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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.

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.

 

In Florida Derby, an up-and-coming trainer seeks a breakout

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) No trainers have sent more horses to the Kentucky Derby than D. Wayne Lukas and Todd Pletcher, which may bode well for Jonathan Thomas.

Lukas mentored Pletcher – a Hall of Famer teaching a sure-fire future Hall of Famer.

And then Pletcher mentored Thomas, who now finds himself in position for a breakout moment.

Thomas will send Catholic Boy out against eight other hopefuls in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby; trainer and horse are both seeking what would be the most significant result of their careers. A good showing over Gulfstream Park’s dirt almost certainly would be enough to send them to the Kentucky Derby in five weeks.

“Listen, we’re very one step one step at a time,” said Thomas, explaining why he’s hesitant to start talking about anything past the Florida Derby. “This is an important race. It can almost solidify a horse’s career as a stallion which is very important. One step at a time. I mean, this race is very important to us. … You can’t get ahead of your horse. You really have to take it day by day.”

Catholic Boy is the third choice in the morning line, with early odds of 7-2. The 9-5 favorite is Audible, the winner of the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream eight weeks ago. Promises Fulfilled, who won the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, is the second choice at 3-1.

Audible is trained by Pletcher. Promises Fulfilled is trained by Dale Romans, another conditioner that Thomas worked under, albeit briefly.

“I think everyone in this business gets up and works hard every day to partake in these sort of things,” Thomas said. “And you can’t do it without the owners who support you. You know, I’m a spoke in a wheel with a lot of spokes. And ultimately you have to have the horse flesh, the athlete to compete at these levels. It’s not lost on me what we’re doing.”

Pletcher and Lukas have both sent 48 horses to the Kentucky Derby. They’ve combined to win more than $630 million in purses, prevailing in more than 9,300 races.

They are titans.

Thomas isn’t anywhere near that yet. He has 32 victories as a trainer, with about $1 million in purses. But Pletcher has long raved about his former protege, and it’s easy to see what a win on Saturday could do for his career.

“He always exceeded expectations that we had,” Pletcher said last year, when Thomas was just getting started on his own.

A win in the Florida Derby might even exceed Thomas’ own expectations.

He’s overcome plenty as a horseman, including a nasty fall as a steeplechase rider that left him with a broken back and briefly paralyzed. He fought back and now doesn’t even reflect much on those days, with the lone reminder being occasional back pain when he gets out of bed in the morning before heading to the barn.

Now he’s trying to win a race where his mentor is going to be favored. Thomas speaks only with reverence for Pletcher, but can’t wait for Saturday.

“I take that as an honor, to be associated with this him and his program,” Thomas said. “I can only look at that as an immense positive, because working for him was the best thing that ever happened to me.”