Derby 2016: 5 horses to watch in 142nd Kentucky Derby

1 Comment

The starting gate will once again be full with 20 horses for the 142nd Kentucky Derby.

Even though the majority of horses have little chance of winning and over the half the field is typically eliminated in the opening quarter-mile, owners and trainers cannot resist the prestige of having a horse in America’s greatest race.

Most of the 3-year-olds will be running 1 1/4 miles for the first time on May 7, leaving it up for grabs to see which handles the distance, track surface and traffic-choked conditions the best.

Trainer Doug O’Neill has the likely wagering favorite in undefeated Nyquist.

Three trainers are expected to have two horses each in the race. Steve Asmussen will saddle Gun Runner and Creator, Todd Pletcher has Wood Memorial winner Outwork and Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin, and Chad Brown has Shagaf and Blue Grass runner-up My Man Sam.

RELATED: How to watch the Kentucky Derby

Here are five horses to watch:

EXAGGERATOR

A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. He’s trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey who is Keith’s younger brother. The colt has three wins in eight career starts and earnings of $1 million. He has lost to Nyquist three times, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Exaggerator is a versatile sort who can press the pace or stalk the leaders. He is coming off an impressive 6 1/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby on a sloppy track.

GUN RUNNER

The colt topped the Derby leaderboard with 151 points earned in prep races. He has four wins in five career starts, including the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star this winter. Trainer Steve Asmussen, recently elected to racing’s Hall of Fame, is seeking his first Derby victory. He will also saddle Creator. Gun Runner has the second-highest earnings of $1.6 million among the horses expected to make the field.

MOHAYMEN

The colt had his five-race winning streak snapped in the Florida Derby, when he finished fourth behind Nyquist as the 4-5 favorite. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin tosses out the clunker, saying Mohaymen has had “only two bad minutes in his entire life.” The colt is one of two (Shagaf is the other) in the race owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the 70-year-old deputy ruler of Dubai. The Maktoum family is 0 for 8 at the Derby. Mohaymen’s blood lines include Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

MOR SPIRIT

Any Derby horse trained by Bob Baffert is worth consideration. The Hall of Fame trainer has four Derby victories, including last year when American Pharoah began his journey to Triple Crown glory in this race. Another Hall of Famer, Gary Stevens, will ride the Pennsylvania-bred colt. Stevens has three Derby wins, the last coming in 1997 aboard Silver Charm, who was trained by Baffert. Mor Spirit has never been worse than second in seven career starts.

NYQUIST

The colt brings a 7-0 record into Churchill Downs, bettering the marks of Seattle Slew in 1977 and Smarty Jones in 2004 when they were 6-0 and won the race. He comes in off a five-week layoff, having last won the Florida Derby. The colt has won from just about everywhere: on the rail, from the far outside, leading all the way or coming from off the pace. Nyquist is a son of Uncle Mo, who also went undefeated in his 2-year-old season. Uncle Mo was the early favorite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby, but he was scratched the day before because of illness and was later diagnosed with a rare liver disease. The colt is named for Detroit Red Wings player Gustav Nyquist; owner Paul Reddam is a big fan of the hockey team. Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez were the same team behind I’ll Have Another, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012 before being scratched on the eve of the Belmont Stakes with a career-ending leg injury. Nyquist is the richest horse in the Derby field, having earned $3.2 million. He was purchased for $400,000.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert
Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
Getty Images
0 Comments

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.”