AP

Bellafina 2-1 early favorite for Kentucky Oaks for fillies

Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bellafina is the 2-1 morning line favorite for the 145th Kentucky Oaks after drawing the No. 4 post position in the marquee race for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.

Champagne Anyone and Restless Rider are the 6-1 co-second choices from the Nos. 10 and 14 posts of horses officially in the field for Friday’s $1.25 million race over 1 1/8 miles. Dunbar Road, one of two also-eligible fillies, drew 5-1 odds and would become the second choice with an opening in the 14-horse field. Jaywalk and Serengeti Empress are 8-1 co-third choices and will start from the Nos. 7 and 13 posts.

As expected, Bellafina is the favorite thanks to a 3-0 record this year and highlighted by last month’s 5\-length victory in the Santa Anita Oaks. Trained by Simon Callaghan and ridden by Flavien Prat, the filly has six wins and a second-place finish in eight career starts and tops the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard with 132 points.

Bellafina was traveling from California and is expected to arrive at Churchill Downs on Monday after putting in her final workout at Santa Anita on Sunday. Callaghan is expected at the track on Wednesday.

“She galloped a mile and a half and she looks very good,” the trainer said of Bellafina’s workout. “We’re very pleased with her.”

One of Bellafina’s projected challengers is Champagne Anyone, who is second with 113 points and coming off last month’s win in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks. She also has two third-place finishes in 2019 and has three wins and three thirds in seven career starts.

Trainer Ian Wilkes has been pleased with Champagne Anyone’s workouts at Churchill Downs and was encouraged by her post position.

“It’s better than being stuck down on the inside and can give us a lot of options to see what happens in the race,” Wilkes said. “You know the first eighth of a mile, we can see where we want to be and what’s happening.”

Nine fillies drew double-digit odds including Out for a Spin, one of four 15-1 choices. The winner of this month’s Ashland at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, the Virginia-bred filly will start along the rail, and trainer Dallas Stewart acknowledged that she must avoid getting boxed in with other horses to have a chance.

“She’s not going to be close to the lead with this group like she was at Keeneland,” said Stewart, who will seek his first Oaks win since 2006 with Lemons Forever.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a tactical race for us. We’ve got a great rider (Irad Ortiz Jr.) that’ll get the job done.”

On the outside of the Oaks looking in is Dunbar Road, who finished a half-length behind Champagne Anyone in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. Also eligible is Point of Honor.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Preakness winner War of Will likely to run in Belmont

Leave a comment

BALTIMORE (AP) Owner Gary Barber called trainer Mark Casse for the fourth time in 11 hours since War of Will won the Preakness.

Only this time, Casse was in the middle of holding court with reporters the morning after his first Triple Crown victory.

“All’s good and we’re going to the Belmont?” Casse said to Barber with a Cheshire cat grin. “I was kidding. I was making that up.”

Well, not totally.

Assuming all goes well in the coming weeks, Casse said “there’s an extremely good shot” War of Will goes to the Belmont Stakes on June 8 in New York. If he wins, he’d be the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 to fall short in the Kentucky Derby before capturing the Preakness and Belmont and would be the front-runner for 3-year-old horse of the year.

“It’s the third leg of the Triple Crown, who doesn’t want to win it?” Casse said Sunday. “There are only three Triple Crown races, and they’re pretty important. I think if you can do it you should do it. …

“That’s what we do. We run.”

Those watching the Preakness saw a horse run the entire race and then some after throwing off his jockey out of the starting gate, a scene that – once it was clear rider John Velazquez was OK – served as a reminder of how much thoroughbreds love to run. Bodexpress provided a memorable spectacle as War of Will fulfilled his potential at Pimlico.

The Belmont is another substantial test for the tough and talented War of Will because it’s a third race in six weeks and is the longest of the Triple Crown races at 1+ miles.

There won’t be a Kentucky Derby rematch with Maximum Security, who was disqualified for interfering with War of Will, or Country House, who was placed first and since been sidelined by illness. And two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert said he probably won’t take Improbable to the Belmont after finishing out of the money in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness as the favorite.

But War of Will could have to contend with Derby returners Tacitus, Master Fencer and perhaps Baffert’s Game Winner, along with Preakness surprise second-place finisher Everfast, third-place runner Owendale and ninth-place Signalman. Trainer Bill Mott ruled out Country House but is planning to take Tacitus to the Belmont and figures the gray colt will have no problem in a significantly longer race.

“He should handle it fine,” Mott said by phone Saturday. “My guess was that he’d handle the Derby distance fine, which he did. I was pleased. I think it goes the same for the Belmont. I think it’s within his grasp.”

If the Preakness had more than an extra quarter-mile, closers Everfast and Owendale might’ve put a scare into War of Will on Saturday. Everfast was a late entry by trainer Dale Romans three days before the race and opened at 50-1 but showed he might be a good long-distance runner.

“We almost had it,” Everfast jockey Joel Rosario said. “He ran great. We have a great shot at the Belmont.”

Tacitus, Everfast and Owendale will be strong challengers, but this should be War of Will’s Belmont to lose. Had he not endured such a rough trip in and been interfered with at Churchill Downs on May 4, there could be another wave of Triple Crown talk going on right now about a third winner in five years.

But Casse isn’t thinking about that, still grateful War of Will avoided going down in the Derby and was able to rebound and run well in the Preakness. He’ll monitor the horse back at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, to make sure a sore foot and his energy level are good enough to run in the Belmont on a three-week turnaround.

Casse can’t predict how War of Will responds this time, but he knows what it would mean if the horse comes out on top once again.

“He’s just an athlete,” Casse said. “It would just show that he’s tough and able to overcome things.”

How Bodexpress ran the 2019 Preakness without a jockey

1 Comment

An already-chaotic Triple Crown season took a surprising turn at the 2019 Preakness Stakes when the No. 9 horse Bodexpress went on a joy ride without his Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

Just two weeks after Maximum Security‘s historic and controversial disqualification in the 145th Kentucky Derby, War of Will, one of the horses most impacted by Maximum Security in the homestretch turn, crossed the wire first at Pimlico to win the 144th Preakness.

But all eyes were on Bodexpress

The moment the bell rang and the gates flew open, the Kentucky-bred colt jumped out and up, unseating Velazquez. The jockey landed on the dirt but got up and walked off the track under his own power.

“He was just not behaving well in the gate,” Velazquez said after the race. “He wasn’t standing well. He got me against a wall in the gate, and when the doors opened, I was kind of off right from the start and he jumped sideways. And I had my feet out of the irons, so I lost my balance and I went off.”

To the delight of viewers around the world, Bodexpress kept running, minus around 100 pounds of human. He kept pace with the pack for some time before falling back.

See the full race replay of the 144th Preakness Stakes

Horses are herd animals and Bodexpress was bred and trained to run, so it was no surprise that he kept going with the pack.

Outriders, the people on horseback around the track who help control the race surroundings, couldn’t chase him down initially because of how close he was to other horses. They tried to grab him as he turned towards the homestretch, but he dodged the attempt by scooting to the middle of the pack.

The 20-1 shot crossed the wire ahead of Market King, but his trip didn’t end there. He zoomed past horses as they were pulling up and ran an entire extra lap. When all was said and done, he was a little sweaty but in good health.

Stewards briefly flashed the inquiry sign because of his horseplay, but they quickly released it and named War of Will the official winner. Bodexpress was given last placed and named “did not finish.”

Trained by Gustavo Delgado, Bodexpress was a late entry into the Kentucky Derby after morning line favorite Omaha Beach scratched. The 71-1 longshot finished 14th at Churchill and was elevated to 13th. He has never won a race, with or without a jockey.

“I’m good,” Velazquez said. “I’m just disappointed.”

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