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Haskell field includes Derby, Preakness winners

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OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Leaving Monmouth Park hours after Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s triumphant return to the races in last year’s Haskell Invitational, track president Bob Kulina already was thinking ahead.

The guy who has been around the Jersey shore track since the early 1970s knew nothing could top the spectacle of American Pharoah: 60,000 fans standing and cheering as the champion charged down the stretch in his first race as the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years.

Kulina, though, caught some racing luck for Sunday’s 49th running of the Haskell: Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist vs. Preakness winner Exaggerator, with Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert in the mix with American Freedom.

“I have to tell the truth,” Kulina said this week. “A year ago Sunday driving home, if you told me I was looking at this type of race the year after American Pharoah’s Triple Crown and Haskell victory, I would have said `Sign me up now.”‘

There’s plenty of storylines:

– The Nyquist-Exaggerator rivalry resumes. Nyquist won the first four meetings, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Derby. Exaggerator ended the streak – and any chance for another Triple Crown try – by handing Nyquist the only loss of his career in the Preakness.

– Baffert has won five of the last six Haskells and is seeking a ninth win in Monmouth Park’s showcase race.

– It’s the first time the top three Derby finishers – Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun Runner- are running in the Haskell. It’s the first time since 2010 that it’s Derby winner vs. Preakness winner.

– On the local front, trainers and brothers-in-law Eddie Plesa Jr. and Jason Servis will saddle long shots Awesome Slew and New Jersey-bred Sunny Ridge. Sunny Ridge is bred and owned by Dennis Drazin, an advisor to the group that operates the track.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better field or a greater race,” Kulina said.

While anticipation builds for the 1 1/8-mile Haskell, there’s another race for 3-year-olds worth noting on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course – the $600,000 Jim Dandy. The field includes Belmont Stakes winner Creator, along with one-time Derby favorite Mohaymen, who ran fourth and hasn’t raced since.

Nyquist was made the 6-5 morning-line favorite for the six-horse Haskell, with Exaggerator next at 5-2. The Derby winner leaves from the rail; the Preakness winner from the outside post.

This will be Nyquist’s first race since running third in the Preakness on May 21. He then developed an elevated white blood cell count and was returned to his home base at Santa Anita. Trainer Doug O’Neill now says his colt is ready to go again.

“He’s doing really well. His last few works have been exceptional,” O’Neill said. “We’re coming into this race with a lot of optimism. For a six-horse field, it’s very deep.”

Nyquist, owned by J. Paul Reddam, is the reigning 2-year-old champion and has eight wins in nine career starts for earnings of $5.1 million.

Exaggerator, trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his brother, Kent, finished 11th in the Belmont but appears charged up again for the Haskell.

His entry was a surprise since he’s been training at Saratoga, with plans calling for him to run in the Jim Dandy, then the Travers on Aug. 27. The Travers could be next for Nyquist, too.

“Those kinds of things are always fun,” Keith Desormeaux said of the rivalry. “Nyquist is a top horse and it’s always fun to outrun top competition.”

O’Neill called it kind of “a shock” when he found out Exaggerator was Haskell-bound.

“He’s such a hard-trying horse and a class horse. His move in the Preakness was stunning,” O’Neill said. “We’ve faced him a bunch. We respect him a ton.”

Look for Nyquist, under jockey Mario Gutierrez, to be on or close to the lead. Exaggerator relishes a late charge to the wire, and splashed his way to victory in the Preakness.

Baffert comes into the Haskell quietly, unlike last year’s Pharoah Fest. American Freedom was the 3-1 third choice, coming in with wins in the Sir Barton Stakes and the Iowa Derby. Gun Runner is 4-1, Awesome Slew 15-1 and Sunny Ridge 20-1.

Plesa understands what he’s facing in sending out long shot Awesome Slew.

“I feel like David fighting Goliath in this race when you look at these horses,” he said.

The field, from the rail out, is Nyquist (Mario Gutierrez, 6-5), Sunny Ridge (Nik Juarez, 20-1), Awesome Slew (Paco Lopez, 15-1), Gun Runner (Florent Geroux, 4-1), American Freedom (Rafael Bejarano, 3-1) and Exaggerator (Kent Desormeaux, 5-2).

 

Baffert hoping Arrogate gives him third Dubai World Cup win

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having taken over the mantle as the world’s best racehorse from California Chrome, Arrogate will attempt on Saturday to wear another crown that last fitted his illustrious American compatriot, the Dubai World Cup.

All eyes are on the 4-year-old Arrogate, who lost on debut 11 months ago but hasn’t lost since.

He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup this year to stretch his unbeaten streak to six. In both races, Arrogate defeated Chrome, who won the Dubai World Cup last year at Meydan Racecourse by five lengths despite jockey Victor Espinoza hanging on to a loose saddle for most of it.

Under jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate has forged a winning combination in his last three Group 1 races: Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.

In Dubai, they have drawn stall nine among 14 contenders, a position which fails to douse the confidence of his trainer Bob Baffert.

“Nine is fine,” said Baffert, who also trained 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“He’s settled in pretty well. As long as he shows up, that’s the key. If he runs his race, we know what he can do.”

Smith was all praise for his mount, ranked the No. 1 racehorse in the world.

“I have been blessed with some really, really good horses, but I am not sure I have ever sit on one like this,” Smith said.

“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, the way he gets over the ground … at times you feel as if you are running downhill instead of a level ground. What amazes me most is when the race is over, it looks as if he did not put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick.”

Arrogate’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup wins came over 2,000 meters on dirt, the same distance and conditions as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Baffert hopes Arrogate can give him a third Dubai World Cup victory after Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).

He suffered a heart attack during his last visit to Dubai in 2012, and watched the World Cup five nights later with stents in two of his blocked arteries. He also watched from even farther afield last year as his other horse, Hoppertunity, finished third behind Chrome and Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij.

He’s giving Hoppertunity another chance.

“Both my horses are happy and healthy,” Baffert said. “He (Hoppertunity) should be collecting a check again. That is what he does, picks up the pieces in these big races. He reminds me of Pac-Man, he just keeps going. A Dubai World Cup 1-2, that would be something.”

Mubtaahij is also back, although he will start under Christophe Soumillon from the widest of stalls.

“Like everyone, we wanted low,” the Belgian jockey said. “I will have to … hope for some luck.”

The Dubai World Cup features a nine-race card offering $30 million across six Group 1 and three Group 2 races on turf and dirt.

Six three-year-olds nominated late to Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, is among six 3-year-olds made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the late nomination period.

The late nominees, which required a payment of $6,000 each, raise the total nominations to 425 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late nomination period closed Monday. The early nomination window closed in January and required a payment of $600.

Ireland-bred Thunder Snow, owned by Godolphin Racing, is set to run Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. The colt has three wins in seven career starts for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

The other late nominees are Hollywood Handsome, trained by Dallas Stewart; More Than Words, trained by Charlie LoPresti; Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally; Rapid Dial, trained by Ingrid Mason; and Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Thoroughbreds that weren’t nominated to the Triple Crown have one final chance by paying a supplemental fee. The fee for the Derby is $200,000; $150,000 for the Preakness; and $75,000 for the Belmont.