Japan-based Lani headed to Kentucky Derby

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Lani is about to embark on a 7,380-mile journey back to his old Kentucky home for a chance to Run for the Roses.

The gray colt earned the trip to the Kentucky Derby with a come-from-way-behind victory in the UAE Derby on Saturday in Dubai. The win was worth 100 Derby qualifying points, and Lani will be on his way to America in the next few days.

“Of course, we will go to the Kentucky Derby,” said Koki Maeda, the son of Lani’s owner, Yoko Maeda, “and I’d like to get the first prize.”

Lani moves into the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 Derby contenders at No. 9. The biggest jump was made by Gun Runner, who won the Louisiana Derby by 4 1/2 lengths and is up to No. 6.

Unbeatens Nyquist and Mohaymen remain 1-2 heading into their showdown in the Florida Derby on Saturday.

Lani was bred in Kentucky out of the Sunday Silence mare Heavenly Romance but is based in Japan. A son of Tapit, Lani won two of five starts in Japan before his victory in Dubai.

Ski Captain is the only Japan-based horse to run in the Derby, finishing 14th in 1995. As fate would have it, the jockey who rode Ski Captain – Yutaka Take – is also the rider for Lani.

Take nearly fell off when Lani stumbled at the start and dropped well back in the field. But the colt regained his balance, raced on the outside and began making up ground. In the stretch, Lani pulled ahead of the leaders with about 100 yards to go and won the nearly 1 1/4-mile race by a half-length.

Trainer Steve Asmussen has himself a strong Derby contender in Gun Runner, who now has wins in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds and sits atop the points standings with 151.

“The good thing is he’s very easy to manage,” said Gun Runner’s jockey, Florence Geroux. “He has so many gears.”

To have a Derby horse, “it’s great,” he added. “I was in the Derby last year (with Stanford), but my horse was scratched. Hopefully we can make a nice run the first Saturday in May.”

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

Betway Challow Hurdle Day - Newbury Racecourse
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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.