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Omaha Beach wins Arkansas Derby; Owendale takes Lexington

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A year after riding Justify to the Triple Crown, Mike Smith has a tough choice about which horse to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

Under Smith, Omaha Beach held off favored Improbable to win the $1 million Arkansas Derby by a length Saturday at Oaklawn Park, earning 100 points and vaulting himself into second place on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

After entering the day 19th in the standings with 37.5 points, the dark bay colt became one of the key contenders by winning the Grade 1 final Derby qualifier. Omaha Beach is second behind leader Tacitus in the standings that determine the 20-horse field for the Derby on May 4.

This race was pretty impressive.

Omaha Beach was up front by the halfway point on a sloppy track and dueled Bob Baffert-trained Improbable the rest of the way. The horse trained by Richard Mandella earned his second consecutive graded stakes victory and third in a row in four starts in 2019.

“He looked like he was well within himself and Mike (Smith) just let him enjoy his job,” Mandella said, “just stride out and go where he went. My first thought was, `Jeez, don’t move too quick.’ And then I thought, `Don’t be second-guessing Mike Smith.’ – one of the greatest of all times.”

Smith added, “Picked a nice little spot and stayed right there. His cruising speed just takes him up there. I just basically tried to stay out of way. He’s doing it too easy, I’m better off letting him than fighting him.”

Smith has the option to go with either Omaha Beach or Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster in the Derby.

“It’s a lovely decision to have,” he said. “My agent will make the decision. That’s why I pay him.”

Baffert has three Derby entries: Improbable, Game Winner and Roadster.

Omaha Beach ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.91 and paid $5.40, $3 and 2.80.

Improbable returned $3.60 and $3, and Country House paid $4.20 to show.

At Keeneland in the day’s other Derby prep, Owendale rallied to take charge entering the stretch and went on to win the $200,000 Lexington Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over Anothertwistafate to earn 20 points.

Though the bay colt won’t make the Derby field on points, he earned his second win in three starts this year and first stakes triumph. Owendale struggled at first but made his way through the 10-horse field into the lead at the stretch and eventually drew clear in the Grade 3 race.

It marked a big turnaround for the Brad Cox-trained horse after an eighth-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 16.

“Last race, we felt like he ate too much dirt, and he kind of backed out down the backside and then had too much to do,” said Cox’s assistant, Ricky Giannini. “Today, he ate the same amount of dirt. I think he’s just maturing and turning into a good horse. He’s always trained like it and today he put it all together and got the job done.”

Ridden by Florent Geroux, Owendale covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.14 and paid $27.40, $10 and $5.60.

“Things change a lot – sometimes you need to go to Plan B very quick,” Geroux said. “He ran a very good race.”

Anothertwistafate returned $3.40 and $2.60, and Sueno paid $2.80.

Jockey suspended for using whip on another rider in Arkansas

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — A jockey has been suspended 60 days for misusing his whip – not on a horse – but on another rider in a race at an Arkansas track.

A stewards’ ruling posted Thursday on the Association of Racing Commissioners International website alleges that David Cohen “deliberately” whipped fellow jockey Edgar Morales several times during the eighth race at Oaklawn Park on April 6.

Cohen and his horse Bolita Boyz were forced wide into the stretch by Morales and No Funny Biz. The two raced side-by-side through the stretch, with Cohen whipping his mount left-handed and apparently also striking Morales.

Neither horse won the race.

Upon returning to the jockeys’ room, the ruling said that Morales confronted Cohen, telling him, “You whipped me more than you did your horse.” Morales testified at a hearing that Cohen replied, “Be patient and don’t take me wide.”

Morales testified he had four welts on his right thigh from Cohen’s whip. Although jockeys can be accidentally struck by a whip in a race, Morales told stewards that “it was not an accident, he meant to do it.”

According to the ruling, Cohen said he wouldn’t deliberately hit another jockey with his whip and that if it happened it was accidental.

The ruling said other riders and valets testified they overheard a discussion in the jockeys’ room and that they considered Cohen’s admission as indicative of a deliberate action rather than being accidental.

The stewards agreed with Morales after finding that Cohen’s action was deliberate and violated multiple rules. The stewards said Cohen’s actions jeopardized the safety of other jockeys and horses in the race.

Cohen’s suspension runs from April 27 to June 25.

He was earlier suspended for April 25 and 26 by the stewards as the result of careless riding in the eighth race at Oaklawn on April 7.

His agent, Bill Castle, is appealing both suspensions.

Cohen is second in the Oaklawn jockeys’ standings, with 59 wins from 258 mounts.

Santa Anita to run three days a week, hike purses for six weeks

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Santa Anita will race three days a week instead of four over the next four weeks because the track has lost some of its horse population to out-of-state venues.

Several stables have shipped horses to Kentucky to run at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, leaving Santa Anita with fewer horses to race and smaller field sizes.

Track officials have yet to decide whether to race three days or four for the final three weeks of the spring meet, which ends June 23.

The track said Friday it is raising purses for all non-stake races by $10,000 each for the next six weeks as a way to help owners and trainers who lost money when the track was closed for most of March.

The deaths of 23 horses since Dec. 26 forced the closure while the track’s dirt surface was examined. Racing resumed March 29, with one horse death occurring since then as the result of injuries in a turf race.

The purse increase announced Friday begins April 26 and runs through June 2. Track officials will decide later whether to continue it through the end of the meet.

The increase is being funded by existing excess money in the purse account and money from The Stronach Group, which owns the track.

Thoroughbred Owners of California chairman Nick Alexander says his group will match the purse supplements funded by TSG in the hopes of returning to racing four days a week.