Justify tops list of leading contenders in Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Justify tops the list of leading contenders to win the 144th Kentucky Derby.

Trainers have called this year’s 20-horse field one of the deepest in a while, though the Run For The Roses might come down to five considered to have the best prospects over 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs.

A look at the leading contenders:

JUSTIFY

One of two Derby charges for trainer Bob Baffert, the colt enters as the 3-1 race favorite thanks to a 3-0 record and an impressive win in the Santa Anita Derby. Justify’s challenge is putting aside 136 years of history and becoming the first Derby champion since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a 2-year-old. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will try to keep him unbeaten and break the so-called “Apollo Curse.” His No. 7 post position is an encouraging omen.

Kentucky Derby: What Time, Where to Watch, Horses, Post Times

MENDELSSOHN

The 5-1 second choice has won his last three outings and four overall with a second in seven starts in Dubai, Great Britain and Ireland, where he’s been based. He might need more than international experience to become the first European horse to win the Derby. Strong, outgoing and trained by Aiden O’Brien, Mendelssohn must quickly learn Churchill Downs after hitting the track for the first time Thursday following quarantine since his arrival. He’ll start from the No. 14 post.

MAGNUM MOON

Trainer Todd Pletcher’s hopes of winning consecutive Derbys look good with this unbeaten colt, who has won all four starts beneath Luis Saez by a combined 14 lengths. His most recent outing was a four-length triumph in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 14, which was impressive but also narrowed the turnaround window. One of four members of Pletcher’s so-called Derby “Todd Squad,” he has career earnings of $1,177,800. He’ll start from the No. 16 post.

AUDIBLE

The jockey combination of Javier Castellano and John Velazquez has made another Pletcher pupil one of the horses to watch and a tempting betting choice at 8-1. The riders have two wins each over Audible’s last four starts, though Castellano will ride him in the Derby while Velazquez guides Vino Rosso for Pletcher. Audible’s No. 5 post position gives him a good spot to make noise.

BOLT D’ORO

Initially second to McKinzie in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, the Kentucky bred was awarded the victory in his 3-year-old debut after a postrace disqualification. He’s 4-1-1 in six starts, with Corey Nakatani earning three of those wins during his juvenile season. Jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah to the 2015 Triple Crown, will make his first start atop Bolt d’Oro after two outings beneath Javier Castellano. He’ll have to work from the outside in with the No. 11 post.

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

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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.