Justify arrives at Pimlico to continue Triple Crown quest

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BALTIMORE — Within minutes of their arrival at Pimlico Race Course, Kentucky Derby winner Justify and his trainer circled the stakes barn at a rapid clip.

“He’s going to wear me out!” said Bob Baffert, straining to keep a grip on the strap that kept Justify in check.

Baffert then led Justify to Stall 28, where the chestnut colt finally settled down on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

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

Stall 40, located in the front corner of the stakes barn, is usually reserved for the Kentucky Derby winner. It was there for Baffert if he wanted it, but the white-haired Hall of Fame trainer opted for a cubicle that was far less obtrusive.

“We took it a few” times before, Baffert said. “But it seems to be that the horse isn’t able to relax because it’s right on the corner and you have lookie-loos all day long and they’re snapping the click of the cameras.”

Thus, Stall 28, located midway down shed row.

“It’s quieter, and we want it as quiet as it can be,” Baffert said.

Being at the Preakness is like coming home to Baffert, who won’t shy away from the attention at Churchill Downs but really prefers less of a circus.

“I love this place. It’s my favorite leg of the Triple Crown because it’s a relaxed atmosphere,” Baffert said. “We’re all in here together in the same barn so we get to hang out together. The tension of the Derby is over. We have a Derby winner. It’s a way to celebrate the Derby winner and see who gets the next leg.”

Undefeated in four races, Justify may not have a lot of experience. But he’s got the most important element of a great horse.

“Like that guy we heard on the newsreel about Man o’ War, the essential of a good horse is speed,” Baffert said. “And the main ingredient is more speed, and that’s what he has. We saw that.”

After spending a relaxing week-and-a-half in Louisville following his 2 +-length win over Good Magic in the Derby, Justify was accompanied by Preakness contenders Lone Sailor and Quip on the flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Baffert and the horses then traveled to Pimlico by van with a police escort.

“He shipped really well,” Baffert said. “We just walked the shed row this morning because I didn’t want to do too much with him. It looks like he came off the van in great shape and he’s really full of himself. So I could tell, by the way he was dragging me around there, he’s on his game. That’s what you want to see a few days out.”

Justify will face seven challengers in his bid to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has two entrants, Sporting Chance and Bravazo. He knows Baffert has the horse to beat, but he also knows that doesn’t necessary guarantee victory.

“Bob Baffert and I are very close friends, but I’m going to try every way I can to beat him,” Lukas said. “The only thing that worries me is he’s got the best horse.”

New England’s last thoroughbred horse track winds down

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BOSTON — New England’s last thoroughbred horse track, Boston’s Suffolk Downs, is hosting its final live races this weekend, but it’s not clear what comes next for the industry, which continues to receive millions of dollars in casino tax subsidies.

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, the company that operates the once grand, 84-year old track, has been running a handful of summertime races since losing out on its bid to build a resort casino on the property in 2014.

Two years ago, it sold the property – where the Depression-era champion Seabiscuit was discovered by the team that launched him into the limelight – to a real estate developer that plans to build apartments, condominiums and offices on the 161-acre property straddling Boston and Revere.

But Sterling Suffolk still wants to remain in the racing business and is betting on legislative approval this year to make that happen.

The company has proposed restoring the Great Barrington Fairgrounds near the New York state line while keeping its more lucrative simulcast and online betting operations in the Boston area. Current regulations don’t allow for a state-licensed race operator to split its operations this way.

The company is also seeking permission to tap into a special state fund for the horse racing industry in order to make improvements at the track. It also wants to extend the length of its racing license from one year to 10 years.

The Race Horse Development Fund is funded by gambling revenues from the state’s three casinos – Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park. But under state regulations, the money must be dedicated largely to horse racing purses and benefits for industry workers. Capital projects like improving a racetrack aren’t permitted uses.

“It doesn’t do the horsemen any good if there’s money building up in that fund and they don’t have any place to run and compete for it,” Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer for Sterling Suffolk, said Friday.

Restoring the Great Barrington track would cost up to $15 million and require extending the length of the half-mile track, as well as renovating the grandstand, he said. The track, which hasn’t hosted horse races since 1998, could be ready by next fall.

“Great Barrington works because it’s a more reasonable option than starting from scratch,” Tuttle said. “But it’s not really practical for us to take on the complete refurbishment of that property unless we have a longer term license and the certainty that comes with it.”

At least one industry group opposes the idea.

The Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association backs a separate bill that would require licensed racing operators host at least 60 race days a year. Sterling Suffolk’s bill would require at least one race day annually and Tuttle said the company only envisions hosting a handful of race days initially at Great Barrington.

“Not until we get a full time track will we see the benefits of the horse racing industry in terms of horse breeding, farms, agriculture and open space,” said Bill Lagorio, the organization’s president. “Folks are raising horses in New York and running them in Massachusetts for a few weeks. That’s not doing anything for this state.”

Tuttle says Lagorio’s group is an “outlier” and does not represent the majority of the region’s horse owners and breeders.

Two other industry groups – New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association – support the proposal, he noted.

The competing proposals and other bills related to the horse racing industry are being considered at a Statehouse hearing Monday.

In the meantime, casino revenues continue to accrue in the Race Horse Development Fund.

To date, nearly $56 million has been paid out — $21 million to the thoroughbred industry and another $34 million to the separate harness racing industry, according to Massachusetts Gaming Commission data.

The harness racing industry continues to run regular races at Plainridge Park’s track and has steadily spent down most of its funding. But the thoroughbred industry, which has long been anchored at Suffolk Downs, has nearly $13 million in its coffers, and growing.

Breeders’ Cup to stay at Santa Anita this year

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LOS ANGELES — The Breeders’ Cup world championships will remain at Santa Anita this fall after 30 horses died during the Southern California track’s recent meet.

The Breeders’ Cup board of directors unanimously decided to keep the two-day event at the track in Arcadia for a record 10th time on Nov. 1-2. The board made its decision at a meeting Thursday in Lexington, Kentucky.

Craig Fravel, president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, says the ownership of Santa Anita along with other groups has made “meaningful and effective reforms” in recent months to improve safety. He says the Breeders’ Cup embraces those reforms and will devote time and energy in the coming months to further those efforts.

The 30 horse deaths occurred during Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet that began Dec. 26 and ended Sunday.