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Pletcher says Always Dreaming remains on-track for Derby

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) Always Dreaming came out of his Florida Derby win healthy and will stay put for a couple of weeks before heading to the Kentucky Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday.

“All is well,” Pletcher said.

Always Dreaming posted the fastest winning time at the Florida Derby since Alydar in 1978. Always Dreaming prevailed in 1 minute, 47.47 seconds, while Alydar was clocked in 1:47 flat.

The Florida Derby win was worth 100 points in the system used to determine which 20 horses are invited to the Kentucky Derby, and that was more than enough to ensure that Always Dreaming will have a spot in that field if he stays healthy over the next month. He will remain at Palm Beach Downs for at least a couple more weeks before going to Churchill Downs.

“He’s showing us all the signs you’re hoping for,” Pletcher said.

Always Dreaming is one of four Pletcher trainees who are in line to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, along with Tapwrit, Malagacy and Patch. A fifth possibility, Battalion Runner, could earn a spot with a strong showing at the Wood Memorial in New York on Saturday.

Battalion Runner got his final workout in Sunday for the Wood. He’ll ship to New York on Tuesday.

“He’s had a good, steady series of solid works so this is more of a maintenance type work before he ships north,” Pletcher said. “He looked good and was moving well. It was a nice, relaxed work by himself and he seemed to come out of it well.”

Pletcher has sent 45 horses to the Kentucky Derby. That’s No. 2 in the all-time trainer entry standings, three behind his mentor D. Wayne Lukas. Pletcher’s lone win at the Run for the Roses came with Super Saver in 2010.

“It’s the hardest race in the world to win,” Pletcher said.

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.