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.”

Accelerate early favorite to win Pegasus World Cup

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Accelerate’s big week is here, and it’s off to a start his connections wanted.

Accelerate is the 9-5 early favorite to win Saturday’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup, drawing the No. 5 post in a field of 12 for the race to be run over 1 1/8 miles of dirt at Gulfstream Park. It’ll be the final race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic champion, who is a mere 1 1/8 miles of Gulfstream Park dirt away from beginning his stud career.

“It’s a good post,” Accelerate trainer John Sadler said. “We didn’t want to be on the outside and we didn’t want to be on the inside. We were hoping for 5 or 6, so we’re very happy with the draw.”

Accelerate was almost certainly going to be the pre-race favorite regardless of what spot in the starting gate he drew. He’s also a finalist for Horse of the Year, the top prize that will be given out when the Eclipse Awards are unveiled at Gulfstream on Thursday night. That trophy figures to come down to either Accelerate or Justify, the now-retired winner of the Triple Crown last year.

“I have nothing but respect for the other horse, obviously,” Sadler said. “He’s an undefeated Triple Crown winner, and I saw him breeze all winter at Santa Anita, my home base, so I’m pretty familiar with him. He’s a great horse. That being said, my horse was a great horse last year.”

And a win on Saturday would only cement Accelerate as an all-time great: If he prevails, Accelerate’s career earnings would place him in the top 10 among all North American thoroughbreds. That’s the perk of the Pegasus, which offered purses of $12 million and $16 million in its first two runnings – and will pay out $16 million again this year, with $7 million of that earmarked for a newly added turf race to the program.

The Pegasus dirt is the richest purse in North America; the Pegasus turf has the richest purse for a grass race in North America.

“It’s good for racing,” said owner Ron Paolucci, who has Imperative in the Pegasus dirt race and Dubby Dubbie in the Pegasus turf. “That’s what I got into it for. And truthfully, it’s very selfish on my part. You win one of these races, it changes your life forever – not only in the racing community but in your financial situation.”

City of Light is the second choice behind Accelerate at 5-2, and Gunnevera – who was second to Accelerate at the Breeders’ Cup Classic – is 8-1 in the morning line. Gunnevera was third in the Pegasus World Cup last year.

Yoshida – a Grade 1 winner in both dirt and turf races – is the morning-line favorite for the Pegasus turf race at 5-2, just ahead of Catapult at 7-2. Yoshida finished last year on dirt, and was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“He’s got a pedigree for both and he’s one of the odd horses that has transitioned from one to the other,” said Bill Mott, who trains Yoshida. “It’s probably debatable whether his dirt races are better than his turf races, and they may well be, but he’s a horse that won very nicely for us in the spring last year on the turf. He’s run with good company, and we weighed our options here and thought that maybe the turf was the spot to go this time.”

Santa Anita cancels racing after heavy rain inundates track

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Santa Anita has canceled its eight-race card because of wet weather after 3+ inches of rain dropped on the Southern California racetrack in three days.

Officials at the track in Arcadia say heavy overnight rains and more rain throughout the day Thursday made it necessary to cancel. They say the track will make every effort to reschedule the races in the immediate future.

Track superintendent Andy LaRocco says an additional 2 inches of rain was forecast for Thursday.

Live racing will resume on Friday with eight races.