Maximum Security leads Haskell Invitational field

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — Maximum Security will make his second start since being disqualified in the Kentucky Derby, taking on six rivals in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Saturday.

The Jason Servis-trained colt drew the outside No. 7 post Wednesday for the 1 1/8-mile race. Luis Saez is listed to ride the 8-5 early favorite, who was the first horse to be disqualified for interference in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby.

While the Haskell field is small, Maximum Security will face stiff competition and a lot of speed.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has sent two-time Grade 3 stakes winner Mucho Gusto in from the West Coast. Baffert will be seeking his ninth win in this race.

King for a Day, who beat Maximum Security by a length here last month in the Pegasus Stakes, also is entered. Joevia, the third-place finisher in the Belmont Stakes, and Everfast, the Preakness runner-up, were entered, too, along with long shots Bethlehem Road and Spun to Run.

“No pressure,” Servis quipped after the draw.

The 3-year-old division has no clear front-runner.

In most years, the Kentucky Derby winner is at the top of the class. This year is different because of the Derby disqualification.

Long shot Country House was declared the winner of the opening jewel of the Triple Crown and has not raced since. War of Will, whom Maximum Security bothered in the Derby, won the Preakness. Sir Winston captured the Belmont.

If Maximum Security wins Saturday’s race, he will be the only 3-year-old colt with two Grade 1 victories this year, having captured the Florida Derby in March.

“There are a lot of good trainers and a lot of good horses,” Servis said. “Guys keep asking me about speed, speed, speed. We ran against 19 in the Derby. We are not going to be afraid of going against six.”

Gary and Mary West, the owners of Maximum Security, have filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Kentucky against the state Horse Racing Commission and race stewards, seeking to reverse the horse’s disqualification and to restore their share of the purse money. Both sides have asked the court for summary judgments.

Baffert, whose eight Haskell wins are the record for trainers, said Maximum Security is the class of the field. However, Mucho Gusto is coming off two impressive wins in California, including one in the Affirmed on June 16 in which he rated well and closed to win.

Mucho Gusto was made the 2-1 second choice. Regular rider Joe Talamo will break the colt from the No. 5 position.

King for a Day is the 5-2 third choice for trainer Todd Pletcher. John Velazquez will ride this time, replacing Joe Brave, who filled in for him in the Pegasus. The drawback is the colt drew the No. 1 post, which means he will probably have to go right to the lead.

Joevia has the No. 2 post for jockey Jose Lezcano. The Greg Sacco-trained colt is 10-1.

The rest of the field in post-position order with jockey and odds is:

Spun to Run, Paco Lopez, 15; Bethlehem Road, Luis Castro Rodriguez, 20; Mucho Gusto; Everfast, Julien Leparoux, 10; and Maximum Security.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Haskell Invitational from Monmouth Park on Saturday, July 20. Coverage runs from 5-6 p.m. ET and post time is scheduled for 5:47 p.m.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.