Kentucky Derby Odds Update: Contenders set for Saturday race

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Justify and Mendelssohn are each contending with a deep field and some inauspicious history heading into the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

Justify and Mendelssohn remain the top betting favorites on the odds to win the Kentucky Derby at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The top of the board for the 1¼-mile race which takes place early Saturday evening at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., also includes Bolt d’Oro, Audible, Magnum Moon, Good Magic, Vino Rosso, and Hofburg.

When Always Dreaming won in 2017, he was the fifth favorite in a row to capture The Run for the Roses. Bettors will have to decide whether the law of averages is due to kick in or if the streak holds.

Both of the top two horses have the rule of precedents working against them. Justify, who will run from the No. 7 position in the 20-horse field, has only three career starts. He was unraced as a two-year-old last year and no such horse has won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882.

Mendelssohn, who runs from the No. 14 position, won the recent UAE Derby but no winner of that event in the United Arab Emirates has ever come to North America and so much as placed at the Derby. Nor has a European runner. However, history is made to be broken and Mendelsson not only won the UAE by 17 lengths, but he has had exposure to U.S. tracks.

There is a 50 percent chance of rain in Louisville, which could make for a wet track. Bolt d’Oro, who starts No. 11 and will be guided by two-time Derby-winning jockey Victor Espinoza, could be less affected by a wet track than his other four-legged counterparts. Bolt d’Oro was one of the early favorites and might be worth a second look as an outside shot.

Bolt d’Oro’s price was in the 9-to-1 range earlier this week before coming down as the competitors began to go through their paces at Churchill Downs.

Audible and Magnum Moon are two of the four horses in the field trained by Todd Pletcher, who trained aforementioned 2017 winner Always Dreaming. Audible is starting from the No. 5 position, which is where five of the last 21 winners broke from the gate.

Each has shown they have the speed and stamina to carry them over 1¼ miles, making them worth including in exactas and trifecta picks.

If there’s a darkhorse to back, or to employ to up the payout on an exacta, trifecta or superfecta (picking the top four horses), it is likely Hofburg. The Florida Derby runner-up has been impressive during workouts and it is worth noting that his Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, is very selective about bringing three-year-olds to the Kentucky Derby.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

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.