AP Derby Top 10: Nyquist is so No. 1, California horses rule

2 Comments

Those California horses sure love the Kentucky Derby. And there’s not a beach anywhere near Churchill Downs — only a winner’s circle, a blanket of roses and a place in the history books.

Led by unbeaten and top-rated Nyquist, the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 features four Derby-bound 3-year-olds based at Santa Anita Park. The others are No. 3 Exaggerator, No. 4 Mor Spirit and No. 10 Danzing Candy.

For those who like the trend, there’s this: three of the last four Derby winners were based in Southern California — American Pharoah, California Chrome and I’ll Have Another.

Nyquist put his hooves in the water in South Florida for one race, and overpowered Mohaymen in the Florida Derby in a showdown of unbeatens a few weeks ago. Since then, the bay colt has been training for the Derby at Keeneland, about 75 miles from Churchill Downs.

He galloped around Keeneland on Monday morning, with a timed workout set for the end of the week. Trainer Doug O’Neill’s assistant Jack Sisterson said Nyquist “couldn’t look any better.”

Gun Runner, holding firm at No. 2 for trainer Steve Asmussen, worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 at Churchill Downs on Monday with regular rider Florent Geroux aboard.

RELATED: How to watch the Kentucky Derby

“I thought that he handled the racetrack very well and I’m obviously very excited about our opportunities,” said Asmussen, who also trains Arkansas Derby winner Creator — checking in at No. 9 this week. “He’s a tremendous individual as far as conformation and pedigreewise and he’s got a great attitude. He’s very energetic as far as training goes.”

The big news earlier Monday was Cupid being declared out of the Derby after coming out of the Arkansas Derby with a breathing problem known as an entrapped epiglottis. Winner of the Rebel last month, the gray colt trained by Bob Baffert finished 10th in Saturday’s race.

The Derby preps are over, and all roads lead to Louisville, Kentucky for the Derby on May 7. If more than the limit of 20 horses are entered, the field will be determined by qualifying points.

With Cupid out of the picture, Mo Tom moves into the No. 20 spot. The next horse up if another is withdrawn is Fellowship.

Here’s our Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): With prep season over, here’s your morning-line Derby favorite. … Resume rocks at 7 for 7, including BC Juvenile and Florida Derby. … Galloped at Keeneland on Monday. … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. … Derby odds: 3-1.

2. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Your points leader at 151, Louisiana Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 at Churchill on Monday. … Has four wins in five races. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

3. Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): Santa Anita Derby winners have won two of last four Derbys. … Hall of Fame jockey seeks fourth Derby win. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 27-1.

4. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Triple Crown-winning trainer down to final Derby bullet after Cupid declared out. … Ran second in Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 11-1.

5. Brody’s Cause (Dale Romans, Luis Saez): If Derby front-runners tire in stretch, Blue Grass winner has a chance. … Three wins all came in state of Kentucky. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 10-1 (mutuel field).

6. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Lost his buzz after running fourth in Florida Derby. … Still has a 5-for-6 record. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

7. Outwork (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Wood winner is son of popular sire Uncle Mo. … Last Wood-Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 30-1.

8. Destin (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Eight-week layoff for Tampa Bay Derby winner. … Has three wins in five starts. … Top rider has mount so colt cannot be overlooked. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

9. Creator (Asmussen, Ricardo Santana): Last-to-first winner of Arkansas Derby gives trainer second contender. … Still a likely long shot with two wins from nine starts. .. Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 58-1.

10. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise Jr., Mike Smith): Moves back in based on San Felipe win, fourth-place finish in Santa Anita Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

Keep an eye on: Lani, My Man Sam, Mo Tom, Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

eclipse awards
Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

bob baffert
Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.