Getty Images

143rd Kentucky Derby is as wide open as ever

Leave a comment

Bob Baffert is sitting out the Kentucky Derby, and not by choice.

Having the four-time Derby-winning trainer without at least one horse in the race for just the second time in 11 years indicates what an unpredictable winter it’s been leading to the start of the Triple Crown.

Baffert’s best horse, Mastery, got hurt after crossing the finish line first in the San Felipe Stakes. None of his other 3-year-olds developed into Derby material. Instead, he’ll aim for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks for fillies on Derby eve.

This year’s road to the 143rd Derby derailed other contenders because of injuries, including now-retired Not This Time, Klimt and Syndergaard.

“The amazing thing of getting a horse to the Derby is keeping him injury free,” said Doug O’Neill, who trained last year’s winner Nyquist.

For the first time in four years, the winner likely won’t be from California.

“It’s as wide open as we’ve seen in a long time. You’re going to have some big odds on whoever the favorite is,” said Dale Romans, who trains Gotham Stakes winner J Boys Echo. “It could be any horse this race. I don’t think this really means it’s a bad group of horses, I think it’s an even group of horses.”

There’s Classic Empire, who boasts an impressive resume as last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and champion 2-year-old. He won the Arkansas Derby and finished third in the Holy Bull Stakes, his only two starts this year.

His path to Churchill Downs hasn’t been smooth, however. He had a foot abscess and a back issue that prevented him from working out for a while. Twice in recent months, Classic Empire refused to train.

“I’ve never once counted him out. I know a lot of people have,” trainer Mark Casse said. “I feel that ability wise, he is the most talented horse out there right now.”

Casse also trains State of Honor, the Florida Derby runner-up.

Todd Pletcher has four horses set to run May 6 in the 1 \-mile race, with Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming as his leading contender.

Of course, big numbers are nothing new for the New York-based trainer.

He had five runners in 2013 and 2007. Yet for his 45 career starters, Pletcher has never had a Derby favorite. That could change this year with Always Dreaming, who had the fastest time among 35 horses going 5 furlongs at Churchill Downs on Friday.

“He’s got the right style to be really tough,” O’Neill said.

Pletcher’s lone victory came in 2010 with Super Saver. He is set to surpass mentor D. Wayne Lukas (48) for most career starters.

“Our Derby record is not as good as we’d like it to be,” he said. “We’ve had some horses overachieve on their way to getting there and in some cases, underachieve in the race itself.”

Besides Always Dreaming, Pletcher’s other horses are: Battallion Runner, Patch and Tapwrit. He almost had five again, but Malagacy isn’t expected to run.

There’s Girvin, the Louisiana Derby winner in a race against time to mend a crack in his right front hoof. His 32-year-old trainer Joe Sharp, the husband of retired jockey Rosie Napravnik, is doing everything he can to heal the colt in time to saddle his first Derby starter. Girvin had a similar crack earlier in the year and responded quickly to treatment.

“I’m not saying that I think I’m going to win the Derby, but I definitely wouldn’t trade places with anybody,” Sharp said. “He’s always consistent and he’s got the kind of running style that wins big races.”

As usual, a full field of 20 is expected. The final lineup won’t be known until Wednesday, when entries are drawn and post positions assigned.

Graham Motion, who trained 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom, is back with Irish War Cry, the Wood Memorial winner. His sire is Curlin, a two-time Horse of the Year who finished third in the 2007 Derby.

Still looking for his first Derby win is Steve Asmussen, who will saddle Hence and Untrapped. The trainer has two starters waiting in the wings, too. Lookin At Lee would be the next horse into the race if there are any defections, while Local Hero is No. 24 in the point standings.

Olympic skier Bode Miller recently bought into his first Derby starter, Fast and Accurate, winner of the Spiral Stakes. For years, Miller has been a guest of his pal Baffert during Derby week, but now he’s got some skin in the race.

For the fifth straight year, the field is determined by points from designated prep races. The top 20 earn a spot in the starting gate.

Jockey dies after injury at northeastern Oklahoma racetrack

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) Officials say a jockey who was injured during a race at a northeastern Oklahoma track has died.

The Cherokee Nation says jockey Mario Chavez was injured Saturday at Will Rogers Downs after his horse crashed into the inside rail, throwing him to the ground. Gunnar Enlow, whose family owns the farm where the 42-year-old Chavez worked, says Chavez was pronounced dead at the hospital on Sunday.

Chavez bred and raced horses for 26 years in northeastern Oklahoma. He won the Tulsa State Fair stakes in July.

The Cherokee Nation owns and operates the racetrack in Claremore, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa.

Dettori wins record fifth Arc as Enable caps brilliant season

AP Photo
Leave a comment

CHANTILLY, France — Frankie Dettori won an unprecedented fifth Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday as Enable capped a memorable season.

Enable, the 10-11 favorite, led for most of Europe’s richest horse race to claim her fifth consecutive victory after wins in the Epsom Oaks, the Irish Oaks, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks.

The John Gosden-trained filly won by 2 1/2 lengths over Cloth Of Stars, ridden by jockey Mickael Barzalona and trained by Andre Fabre.

The Michael Stoute-trained Ulysses, ridden by Jim Crowley, was another length and a quarter back in third.

“I said to John last week she is the best she has ever been. To keep this filly at 100 percent all year is fantastic,” Dettori said. “I had position `A’, I knew I had no weight and she stays, so I kicked and she gave me four lengths and the race was over.

“She’s amazing and is an absolute freak. I love her. John is a genius.”

It was Dettori and Gosden’s second Arc win in three years, after the popular Italian won on Golden Horn.

Dettori’s victory comes 22 years after his first triumph in the 1 +-mile race.

The 3-year-old Enable made a fast start from stall two and Dettori always had her well positioned behind Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Idaho and Order Of St George, before pulling away inside the final two furlongs

“She showed an impressive turn of foot and acceleration to kill the field. She has amazing ability,” Gosden said. “Frankie got her in a great position. He’s pretty good for an old jock!”

The race will return to its usual home at Longchamp in 2018 after a two-year absence due to renovations, and Gosden hopes Enable will be there.

“She has only raced for 10 months of her life. She had one little run last November, but really she’s only had one season of racing,” Gosden said. “There would be every reason to keep her in training next year as a 4-year-old, particularly with the new Longchamp opening.

“That would be exciting – to try to win the Arc on two different tracks.”