Jockey Mike Smith picks up new mount for Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Triple Crown-winning jockey Mike Smith will ride in the Kentucky Derby after all.

Race officials said Friday that Smith has picked up the mount on 30-1 shot Cutting Humor, trained by Todd Pletcher.

The 53-year-old rider had been on the early 4-1 favorite, Omaha Beach, until that colt was scratched because of a breathing problem.

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Smith originally chose to ride Omaha Beach over Roadster, one of three Derby horses trained by Bob Baffert. Once Omaha Beach was out of Saturday’s race, Baffert said he wouldn’t change any of his riders.

Smith won last year’s Derby with Justify, trained by Baffert. They went on to sweep the Preakness and Belmont to capture the Triple Crown. Smith won his first Derby with 50-1 shot Giacomo in 2005.

Cutting Humor was the last Derby horse to have a rider named Monday when Corey Lanerie got the mount. He would have been aboard the colt for the first time. But once Smith became available, owner Starlight Racing decided to go with the jockey nicknamed Big Money Mike for his ability to win some of the sport’s richest races.

Lanerie recently won his 1,000th career race at Churchill Downs. He has ridden in the Derby four times, with his best finish being second aboard Lookin At Lee in 2017. His 42-year-old wife died of breast cancer last June.

The Derby lost another horse Friday when Haikal was scratched because of an infection in his left front foot. That leaves the field at 19.

Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Haikal was being treated for an abscess and didn’t train Thursday or Friday. That left McLaughlin no choice but to scratch the Gotham Stakes winner before the deadline Friday morning.

Haikal, a 30-1 shot, had his infected foot soaked in Epsom salts to reduce the accumulation of pus. The problem should clear shortly, but the colt ran out of time to prepare for the 1\-mile Derby.

As a result, the rail will remain empty and Derby horses will break from posts 2 through 20.

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.