Maximum Security could face maximum sizzle in Haskell

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — Maximum Security is going to have to share top billing in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park with an unexpected foe – broiling heat.

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for the Monmouth County through Sunday night, adding a seventh rival for the only horse to cross the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby and then be disqualified.

The forecast calls for temperatures to hit 95 degrees with heat index values reaching as much as 106.

“Our priority will be the safety of the horses, jockeys and our fans,” said Dennis Drazin, the chairman and chief executive of Darby Development LLC, operators of track on the New Jersey shore. “We will be in contact with the state veterinarians, and if we feel it’s unsafe for horses there are things we can do.”

The track has set up misting fans in the paddock and saddling areas for the 14-race card. It will employ shorter post parades before the start of races to limit track time for the horses. Drazin also said there is the possibility the Haskell might be delayed if it is too hot, possibly pushing it back an hour or so to 7 p.m. EDT.

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

The Haskell Invitational is the signature event of the Monmouth Park meet, and this year’s race could establish Maximum Security as the leader in the 3-year-old thoroughbred season that has produced one surprise after another. Each Triple Crown race had a different winner.

If Maximum Security wins Saturday, he will be the only 3-year-old colt with two Grade 1 victories this year, having captured the Florida Derby in March. It would have been three had he not been disqualified in the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Jason Servis is feeling more confident heading into this 1 1/8 mile race than he did last month when the colt finished second to trainer Todd Pletcher’s King for a Day in the Pegasus at Monmouth.

Servis said horses tend to have rollercoaster cycles and the Pegasus wasn’t surprising, especially after the colt stumbled at the start.

Maximum Security, with jockey Luis Saez, drew the outside No. 7 post and is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in a field filled with speed.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, eyeing a record ninth Haskell win, is running Mucho Gusto. The 2-1 second choice is coming off two impressive wins in California, including one in the Affirmed on June 16. Regular rider Joe Talamo will break the colt from the No. 5 position.

King for a Day is the 5-2 third choice. Jockey John Velazquez will replace Joe Bravo, who filled in for him in the Pegasus. The colt drew the No. 1 post, which means he probably will have to go right to the lead.

After King for a Day, the rest of the field, in post-position order with jockey and odds, is: Joevia, Jose Lezcano, 10-1; Spun to Run, Paco Lopez, 15-1; Bethlehem Road, Luis Castro Rodriguez, 20-1; Mucho Gusto, Talamo, 2-1; Everfast, Julien Leparoux, 10-1; and Maximum Security, Saez, 8-5.

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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Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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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Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
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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.