Mor Spirit, Brody’s Cause top fields for 2 Derby prep races

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Last seen closing with a rush for third place in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Brody’s Cause is ready for his 3-year-old debut – and a chance to stay on track for the Kentucky Derby.

“He’s doing everything right,” trainer Dale Romans said this week. “Hopefully he will come running Saturday, get past all of them and have a nice gallop-out, to Kentucky.”

Brody’s Cause tops a 10-horse field entered for the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, a prep race for the May 7 Derby at Churchill Downs. Also entered are the first two finishers in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, Destin and Rafting.

On the West Coast, Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert sends out his leading Derby prospect Mor Spirt in Saturday’s $400,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita, where the Robert B. Lewis winner faces a half-dozen tough foes, including San Vicente runner-up Exaggerator and undefeated Smokey Image.

Each race is worth a total of 85 Derby qualifying points. The breakdown is 50-20-10-5.

Mor Spirit is fifth on the list with 24 points, while Exaggerator has 16 points and Brody’s Cause 14 points. Moyhamen, running next in the Florida Derby on April 9, is the leader with 70 points. The Derby field is limited to 20 starters. If more are entered, the field is determined by points accumulated in designated preps.

Romans, from Louisville, Kentucky, has carved out an interesting path to the Derby for Brody’s Cause, who has been training in Florida the past few months.

Purchased for $450,000 by the Albaugh Family Stable, Brody’s Cause opened his career at Ellis Park in Hendersonville, Kentucky, finishing eighth. He then won at Churchill Downs at 33-1 odds before winning the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He was third behind Nyquist and Swipe in the BC Juvenile.

After the Tampa Bay Derby, it’s back to Kentucky for a final prep in the Blue Grass on April 9 at Keeneland.

“We decided to go this route because of the timing (between races), and we’ve been staying the course,” Romans said. “Tampa Bay Downs is a good racetrack, and we shipped him a little early because it’s a little different than the places he’s been training and I thought it would be good for him to get some miles over it before he runs.”

Two Kentucky Derby winners have used the Tampa Bay Derby as a steppingstone – Street Sense in 2007 and Super Saver in 2010.

Brody’s Cause’s will be ridden by Corey Lanerie and leave from the No. 8 post. Romans’ top 3-year-old last year was Keen Ice, who upset Baffert’s Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers.

The field for the Tampa Bay Derby, from the rail out is Morning Fire, Rafting, Outwork, Economic Model, Star Hill, Riker, Destin, Brody’s Cause, Tale of S’avall and Awesome Banner.

In Mor Spirit, Baffert hopes to be back for a shot at Derby win No. 5.

Hall of Famer Gary Stevens will be aboard Mor Spirt, who drew the No. 3 post. Kent Desormeaux has the call on Exaggerator for his brother, trainer Keith Desormeaux.

A California-bred, Smokey Image moves into stakes company for the first time after winning all six of his races. He beat fellow-statebreds by 8 1/2 lengths in the California Cup Derby on Jan. 30. He is trained by Carla Gaines and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

The field for the San Felipe, from the rail out, is Uncle Lino, Danzing Candy, Mor Spirit, Cupid, I Will Score, Smokey Image and Exaggerator.

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.