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Classic seeks recognition without Triple Crown champ Justify

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The reigning Triple Crown champion is not part of the field for this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. And none of the horses in any of the 14 races that make up the Breeders’ Cup cards this weekend has ever won a Kentucky Derby, or a Preakness, or a Belmont Stakes.

So there’s little argument that the races at Churchill Downs this weekend have lost a little luster.

The same argument could be made that this Breeders’ Cup might still end up as a bettors’ delight.

Justify, the Triple Crown champion who was forced into retirement by an ankle problem, would have given the $6 million Classic an absolute superstar for bettors to back. But his absence creates more of a wide-open race, one that has the Dubai World Cup winner in Thunder Snow, the last two Travers Stakes winners in West Coast and Catholic Boy, and 5-2 early favorite Accelerate – who has won his last four Grade 1 starts.

“Bettors love a large, wide-open field that offers value in their selections,” said trainer Tom Amoss, whose horse Lone Sailor is a 30-1 morning-line longshot in the Classic. “I don’t have any question that that’ll be the case.”

There are plenty of reasons to like most of the horses in the Classic. Combined, the 14 entrants in the field have combined to hit the toteboard in 72 percent of their lifetime starts.

Casual fans might not know all the names. But the sport’s biggest followers are likely seeing some serious Classic value.

“Justify not being part of the Classic, a Triple Crown winner, tends to take a little bit away from the Classic itself as far as the viewer wanting to see the best of the best,” Amoss said. “But don’t sell this group short. These are really, really good, talented horses and whoever emerges the victor is going to probably garner older-horse divisional championships.”

Horse of the Year might even be there for the taking.

Whoever wins the Grade 1 Classic figures to take a big step toward contending for the Eclipse Award given to the year’s best horse. If Justify were here and won the Classic – like American Pharoah did three years ago in his Triple Crown year – it would be huge news, another positive shot in the arm for a sport that is seeking ways to draw in more interest.

“I would’ve loved to have him in there, it would’ve been great,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who conditioned both American Pharoah and Justify. “But I think it’s a good field, a solid field.”

That really can be said about all of the Breeders’ Cup races. The entrants for this weekend have combined to win 794 races, or just over 37 percent of their career starts. It is inevitable that some horses who have never finished lower than third won’t even hit the board this weekend, a testament to the depth of these fields.

The Breeders’ Cup Distaff for fillies and mares features the two most recent Kentucky Oaks winners in Monomoy Girl and Abel Tasman, another Baffert pupil.

The Classic features a mix of American and foreign horses including Yoshida, a 4-year-old from Japan. Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn are returning to Churchill Downs, seeking to shake last-place finishes in the past two Kentucky Derbys – both got eased long before the finish after not being able to endure rocky starts in those respective Runs for the Roses.

No Classic is complete without a Baffert presence and he has two in West Coast and McKinzie, the horse who might have been the Derby favorite if not for a hind leg injury. Justify seized the opening, and the rest is horse racing history.

Accelerate is a 5-year-old making his first Classic start after finishing ninth and third in the Classic Dirt Mile the past two years. He has won five of six starts this year and brings a three-race winning streak into the 1 1/4-mile Classic.

“He’s a year older, and this distance is his best distance now,” trainer John Sadler said of the California-based Accelerate. “He’s had a great year and he looks great, so we’re really looking forward to this weekend.”

And if he wins, odds are a lot more people will know Accelerate’s name.

Outrider Kaymarie Kreidel key in Preakness chase for Bodexpress

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Bodexpress amused millions around the country for his jockeyless joyride during the 2019 Preakness Stakes. The squirming No. 9 horse had already thrown his jockey John Velazquez off balance in the starting gate, so when the horse took off with a big leap up, as well as forward, his Hall of Famer jockey was thrown to the ground (with no injuries).

How Bodexpress ran the 2019 Preakness without a jockey

The race replays are hallmarked by the bay horse running towards the back of the pack, and his wild (riderless) ride sent shock waves around the internet. After the race, it was announced that Bodexpess had been caught and was in good health. That was made possible by outrider and former jockey Kaymarie Kreidel.

Kreidel rode her first race in 1991 and logged over 2,500 career starts, earning over $3 million by her last race in 2017, according to Equibase. She was aboard Hunter, a former race horse who was retired in 2011 after winning one in five starts and given to Kreidel by Stronach Stables, according to Paulick Report. Together, they work the Maryland race circuit maintaining order for horses and humans a like.

See Larry Collmus, voice of the Triple Crown, call the 144th Preakness

What is an outrider? 

Go to any race track, whether its Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby or your local track on a Wednesday afternoon, and you’re sure to see outriders. They’re even on duty during early morning workouts.

“An outrider’s job is basically like being a police officer,” Kreidel says. “We are in control of the people on the racetrack to make sure everybody follows rules, and we are in control of safety. So if a riders in trouble, we go out and help them assist them in any way: either stopping them or helping them with a horse they cannot steer. And if we have a loose horse, we are first on scene and we react and catch the loose horse if possible.”

There are risks involved, just like any job directly involved with horses. Outriders deal with young, inexperienced and unpredictable horses on a regular basis, so having a reliable mount is crucial.

“I couldn’t be as good of an outrider if I didn’t have the horses to do it,” Kreidel says. “I trust my horses 120 percent. Everything I do, I give my horses 100 percent credit, because without them, I would never be able to do anything that I do.”

How do you catch a loose horse during a race? 

Horses are skittish herd animals, so Bodexpress’ training and natural instincts kicked in, and he rocketed out of the gate and kept pace with the pack even without Velazquez.

“Since he was right with the pack of horses, none of us make an attempt to interfere with the race,” Kreidel recounts.

She and Hunter made their first attempt to grab Bodexpress mid-race, but the young and inexperienced horse was already riled up and wasn’t ready to stop.

“We were going for it, and he ducked to the left up behind horses,” she says. “If I go to grab him and he makes a U-turn, he can run into the horses head on, or he can dive toward another rider and get them hurt. So I went, it didn’t look like it was going to pan out right, so I pull out.”

Kreidel says Bodexpress probably clocked in around 40 or 45 MPH during the Preakness, which only heightened their concern for safety.

He went on to cross the finish line and follow other horses as their jockeys were pulling up. On the backstretch, he switched directions before giving Kreidel another shot.

“I made one bid going the wrong way, and he stopped and spun around and took off again,” she says. “When I made the next bid, that’s when I was able to maintain control, grab the horse and stop him.”

After her daring catch, Kreidel was swarmed by reporters and other outriders, but she wasn’t phased.

“I was a jockey for 16 years, and you get excited before you get in the gate, but once you break out, your focus is on winning the race,” she says. “And yeah, I get excited when the lights comes on and I know I’ve got a loose horse to catch, but once I get focused on that horse, it’s all business. My job is to catch the horse.”

Watch the 2019 Belmont Stakes only on NBC and NBCSN. Coverage on NBCSN begins Friday, June 7 at 5 p.m. for the Belmont Gold Cup and continues on Saturday, June 8 at 2:30 p.m. before moving to NBC at 4 p.m. Post time is set for approximately 6:50 p.m. See the full broadcast schedule here.

Second horse in 4 days dies at Santa Anita

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Santa Anita had its second horse death in four days when a gelding pulled up during a race Sunday and was euthanized a day later.

Twenty-five horses have now died in racing or training at the Southern California track since Dec. 26.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Spectacular Music was running in a six-furlong maiden claiming race when the jockey pulled the horse up on the backstretch shortly after leaving the gate.

The horse was taken off the course with a pelvis injury and the decision to euthanize him was made Monday morning.

On Friday, a 3-year-old horse broke down with a shoulder injury while galloping and was euthanized at the track.

Santa Anita is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 1-2. It’s considered the biggest two-day event in U.S. horse racing.