Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith earns 2nd Kentucky Derby win

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Mike Smith’s clean white and green silks were the most obvious indicator of how well the Kentucky Derby went for the Hall of Fame jockey aboard Justify.

Staying nearly spotless wasn’t easy in pelting rain and on a muddy, crowded track. But Smith got Justify near the lead at the start and left the other horses to deal with the muck as the pair splashed to a 2+-length victory Saturday in the 144th Run for the Roses.

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It was the second Derby victory for Smith, who helped Justify improve to 4-0 and become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win without racing as a 2-year-old.

The 52-year-old Smith, known as “Big Money Mike” for his performance in big races, is the second-oldest Derby winner behind Bill Shoemaker, who rode Ferdinand to victory in 1986 at age 54.

Given his conditioning and seamless trip aboard Justify, Smith seems capable of surpassing that mark.

Asked about the secret to his success, Smith said: “Just keeping riding horses like this and that’ll keep you around a long time. You don’t have to work a whole lot; they do all the work for you.”

Perhaps, but it’s hard to imagine another jockey getting so much out of a rookie on the sport’s biggest stage.

Smith, whose first Derby win came aboard Giacomo in 2005, is known as being one of the sport’s healthiest riders and a keen tactician. That helps explain why trainer Bob Baffert chose Smith to ride Justify after breaking his maiden beneath Drayden Van Dyke, and why he appeared so calm all week.

The rain and track made Baffert nervous, albeit only briefly, as Justify and Smith ran another impressive race.

“When he got away clean then I thought we had a chance,” said Baffert, who earned his fifth Derby win and first since American Pharoah’s 2015 victory on the way to the Triple Crown. “We had to get away. Then Mike took his time.”

Justify came into the Derby off a three-length win in the Santa Anita Derby and even had a March win in the mud at the California track. Despite concerns about the so-called Apollo Curse continuing, he went off as the 5-2 favorite from the No. 7 post at Churchill Downs.

Smith made sure the horse quickly delivered on the expectations.

He found a hole right away for Justify out of the gate and kept the horse to the outside alongside Promises Fulfilled through the backstretch. He made his move in the far turn and steadily pulled away for his most significant win.

“He’s got that `it’ factor,” Smith said. “He is so above average, he’s got unbelievable talent and he’s got a mind to go with it. He was loving this stuff. He’s so big and talented.”

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

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Michael Clevenger and Erik Mohn/USA TODAY NETWORK
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Churchill Downs will suspend racing on Wednesday and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.