Chad Brown, on home track, has 2 favorites for Travers

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) Chad Brown’s roots run deep at the Travers Stakes.

“It’s the biggest race for me. It’s my home track,” said Brown, a trainer who grew up in nearby Mechanicville, New York. “It’s very special to me. Going to Saratoga as a kid, and going to many Travers growing up, it would mean … a lot to me personally to be able to win this race.”

The 39-year-old Brown has a great shot at a breakthrough victory in the $1.25 million Midsummer Derby on Saturday. He has the top two favorites in Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic and Gronkowski for the 1\-mile Grade 1 test for 3-year-olds at Saratoga Race Course.

Good Magic, fresh from his victory in the $1 million Haskell, will break from post position 9 with jockey Jose Ortiz. Gronkowski, the surprise runner-up to Triple Crown winner Justify in the Belmont Stakes in his first start with Brown, goes from post No. 3 with jockey Joel Rosario.

“Real happy with both posts,” said Brown, whose best finish in six previous Travers starts was with Gift Box, fourth two years ago. “It’s a strong field. Either of these horses will have to run their A race.”

A field of 11 is entered for the 149th edition of the oldest major race in the country. Good Magic, last year’s Juvenile champion, was listed at 2-1 and Gronkowski at 4-1.

Wonder Gadot is the first filly entered in the Travers since Davona Dale finished fourth as the favorite in 1979. She is the third choice at 5-1, with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard for the first time. Wonder Gadot is coming off wins in the first two legs of Canada’s Triple Crown – the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes.

The rest of the field includes: Jim Dandy Stakes winner Tenfold, with jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., and Catholic Boy, with Javier Castellano, both 8-1 choices; Vino Rosso, with John Velazquez, at 10-1; Bravazo, with Luis Saez, and Mendelssohn, with Ryan Moore, both 12-1 choices; King Zachary, with Robby Albarado, at 15-1; and 30-1 longshots Meistermind, with Manny Franco, and Trigger Warning, with Irwin Rosendo.

Trainer Bob Baffert, winner of the last two Travers, does not have an entry.

This summer Saratoga has been Brown country in a big way. Heading into Friday’s card, he led Todd Pletcher in wins – 33 in 113 starts to 16 in 96 for Pletcher – as Brown seeks his second training title in three years. In 2016, Brown saddled 40 winners to end Pletcher’s streak of six straight Saratoga training titles.

“I have great assistants, a great staff,” Brown said. “I enjoy working with horses. I enjoy working with people. I have great clients that give us great horses to work with.

“You have to have everything in place. If you don’t have all of those things, one can’t work without the other, so I work hard at maintaining those things.”

Among the entries, Wonder Gadot is the most intriguing. The Canadian-bred daughter of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’Oro will be trying to become just the eighth filly to win the Travers, a tall task. Lady Rotha was the last, in 1915, and she won by disqualification.

Trainer Mark Casse is up for the challenge, as is owner Gary Barber.

“Gary is never afraid to step out of the box,” Casse said. “We believe the 1 \ miles really suits her. We get five pounds. We have an extra week off. Why not? We’re all right with trying to make history.”

Wonder Gadot, named after “Wonder Woman” actress Gail Gadot, has eight starts this year heading into the Travers and Casse knows she’s more than able to hold her own against the colts.

“On numbers and ability, I think it’s a very competitive race, but I think we have as good a chance as anybody,” Casse said. “She doesn’t have any quit in her. I really feel … that she’s as good as any of them, and to be able to accomplish something that hasn’t been accomplished in a hundred years, I mean, I think it makes sense and Gary thinks it makes sense. When you go and look in the paddock, she may be the biggest, strongest horse in the race.”

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Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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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Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
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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.