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Improbable, War of Will among horses to watch in Preakness

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BALTIMORE — Improbable is the early favorite to win the Preakness two weeks after he was favored to win the Kentucky Derby.

Most race fans know how that turned out.

But Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first at the Kentucky Derby, isn’t at the Preakness. Neither is Country House, who was declared the Derby winner when Maximum Security was disqualified by stewards for interference.

In fact, none of the first four horses to get to the wire at the Derby will run in the Preakness.

This is the first time the Derby winner isn’t running in the Preakness since 1996, and that means there’s no chance of a horse winning the Triple Crown this year. But the 13-horse Preakness field does feature Improbable, War of Will and a handful of fresh challengers – including last-minute addition Everfast on Wednesday.

If all 13 get to the starting gate Saturday evening, it’ll be the biggest Preakness field since 2009 and one of the most wide-open in recent history.

Here are the horses to watch in the 144th running of the Preakness on Saturday:

IMPROBABLE

The Bob Baffert-trained colt is expected to be the morning line Preakness favorite after going off as the 4-1 first choice in wagering in the Derby. Baffert trained the past two Triple Crown winners, Justify last year and American Pharoah in 2015, and reunites with jockey Mike Smith, who will be aboard Improbable in the Preakness.

The Derby was Improbable’s first time not finishing first or second in his career, and the smart money is on that not happening again.

“I certainly think that we haven’t seen his best race yet, although he showed signs of brilliance at different times,” Smith said, adding he hopes he can “get him to run one of those A-plus races. He’s not without a huge chance of winning the whole thing.”

WAR OF WILL

When 19 horses turned for home at Churchill Downs on May 4, Norm Casse turned to his father, Mark, and said, “You’re going to win the Kentucky Derby.” It wasn’t to be as Maximum Security cut in front of War of Will, forcing him to slow down, and Mark Casse’s horse was placed seventh after the DQ.

Without Maximum Security or Country House in the Preakness, War of Will could be primed to close the gap this time and give Casse his first Triple Crown victory.

“Not a whole lot of things went right for us in the Kentucky Derby and he got beat (by) four lengths,” Casse said. “That speaks volumes. I think in the Preakness, speed usually does a little better, it’s a little shorter (and) he should be extremely tough.”

WIN WIN WIN

A ninth-place showing in the Derby aside, Win Win Win is the best chance for a hometown victory in the Preakness. Trainer Michael Trombetta, who’s based at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland, saddled Win Win Win for two victories and a second-place finish at nearby Laurel Park and is entering a horse in the Preakness for just the second time.

The first time was 2006 in the infamous race when Barbaro was pulled up and Trombetta’s Sweetnorthernsaint was second to Bernardini. Win Win Win does have Preakness-winning pedigree in a lineage with Smarty Jones and Sunday Silence.

“He’s been doing well and training well,” Trombetta said. “We’re looking forward to getting back and have a little luck.”

MARKET KING

A lot would have to go right for Market King to win the Preakness, but the same could’ve been said for Country House in the Derby. But 83-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won the Preakness five times and said his horses always seem to run better at Pimlico for whatever reason.

Market King hasn’t run since April 6 and is fresher than some of the other horses in the field. Lukas isn’t sure if his horse can go the 1 3/16 mile but is giving it a shot based on Market King’s recent workouts.

“I think he’s really on his game,” Lukas said of his 44th career Preakness entry. “He needs to step forward. He has to step forward to be competitive.”

WARRIOR’S CHARGE

He’s the biggest wild card in the race because owners decided to pony up $150,000 to get Warrior’s Charge into the Preakness after not being nominated for the Triple Crown. He won two of his first five races and finished third in the other three but has never faced this quality of competition before.

Trainer Brad Cox said he was preparing for a race on the undercard when owners brought up the Preakness. Because it’s so wide open, Cox thinks Warrior’s Charge fits in this crowd.

“His (speed) figures stack up with these horses,” Cox said. “That’s why we’re looking at this. He’s a very nice horse, tons of potential. We’re jumping into the deep end of the pool. But we do think there’s a lot of talent and potential there.”

Maximum Security wins Haskell, survives inquiry

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OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Maximum Security captured the $1 million Haskell Invitational and, unlike the Kentucky Derby, survived a steward’s inquiry Saturday night.

It capped a long day that included a major delay triggered by intense heat and the safety concerns for the horses and riders. It led to the cancellation of six races and the delay in six stakes, including the Haskell, the biggest race in Monmouth’s meet.

When racing resumed around 6 p.m., the stakes went off without a hitch until the Haskell.

Maximum Security got to the finish line first, outlasting trainer Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto by 1 1/4 lengths.

For a minute, it seemed a clear-cut win in the Grade I race. However, the stewards posted the inquiry sign. Videotape replays showed King for a Day had to check when Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto stormed past.

However, it was quickly dismissed, unlike the Derby when there was a 22-minute delay before Country House was elevated to the top spot and Maximum Security was dropped to 17th place. It was the first time a horse that crossed the finish line first in the Derby was disqualified.

Owners Gary and Mary West are still trying to overturn that decision in federal court in Kentucky.

This was one of the most bizarre days in the 52-year history of the Haskell and it was just another weird twist in the 3-year-old thoroughbred picture which has had one strange turn after another.

There was the Kentucky Derby disqualification. A riderless horse in the Preakness. Three different winners of the Triple Crown races.

The latest turn came Saturday as the extreme temperature and a heat index value reaching 107- caused track officials to a order a 4 1/2-hour delay after the running of the first two races on the 14-race card.

The Haskell went off at 8:11 p.m., 2 hours, 24 minutes after its scheduled start. The field was reduced to six horses when third-place Belmont States finisher Joevia scratch after the delay.

The 1 1/8-mile race was outstanding. King for a Day, who beat Maximum Security in the Pegasus here last month, and the four of the other five colts were closely bunched for the early going with only Everfast trailing.

Around the far turn, Maximum Security and jockey Luis Saez and Mucho Gusto and rider Joe Talamo charged around King for a Day, who was on the rail.

Maximum Security was in the middle lane with Mucho Gusto on the outside. As they turned for home, Maximum Security seemed to put King for a Day and jockey John Velazquez in tight quarters. The only question was whether King for a Day committed a foul or King for a Day ran out of room as he tried to charge up the rail.

There was no change this time. The Jason Servis-trained Maximum Security covered the distance in 1:47.56 and paid $3.60, $2.60 and $2.20.

Mucho Gusto returned $3.40 and $2.80. Spun To Run finished third and paid $5.60 to show.

For the second straight day, the National Weather Service posted an excessive heat warning advisory Saturday, with near steady temperatures in the lower 90s in Monmouth County. The heat index values reached 107. It dipped to 103 by the time racing resumed.

Animal rights activists protested outside the New Jersey Shore track before the first race was to run.

Dennis Drazin, chairman and chief executive of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park, said a group of track, state and independent veterinarians monitored the heat for days and felt it was safe to race.

“However, given the heightened concern from the public about the heat, and in the interest of the safety of the horses and jockeys, we’ve decided to proceed with an abundance of caution, to cancel the remaining nonstakes races and to delay the six stakes races,” he said.

None of the horses who competed in the eight races run showed any sign of injury.

Drazin said he had been in contact with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. The governor left the final decision on whether to run to Drazin. He opted for caution in delaying the card, fearing harm to the horses and industry if there were a death.

With racing under pressure because of many horse deaths horses in California, most East coast tracks on Friday canceled their Saturday cards, including Saratoga Race Course.

“It would have created additional momentum to the crisis that already exists because of California problems,” Drazin said of a possible death of a horse. “We’re on the cusp of a crisis in the industry.”

A crowd of 37,186 attended last year’s Haskell, and another big crowd was expected Saturday for Monmouth Park’s biggest racing day. When the announcement came of canceled races and the delayed stakes, fans streamed to the exits. The track announced an attendance of 25,173 but many left before the big races.

Drazin said no decision had been made on how to compensate fans who paid for admission and parking. The track canceled its card planned for Sunday.

NBC was going to televise the Haskell live when it had a 5:47 p.m. post time, but it ended up streaming the race live on its digital platform.

Midnight Bisou won her fifth straight stakes this year, capturing the $150,000 Molly Pitcher with Mike Smith riding.

In other stakes, Just Howard edged Divisidero by a head in the $150,000 Oceanport; Justaholic ($5) won the $75,000 Wolf Hill; War Story ($16) took the $200,000 Monmouth Cup and I’m So Fancy ($5.80) captured the $150,000 WinStar Matchmaker.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Whitney Stakes from Saratoga Springs on August 3. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Monmouth racing card shaken amid fierce heat, track protests

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — With extreme heat draining fans and causing concern about the horses, Monmouth Park canceled six races and pushed back until early evening its stakes races, including the $1 million Haskell Invitational headlined by Maximum Security.

The decision came after the start of the first race was delayed and the racing card was re-evaluated after the second race.

The National Weather Service again posted an excessive heat warning advisory Saturday, with near steady temperatures in the lower 90s in Monmouth County. The heat index values reached 107.

Animal rights activists protested outside the New Jersey Shore track before the first race was to run.

Dennis Drazin, chairman and chief executive of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park, said a group of track, state and independent veterinarians monitored the heat for days and felt it was safe to race.

“However, given the heightened concern from the public about the heat, and in the interest of the safety of the horses and jockeys, we’ve decided to proceed with an abundance of caution, to cancel the remaining nonstakes races and to delay the six stakes races,” he said.

Drazin said he had been in contact with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who left the decision on whether to race to Drazin. He went with caution, fearing harm to the horses and industry if there were a death.

With racing under pressure because of many horse deaths horses in California, most East coast tracks on Friday canceled their Saturday cards, including Saratoga Race Course and Finger Lakes in New York and Laurel Park in Maryland.

“It would have created additional momentum to the crisis that already exists because of California problems,” Drazin said of a possible death of a horse. “We’re on the cusp of a crisis in the industry.”

A crowd of 37,186 attended last year’s Haskell, and another big crowd was expected Saturday for Monmouth Park’s biggest racing day. When the announcement came of canceled races and the delayed stakes, fans streamed to the exits.

Drazin said no decision had been made on how to compensate fans who paid for admission and parking.

In addition to the Haskell, the card’s other stakes races are The Oceanport, The Molly Pitcher, The Wolf Hill, The Monmouth Cup and the Matchmaker.

NBC was going to televise the Haskell live when it had a 5:47 p.m. post time. Monmouth spokesman Tom Luicci said the network planned to fill its 5-6 p.m. slot with other horse-racing covering. It was going to stream the race live on its digital platform at 8:05 p.m., he said.

The start of the first race was delayed by almost 40 minutes, with no reason given at the time for the move. The 14-race card was reassessed after the next race. The six stakes races were reset for 6 p.m., with the Haskell at 8:05 p.m.

Maximum Security, who finished first in the Kentucky Derby and then was disqualified, leads the field of seven in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell.

The first two races went off without incident. The horses were hosed down on the track after the races. There were misting fans in the paddock before the races.