Spanish Mission prevails in thrilling finish in Jockey Club Derby


The New York Racing Association’s Turf Triple series for 3-year-old males concluded Sept. 7 at Belmont Park and ended on a high note as Team Valor and Earle Mack’s Spanish Mission went from last-to-first to claim the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational Stakes by a nose.

After taking a wrong step from the gate, Thread of Blue — who won the second leg of Turf Triple in the Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes Aug. 4 at Saratoga Race Course — recovered with ease and flew to the lead under Luis Saez.

Pursuing the leader just off the rail was Henley’s Joy, the winner of the series-opening Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes who kept within striking distance of A Thread of Blue as he rated off quarter-mile fractions of :25.23, :50.77, and 1:16.17 through six furlongs.

Still in control by a head as the field entered the stretch, A Thread of Blue felt the pressure from Pedro Cara, who overtook him from the outside at the top of the stretch.

Last on the backstretch, Spanish Mission, who was making his first start on U.S. soil for trainer David Simcock, was tipped out wide by Jamie Spencer on the final turn before being set down for a drive. The son of Noble Mission gained ground progressively before finally linking up with Pedro Cara. The two locked heads and battled down to the wire before a thrilled Belmont crowd. With the finish line in sight, Spanish Mission, the 2-1 favorite, got the bob and was declared the victor by a nose.

“He didn’t break that well but I wasn’t too concerned. I was happy he was relaxed and found his rhythm coming along the backside,” Spencer said.

“Going into the final turn he was giving me all he had. I dropped my right rein and even though I was using the crop, when you drop your reins in a race, it typically signals to the horse that the race is over. I would’ve been mad with myself had we lost but he got back on his game and finished strong. He was a very game horse today.”

Final time for the 1 1/2 miles was 2:27.58 on turf rated firm.

San Huberto finished third followed by A Thread of Blue and Henley’s Joy.

“As the race developed, it was just beautiful to watch,” said Ian Russell, assistant to Simcock. “The further he went, the better he got into it and he just gets his head down. Jamie dropped his rein, but the horse stayed on and kept to his job. He knows his job and the further he goes, the better he’s going to be. He’s a lovely horse for the future.”

The Jockey Club Derby Invitational is a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race that awards the winner an automatic berth in the Nov. 2Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita Park.

Irwin said he would talk with Mack before making a final decision, but with Spanish Mission heading back to Europe, it’s unlikely he will run in the Breeders’ Cup.

A winner of the July 11 Group 3 Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket, Spanish Mission was bred in Kentucky by St. Elias Stables out of the Street Cry mare Limonar and is a half brother to stakes winner Mokarris. His win in the Jockey Club Derby Invitational tripled his career earnings to $710,246 and improved his record to 3-1-2 from seven starts.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Cotillion Stakes from Parx Racing on September 21. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBC.

Preakness winner National Treasure has final workout for Belmont Stakes

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — Preakness winner National Treasure breezed five furlongs in his final workout for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes this weekend.

Working on the main track at Belmont Park with exercise rider Erick Garcia aboard, National Treasure was timed in 59.55 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:11.20 and seven furlongs in 1:25.20. It was the second workout on the track for the Bob Baffert-trained colt.

“He worked very well this morning,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant. “It’s a big track and you can find yourself lost out there. Erick did an excellent job working him and now we’re just waiting for the race.”

National Treasure was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby before the Preakness on May 20.

Trainer Steve Asmussen’s Red Route One also posted his final work for the final jewel of the Triple Crown, breezing a half-mile in 50.20 seconds over Belmont Park’s dirt training track.

“I thought he went beautiful,” said Toby Sheets, Asmussen’s Belmont-based assistant. “It was nice and fluid and he came back with good energy. I’m very happy with him. We wanted to be out on the track before it got really busy.”

Red Route One finished fourth in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, almost five lengths behind National Treasure.

Kentucky Derby winner Mage is not running in the Belmont Stakes.

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

churchill downs
Michael Clevenger and Erik Mohn/USA TODAY NETWORK

Churchill Downs will suspend racing and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.