Trainer Chad Brown hopeful Good Magic earns him Derby win

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Chad Brown acknowledges he has lacked either the right horse or the right luck to win the Kentucky Derby.

Until now.

Brown almost gushes when talking about Good Magic, which might position him to finally break through in Saturday’s 144th Run For The Roses at Churchill Downs. If the chestnut colt’s name alone doesn’t suggest a positive vibe, then consider his resume’ that includes last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Eclipse Award as the top 2-year-old male.

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Good Magic is hitting stride at the right time entering horse racing’s marquee event, standing second in Derby points with 134 after claiming the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 7. Five career starts have yielded two wins, two seconds and a third for Good Magic, allowing Brown to envision winning horse racing’s crown jewel after falling short four previous times.

Brown would like to remove himself from conversations about which up-and-coming trainer is due to break through.

“We have to think that with all the opportunities that keep coming our way, we have a good shot of doing this,” said Brown, 39. “Whether that happens or not remains to be seen.

“I’ll say this: for me this is our best chance. Seems that way, anyway.”

Brown earned his first Triple Crown series victory in last year’s Preakness with Cloud Computing before Breeders’ Cup wins with Good Magic and filly Rushing Fall helped claim his second consecutive Eclipse award as top trainer. His success has stoked a belief that beating 19 other horses over 1 1/4 mile is just a matter of time and opportunity.

Having a special horse is most important, and Brown’s bright outlook speaks volumes after previous entries have finished out of the money on racing’s biggest stage.

Practical Joke was fifth last May. Normandy Invasion led after a mile and in the stretch in 2013 before fading at the end and finishing fourth, leaving the trainer to ponder some what-ifs with his strategy.

“I think sometimes about our first try, some things I could’ve done a little bit differently in the race and maybe got a little bit more out of him,” said Brown, from Mechanicville, New York.

Two other entries were forgettable. Shagaf didn’t even finish in 2016, a day in which Brown’s other pupil, My Man Sam, was 11th.

To be fair, even the top trainers have endured their share of Derby disappointments before everything came together.

Consider Todd Pletcher, who has often brought multiple entries to Churchill Downs. Before winning in 2010 with Super Saver – one of four entries that year – 24 other pupils yielded a best of second in 2001 with Invisible Ink.

Pletcher earned just two thirds among 17 horses dating back to 2011 before Pletcher won his second Derby last year with Always Dreaming from a trio of entrants. The struggle to get there, even with the numbers, is why Pletcher takes nothing for granted.

“I’ve always said that I had a tremendous appreciation for the race itself and how difficult it is to win,” said Pletcher, who will try to go back to back with four horses this year. “To have won it twice is beyond anything we could have hoped for.”

Brown meanwhile aims to join the exclusive club with a horse he believes is developing right on schedule. The promising factors don’t stop there.

Jockey Jose Ortiz, who won last year’s Belmont Stakes on the way to earning the Eclipse as top rider, will make his fifth consecutive start atop Good Magic.

With Brown’s confidence comes a bit of caution not to get ahead of himself with so much needing to fall in line in the Derby. The challenge for him is waiting until the weekend to see how everything plays out for Good Magic.

“He’s giving me all of the right body language that I’ve seen from other horses going into big races over the years,” Brown said of Good Magic. “In a way, you try to treat this race like any other big race and that’s what we’re doing, and he’s giving us all of the right signs.”

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.