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Triple Crown winner Justify gets Horse of the Year

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Justify finished unbeaten, on and off the track.

The Triple Crown winner for 2018 added Horse of the Year to his resume, getting the nod over Accelerate for the biggest prize handed out at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night. Justify didn’t race as a 2-year-old, won all six of his starts last year and then was retired about a month after winning the Belmont Stakes because of an ankle injury.

So in a flash, he was gone.

But every Triple Crown winner since 1935 has also been declared Horse of the Year, and 2018 — even with Justify’s lone year of racing not even lasting four months, technically — would be no different. He won by a wide margin, getting 191 votes out of a possible 249, while Accelerate got 54.

“I’m so proud of Justify and I’m happy to see he is being rewarded for his unbelievable accomplishments in his run up to the Triple Crown,” said Bob Baffert, Justify’s trainer. “I’ve had the great fortune to be around some of the most talented horses and what Justify was able to do in such a short amount of time still takes my breath away.”

Justify — the third Horse of the Year trained by Baffert — also won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, unanimously, which was no surprise. Accelerate settled for the Eclipse as the top older dirt male, and the third Horse of the Year finalist Monomoy Girl was picked as the winner of the 3-year-old filly Eclipse.

Accelerate still has a chance for a huge win this weekend: He’s the morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup dirt race, which will be his last before beginning a stud career. Accelerate won six of his seven starts in 2018, including wins in his last four starts — all of them Grade 1 events, capped by the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“This horse had an unbelievable season,” said Juan Leyva, the assistant trainer under John Sadler for Accelerate. “You can’t take anything away from Justify. He’s a Triple Crown winner. But the year this horse put up, I mean, any other year there’s no question he’s Horse of the Year. … Obviously, my vote would be for Accelerate. You don’t see years like this that often.”

Accelerate’s connections didn’t leave with just one trophy. Hronis Racing LLC, Accelerate’s owner, also won the Eclipse in that category — its first as the top owner in the sport.

“This is a little boy’s dream come true,” said Kosta Hronis, who shares the ownership of Hronis Racing with his brother, Peter.

Chad Brown won his third consecutive Eclipse Award as the top trainer, making him only the sixth person to win that many in a row and putting him alongside Baffert, Todd Pletcher, D. Wayne Lukas, Robert Frankel, Laz Barrera. Baffert was a finalist this year, after guiding Justify to the Triple Crown — Baffert’s second.

Still, Brown got the nod again.

“It’s a great honor and we take it very seriously,” Brown said.

Irad Ortiz Jr. won his first Eclipse as the top jockey, keeping the award in the family — his younger brother, Jose Ortiz, won last year.

“I want to dedicate this trophy to a very special person,” Irad Ortiz said. “My brother dedicated to me last year, and I want to dedicate it to him. Love you bro.”

Other Eclipse winners included Weston Hamilton (apprentice jockey), Jaywalk (2-year-old filly), Game Winner (2-year-old male), Unique Bella (older dirt female), Roy H (male sprinter), Shamrock Rose (female sprinter), Stormy Liberal (male turf horse), Sistercharlie (female turf horse), Zenjabeel (steeplechase horse) and John D. Gunther (top breeder).

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.