Derby Top 10: Danzing Candy, Destin in; Nyquist still on top

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Slowly but surely, Todd Pletcher’s talented 3-year-olds are beginning to emerge from the pack less than eight weeks before the Kentucky Derby.

The trainer’s latest triumph came in the Tampa Bay Derby, with Destin outdueling stablemate Outwork by one length. The win on Saturday moves the gray colt onto the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Kentucky Derby contenders at No. 5.

“The way he’s been doing, he could be” a Derby horse, winning rider Javier Castellano said. “He could be destined to win it – who knows?”

Destin’s final prep will be either the Wood Memorial or the Blue Grass on April 9, or the Arkansas Derby on April 16. Pletcher has a second colt in the Top 10 in No. 8 Zulu, runner-up in the Fountain of Youth on March 5.

Unbeatens Nyquist and Mohaymen remain 1-2 as they train toward their showdown in the Florida Derby on April 2.

A shakeup took place beneath the leaders, thanks mostly to the results of the San Felipe on Saturday.

Danzing Candy led just about the entire race under Mike Smith and upset 8-5 favorite Mor Spirit and Exaggerator in winning his stakes debut. The colt trained by Cliff Sise Jr., soars onto the list at No. 3 with his two-length win in stakes and track record time. Next up is the Santa Anita Derby on April 2.

Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert’s Mor Spirit finished with a rush for second, and dips to No. 4. Third-place finisher Exaggerator falls off the list.

Both are expected to take on Danzing Candy in the Santa Anita Derby.

“Bob usually doesn’t come down (to the winner’s circle) unless it’s for a picture,” Mor Spirit’s jockey Gary Stevens said, “but he came down and had a smile on his face and I said, `I think we’re in a real good spot right now,’ and he was pretty happy in defeat.”

The $900,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park is the lone Derby prep on Saturday, and a huge field is expected. It’s the race that launched American Pharoah’s 3-year-old campaign that resulted in the colt becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Likely heading the field is Suddenbreakingnews, winner of the Southwest Stakes in his last start. The gelding is No. 7 this week. Also expected to be entered on Wednesday are Whitmore, American Dubai, Discreetness, Cutacorner, Creator, Cherry Wine, Siding Spring, Spikes Shirl, Z Royal, Ralis and Cupid. Ralis won the Hopeful last year for Nyquist’s trainer Doug O’Neill. Baffert trains Cupid.

After last weekend’s preps, Mohaymen still leads with 71 Derby qualifying points. Destin moves into second place with Gun Runner at 51, and Danzing Candy and Shagaf are next with 50 points apiece,

The latest Derby future wager odds were set Sunday night, and Mohaymen is now the 7-2 favorite, with the mutuel field at 5-1.

Here’s our Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): Unbeaten colt warming up well in Santa Anita for showdown with Mohaymen. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 at Santa Anita last week. … Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, April 2. … Derby odds (pool 3): 7-1.

2. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Unbeaten Fountain of Youth winner worked 4 furlongs in 49.40 at Palm Beach Downs last week. … Leader in Derby qualifying points with 70. … Next start: Florida Derby. … Odds: 7-2.

3. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise Jr., Mike Smith): Made quite a stakes debut in winning San Felipe. … Colt has won three in a row after eighth-place finish in first race. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, April 9. … Odds: 17-1.

4. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Strong finish for second in San Felipe. … Longer races could work to his advantage. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby. … Odds: 12-1.

5. Destin (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Tampa Bay Derby winner handled first real test without issue. … Gray colt has three wins in five races. … Next start: Undecided. … Odds: 15-1.

6. Shagaf (Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz Jr.): Gotham winner remains in New York for final prep next month. … Has 3-0 record for owner Shadwell Stable, which also owns Mohaymen. … Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 9. … Odds: 14-1.

7. Suddenbreakingnews (Donnie Von Hemel, Luis Quinonez): Southwest winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.20 at Oaklawn on Saturday. … Gelding has won two of past three starts. … Next start: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, Saturday. … Odds: 14-1.

8. Zulu (Pletcher, John Velazquez): Fountain of Youth runner-up is one to watch in next race. … Next start: Florida Derby. … Odds: 28-1.

9. Mo Tom (Tom Amoss, Lanerie): Lecomte winner worked 4 furlongs in 48.60 at the Fair Grounds on Sunday. … Ran third in Risen Star despite being bothered in stretch. … Next start: Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, March 26. … Odds: 15-1.

10. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Risen Star winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 at the Fair Grounds on Monday. … Has three wins in four starts. … Next start: Louisiana Derby. … Odds: 25-1.

Keep an eye on: Brody’s Cause, Cupid, Exaggerator, Greenpointcrusader, Whitmore.

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Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.