Mucho Gusto wins Robert Lewis for Baffert at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Bob Baffert’s second-string colt won a Kentucky Derby prep race. Don’t discount Mucho Gusto.

Last year, Baffert’s top Derby hopeful McKinzie got injured. Second-stringer Justify went on to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, giving Baffert a second Triple Crown in three years.

Mucho Gusto won the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 4} lengths at Santa Anita on Saturday.

“This is the time of year when you want to start getting excited about something,” Baffert said in the winner’s circle during a brief break between drenching rain. “We’re still dreaming in Technicolor.”

Ridden by Joe Talamo, Mucho Gusto ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:41.81. The 3-year-old chestnut colt paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10 as the 3-5 favorite.

“He’s a 3-year-old but he feels like an older horse,” Talamo said. “He’s got a great mind. He absolutely loved the mud today.”

Mucho Gusto was purchased for $625,000 at the Timonium sale near the Maryland home of owner Michael Petersen. Baffert and Petersen saw the colt work in the slop before the sale and “he just smoked over it,” the trainer said.

“I texted Bob to see if I should come out for the race and he was very confident,” Petersen said.

Gunmetal Gray returned $2.40 and $2.10, while Easy Shot was another half-length back in third and paid $2.60 to show.

Magnificent McCool was fourth. Kid Cantina was pulled up at the top of the backstretch. Nolo Contesto was scratched, reducing the field to five.

Baffert earned his seventh win in the Lewis, named for his late client with whom he won the 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm.

Mucho Gusto has three wins in four career starts. He’s a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man.

“He got to sit off the pace, which was good. They have to learn to do that,” Baffert said. “I was really happy with Joe. He rode him with a lot of confidence, like he was a good horse.”

Baffert saddled 1-2 favorite McKinzie to a second-place finish in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes. The 4-year-old colt got edged near the wire by Battle of Midway after they battled through the stretch.

In other Kentucky Derby preps Saturday:

– Harvey Wallbanger scored an upset at 29-1 odds in the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes, winning by a length at Gulfstream Park.

Ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., Harvey Wallbanger ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.69 and paid $61.20 to win.

Sent off at 99-1, Everfast finished second. Previously unbeaten Maximus Mischief, the odds-on favorite, was third.

Trained by Ken McPeek, Harvey Wallbanger was purchased for $50,000 as a yearling. He is named for the 1970s drink that contains vodka, orange juice and an Italian liqueur.

“Now he’s a graded stakes winner,” co-owner Harold Lerner said. “I hope everybody has a Harvey Wallbanger later.”

– Tax surged up the rail to overtake Our Braintrust and Not That Brady in deep stretch and win the $250,000 Withers by a head at Aqueduct.

Ridden by Junior Alvarado, Tax ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.27. The gelding paid $6.20 to win as the 2-1 favorite trained by Danny Gargan.

Tax earned 10 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. He more than tripled his career earnings to $186,300 and has never been worse than third in four starts.

Not That Brady was second, a neck ahead of Our Braintrust, trained by Mark Casse.

Casse lodged an objection against Not That Brady for the bump in the stretch, but there was no change to the order of finish.

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.