No more Triple talk for Baffert, Espinoza after 2016 Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The American Pharoah hangover is over for Bob Baffert, Victor Espinoza and Ahmed Zayat — and maybe everyone else.

With Nyquist winning the Kentucky Derby on Saturday and heading to the Preakness in two weeks with an unbeaten record, Triple Crown chatter now turns to racing’s newest star.

Baffert’s Derby hopes on Saturday rested with Mor Spirit. But the Santa Anita Derby runner-up was never in contention and finished 10th under jockey Gary Stevens.

Espinoza, meanwhile, was bidding to become the first rider to win three consecutive Derbys. He was a late replacement aboard Whitmore, who was in fifth place with about a half mile to go in the 1 1/4-maile race but faded and finished 19th in the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs.

Zayat, the owner of American Pharoah, did not have a horse in the Derby, and was home in New Jersey. He was impressed with Nyquist, and would like nothing more than to see the colt join the Triple Crown club.

“What a horse. Awesome,” Zayat said Saturday night. “So proud of team O’Neill and many congrats to my friends the Reddams. Let’s have another Triple Crown back to back. Wouldn’t that be special.”

Espinoza, a winner of five of the past six Triple Crown races heading into Derby, said “I had a great trip around the first turn, but it felt like he was just spinning his wheels.”

The jockey won the Derby and Preakness aboard California Chrome in 2014, and then was along for the magic ride on American Pharoah. This time, it was no go.

“I felt like he was uncomfortable the entire race. He never picked up the bridle,” Espinoza said. “It’s just how it goes sometimes. Sometimes they like the track and sometimes they’re picky. He’s one of those. It was a great, great race. The winner, I knew he was the one to beat and he got the perfect trip.”

Baffert tried to low-key his Derby week, but really couldn’t. He made appearances and signed autographs in the mornings on the backstretch and hoped Mor Spirit might come up with a big race.

“He came away from there OK, and he got a good spot going into the first turn,” Baffert said. “Then it just didn’t happen from there. He didn’t engage. He just didn’t have anything to fire for the finish.”

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.