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.

Preakness Stakes: What Time, Where to Watch and More.

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.”

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.