to prepare for the Preakness, where the undefeated colt could face up to 13 rivals including nine new shooters seeking to derail his Triple Crown bid.

Nyquist had been walked, bathed and returned to his stall at Churchill Downs by 6 a.m. Sunday, less than 12 hours after he won the Derby by 1 1/4 lengths and improved his record to 8-0. Trainer Doug O’Neill had already gone back to Southern California for a few days before returning east to rejoin his bay colt at Pimlico.

O’Neill told a track official that Nyquist was “doing great” and “looking bright-eyed” the morning after. The colt is the first unbeaten Derby winner with eight victories since Majestic Prince in 1969.

He will put that record on the line in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 21 against a mix of old and new rivals. The field is limited to 14 horses.

Derby runner-up Exaggerator, who has lost all four meetings with Nyquist, and ninth-place finisher Lani, who was beaten 10 3/4 lengths, are expected to return in the Preakness. Also possible are third-place Derby finisher Gun Runner, who was beaten by 4 1/2 lengths, and Suddenbreakingnews, who was fifth.

The newcomers are Laoban and Cherry Wine, who were both entered in the Derby but didn’t get in the race; Lexington Stakes winner Collected, trained by Bob Baffert; Federico Tesio winner Awesome Speed; Stradivari, trained by Todd Pletcher; and California Chrome Stakes winner Uncle Lino.

Also under consideration are Pat Day Mile winner Sharp Azteca; Wood Memorial third-place finisher Adventist; and Florida Derby third-place finisher Fellowship.

Keith Desormeaux, who trains Exaggerator, said he would like a rematch in the Preakness.

“He was the closest threat,” said J. Paul Reddam, who owns Nyquist. “If I were him, I would want a rematch too. The horses are not machines, so it will be a great race.”

Reddam, O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez enjoyed their second Derby victory, having won in 2012 with I’ll Have Another.

“There was no wild, drunken party,” said Steve Rothblum, manager for Reddam Racing. “With a horse this good, we wanted to treat it with respect and the reverence that we owe the horse.”

I’ll Have Another also won the Preakness that year but was retired on the eve of the Belmont with a leg injury.

Nyquist is following a schedule similar to I’ll Have Another, who also spent the two weeks leading up to the Preakness at Pimlico. Nyquist came into Louisville a week before the Derby after training at Keeneland in nearby Lexington.

“This year we are a lot more mature,” O’Neill said. “The people that were surrounding Nyquist are a lot more mature. It felt really good to be the (Derby) favorite. I felt it was a real honor. Part of me was, `God, I want to represent Nyquist in the proper way.’ I think the whole crew did a pretty good job, so it felt good being the favorite.”

Nyquist is expected to have a light training schedule between now and the Preakness.

“He’s way too fit already,” said Leandro Mora, O’Neill’s chief assistant. “I don’t think we’re going to push it as much as a few others. We found what he likes to do.”

Five of Nyquist’s eight wins have come in prestigious Grade 1 races. His latest victory boosted his earnings to $4,954,200, which includes a $1 million bonus for winning the Florida Derby in his previous start.

The colt is the third straight Southern California-based horse to win the Derby, and the fourth in five years. I’ll Have Another started the run. Nyquist was the fourth consecutive wagering favorite to win, too.

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.