Always B Miki edges Wiggle It Jiggleit in Breeders Crown

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Always B Miki beat Wiggle It Jiggleit at the end of a thrilling stretch battle in the $421,000 Breeders Crown Open Pace on Friday night at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Their rivalry has been the highlight of the harness racing season with each posting three wins in their previous seven showdowns.

With the Crown victory, Always B Miki likely clinched Horse of the Year honors by edging the defending champion.

The race unfolded with Wiggle It Jiggleit taking the lead on the first turn while Always B Miki dropped in behind him.

They raced in that order until midway on the final turn when driver David Miller sent Always B Miki after the leader.

Turning for home, it appeared Wiggle It Jiggleit would prevail until Always B Miki surged in the final strides to win by three-quarters of a length.

“I couldn’t be happier with him,” Miller said. “He’s a tough horse. He shows up, and he was determined to get his head in front there.”

He paid $3.20 to win. It was the 28th Crown win for trainer Jimmy Takter, the career leader in the series.

It was a satisfying victory for Takter who nursed the horse through multiple serious injuries.

“I am speechless,” Hall of Famer Takter said. “The people here saw two great, great horses fighting side by side down the stretch. For me, it was maybe the best race I ever had a horse participate in.”

The Meadowlands presented the four Crowns for older horses on Friday. The eight events for 2 and 3-year-olds take place Saturday.

In other results, driver Yannick Gingras won a pair of $250,000 Crowns with Hannelore Hanover in the Filly & Mare Open Trot and Lady Shadow in the Filly & Mare Open Pace.

Hannelore Hanover, the 3/5 favorite, beat Bee A Magician, the 2013 Horse of the Year, by two lengths.

It was her 16th win in 19 starts this season for trainer Ron Burke.

The time was 1:53 3/5 for the mile. She paid $3.40 to win.

Lady Shadow, the 1/5 choice, beat Sassa Hanover by 2 1/4 lengths for her 11th win in 19 starts this year.

She paid $2.40 to win.

In the only upset, 4-1 shot Flanagan Memory beat Resolve, the 1/5 favorite, by a length in the $500,000 Open Trot.

Brian Sears was at the lines for trainer Rene Dion as the 6-year-old paid $10.60 to win.

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.