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Classic Empire clinches Kentucky Derby spot with Arkansas Derby win

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Classic Empire charged from outside through the stretch to win the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and clinch a spot in next month’s Kentucky Derby.

A champion as a 2-year-old, Classic Empire on Saturday made up for a poor performance in February’s Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He caught Conquest Mo Money just shy of the wire and won by a half-length.

Conquest Mo Money also advanced to Churchill Downs, picking up 40 points in the final Kentucky Derby prep race. Malagacy, with Classic Empire the pre-race favorite, finished fifth Saturday but earned enough Kentucky Derby points in last month’s Rebel Stakes to move on to the May 6 race.

Classic Empire paid $5.80, $4.40 and 3.80.

What to know about the 151st Belmont Stakes

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Rogue riderless horse Bodexpress won’t make an appearance at the 2019 Belmont Stakes, but the 151st iteration of the race won’t be without major star power. Mark Casse‘s War of Will looks to claim the third jewel in the Triple Crown just three weeks after his 2019 Preakness Stakes win and a month removed from the 145th Kentucky Derby, where he was one of the horses most impacted by the disqualified first place finisher Maximum Security. The field is set to be a combination of Derby and Preakness horses, some of which have never met before—only fitting for a race known as the “Test of the Champion.”

What is the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont Stakes is the last leg of the American Triple Crown of horse racing. Like the Derby and the Preakness, it’s a Grade I Thoroughbred stakes races. The Belmont Stakes is 1 1/2 miles, or 12 furlongs, which makes it the longest race in the Triple Crown.

The Belmont is run on the dirt track (also known as “Big Sandy”) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. It was first raced in 1867, making it the oldest jewel in the Triple Crown (and the fourth oldest race in North America). However, the race wasn’t run in 1911 or 1912, which is why the Kentucky Derby is still the longest continuous sporting event in the country. The Belmont always been run in or around New York City, having raced at Jerome Park (now closed), Morris Park (also closed) and Aqueduct in addition to Belmont, which is just east of Queens.

Aside from being the last hurdle for Triple Crown contenders, the Belmont is known for Secretariat’s 31-length victory in 1973, which sealed his Triple Crown title and set the current world record at 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles on dirt.

When is the 2019 Belmont Stakes? The 151st Belmont Stakes is on Saturday, June 8. Post time will be at approximately 6:50 p.m. ET.

What is unique about the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont is the final test for horses seeking a Triple Crown title. Horses have an additional week of rest between races as opposed to the Preakness, but the Belmont is also the longest race of the three.

Belmont Park is only a few miles away from New York City, and city dwellers can just hop on the Long Island Rail Road for a day at the races. The annual Belmont Festival features several days packed with racing and other events. This year, hip-hop artist Flo Rida will perform on June 8.

How can I watch the 2019 Belmont Stakes? NBC is home to the 151st Belmont Stakes, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after the main event. Get started with NBCSN on Friday, June 7 at 5 p.m. for the Belmont Gold Cup. NBCSN coverage continues on Saturday, June 8 at 2:30 p.m. before moving to NBC at 4 p.m. See the broadcast schedule here.

Who are the horses to watch?

  • 2019 Preakness winner War of Will could become just the 12th horse in history to lose in the Derby but come back to win both the Preakness and Belmont. The last horse to do this was Afleet Alex in 2005. “WOW” crossed the wire 8th at Churchill Downs and was elevated to 7th.
  • Trained by 2019 Kentucky Derby winner-trainer Bill Mott, the easy-to-spot gray horse Tacitus finished fourth in the Derby and was elevated to third.
  • Longshot Preakness runner up Everfast and third place finisher Owendale will look for redemption against War of Will.
  • Master Fencer was one of the biggest surprises of the 145th Kentucky Derby. Not only did he become the first Japan-bred horse to race in the Run for the Roses, but he defied expectations and finished 7th (elevated to 6th), crossing the wire ahead of fellow Belmont competitor War of Will.

Who won the 2018 Belmont Stakes? WinStar Farm’s colt Justify, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, won the 150th Preakness Stakes to become the 13th-ever Triple Crown winner.

What comes next? NBC Sports is home to all things Breeders’ Cup and will have comprehensive coverage from Santa Anita on Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3. Qualifying races for the 2020 Kentucky Derby will start back up in the late winter and early spring of next year on NBCSN. Racing fans can also hope for a competitor in Gary West‘s $5 million challenge to the horses impeded by Maximum Security that they can’t beat him in a race.

3rd horse in 9 days dies at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Santa Anita had its third horse death in nine days when a gelding pulled up during a race and was euthanized.

Twenty-six horses have died in racing or training at the Southern California track since Dec. 26.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Kochees sustained an injury to its left front leg in a 5 1/2-furlong race Saturday.

Kochees was taken off the course with a splint. The newspaper says during surgery Sunday it was determined that the 9-year-old horse had lost blood flow to the leg and the decision was made to euthanize.

Santa Anita is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 1-2. It’s considered the biggest two-day event in U.S. horse racing.