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LeRoy Jolley dies at 79

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LeRoy Jolley, a Hall of Fame trainer who twice won the Kentucky Derby and was involved in one of thoroughbred racing’s most famous match races that ended in tragedy, has died. He was 79.

He died Monday.

Jolley won the 1975 Kentucky Derby with Foolish Pleasure, who went on to finish second in the Preakness and in the Belmont.

In 1980, Jolley won the Derby with Genuine Risk, only the second filly to win the Run for the Roses and the first in 65 years. In 1976, he trained 2-5 favorite Honest Pleasure to a second-place finish in the Derby, and he finished second in 1979 with General Assembly.

Jolley enjoyed a bit of crossover fame through a Miller Lite beer commercial in 1976 that featured him with Foolish Pleasure and Honest Pleasure.

On July 6, 1975, a match race was run between Foolish Pleasure and unbeaten filly Ruffian at Belmont Park. It was highly anticipated and attracted a crowd of over 50,000 and a huge television audience.

While on the lead, Ruffian broke down, snapping both sesamoid bones in her right front leg. She still tried to run and finish the race, which Foolish Pleasure won unchallenged. Ruffian underwent surgery and when the anesthesia wore off, she thrashed about wildly on the floor as if still running in the race. She had to be euthanized.

Jolley won two Breeders’ Cup races: the 1986 Turf with Manila and the 1990 Juvenile Fillies with Meadow Star.

Training mostly on the New York circuit, he saddled 991 winners in 6,907 career starts and had purse earnings of $35,125,553, according to Equibase.

During the height of his career from 1975-91, Jolley’s earnings often topped $1 million a year. Among his clients was investor Carl Icahn.

Jolley’s major stakes victories included the Travers, Whitney, Wood Memorial, Florida Derby, Metropolitan Handicap, Woodward Stakes, Arlington Million and Blue Grass.

In 1987, he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Born Jan. 14, 1938, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Jolley was the son of famed trainer Moody S. Jolley. At age seven, he began cooling off horses after morning workouts for his father and spent summers working in his father’s barn.

Jolley took out his trainer’s license in 1958. His first stakes winner was Ridan, the co-champion 2-year-old male horse of 1961 that was owned by his parents. Riden won the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes in 1962.

He is survived by sons LeRoy Jr., who has trained horses, and Tim, and daughter Laurie.

Native River gets wire-to-wire win in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.

Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.

After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths – a year after finishing third in the race.

For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup – 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.

“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.

“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”

Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.

It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors – especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup

“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.

“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”

Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).

Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.

Jockey Ruby Walsh to miss rest of Cheltenham Festival

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Jockey Ruby Walsh will miss the remainder of the Cheltenham Festival after aggravating a leg injury when falling off his horse during the RSA Insurance Novices’ chase on Wednesday.

Walsh, the most successful jockey in the festival’s history with 52 wins, had only recently returned to competition after a four-month layoff due to a broken leg. He was taken to a hospital for X-rays and his sister Jennifer said in a statement that “unfortunately he has aggravated a recent leg injury and will see his consultant in Dublin next week for further assessment.”

Walsh had been set to ride Killultagh Vic in Friday’s Gold Cup.

On Wednesday’s second day of the festival, Altior extended his unbeaten record over jumps to 13 in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Altior had a slow start eventually powered seven lengths clear of the Willie Mullins-trained Min.

It was also a good day for trainer Gordon Elliott who took home three wins, headlined by Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

The 8-11 favorite beat Black Op by two and three-quarter lengths.