Even money favorite Omaha Beach scratches from Pegasus World Cup

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Heavy favorite Omaha Beach has been scratched from the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (Jan. 25, 4:30-6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com, NBC Sports App) “out of an abundance of caution” due to swelling in his right hind leg, Gulfstream Park announced on Thursday. Mike Smith was set to ride.

“It was observed this morning that Omaha Beach had light swelling in his right hind fetlock,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “While we are disappointed to have to miss the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, Omaha Beach’s safety and well-being comes first and we wanted to do what was best for him.  He has been a great pleasure to have around the barn and we are grateful for the opportunity to train such a magnificent horse.”

The 4-year-old colt had odds upgraded from 7/5 to an even 1/1 after Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run scratched earlier this morning. Of the original field of 12 horses, only 10 will break from the gate on Saturday.

Omaha Beach won the Arkansas Derby last year and was the early Kentucky Derby favorite, but was scratched due to an entrapped epiglottis. After recovering from surgery, he won the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (G1) in October, took second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November and finished 2019 with a win in the G1 Malibu Stakes.

The Pegasus World Cup, which is headed by the Stronach Group, was expected to be his last race before heading to stud at Spendthrift Farm. His connections haven’t said whether he will aim for a later race. Omaha Beach is a finalist for the Eclipse Award for 3-Year-Old Male, which will be announced tonight.

“We appreciate the willingness of Mr. Mandella to put the safety of Omaha Beach above all else,” Stronach Group Chairman and President Belinda Stronach said. “His decision was the right thing to do and reflects the new standard of care set for this year’s Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series.”

The field is now wide open without Omaha Beach and Spun to Run. Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto now leads the field. The 4-year-old colt drew the No. 10 post position in yesterday’s draw. Mucho Gusto has five wins in 10 starts, but hasn’t won since June, when he took the Affirmed Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. Most recently, he finished fourth in the Oklahoma Derby (G3). This will be his first start at Gulfstream.

Other competitors include John Sadler’s Higher Power and Preakness runaway Bodexpress. Below are odds (which haven’t changed since Spun to Run scratched) and revised post positions for Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup.

$3 million Pegasus World Cup post positions and odds as of Jan. 23:

  1. True Timber (15-1)
  2. Tax (8-1)
  3. Diamond Oops (15-1)
  4. Seeking the Soul (30-1)
  5. Omaha Beach — SCRATCHED
  6. Higher Power (6-1)
  7. War Story (30-1)
  8. Mr Freeze (20-1)
  9. Spun to Run — SCRATCHED
  10. Mucho Gusto (9-2)
  11. Tenfold (30-1)
  12. Bodexpress (30-1)

Watch the Pegasus World Cup on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app on Saturday, January 25 from 4:30 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET.

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.