Tiz the Law set as favorite for Saturday’s Florida Derby

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MIAMI — The Florida Derby is set to have a full field and empty stands.

A field of 12 has been entered for Saturday’s Florida Derby, typically one of the biggest Kentucky Derby prep races and serves as the crown jewel of the Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida. That won’t be the case this year, of course, with the coronavirus pandemic keeping virtually everyone — bettors, fans and even owners — away from the track for safety and health reasons.

Tiz the Law, a winner of three of his four career starts including the Holy Bull at Gulfstream last month, was installed as the 6-5 favorite at Wednesday’s race draw. Fountain of Youth winner Ete Indien, who ran second to Tiz the Law in the Holy Bull, was installed as the 4-1 second choice followed by Independence Hall (9-2).

Tiz the Law’s connections have hoped this would be the race to provide them with enough points to clinch a spot in the Kentucky Derby, which has already been rescheduled from May to September. The Florida Derby winner gets 100 points, the runner-up gets 50, and either of those places would be enough for Tiz the Law to wrap up a spot.

“We’re still hoping that, even though the Derby now has been moved four months,” Tiz the Law owner Jack Knowlton said.

If all 12 entrants go to the post – that’s the biggest field Gulfstream can have for this race – it would be the largest Florida Derby field since 2008. The purse was cut earlier this week from $1 million to $750,000, a change that was made because there won’t be any on-track handle for the race and because Gulfstream has also shut down its on-track casino in recent days.

Gulfstream Park has been racing without fans for more than a week, and plans to continue through Sunday’s end of its meet. A handful of tracks around the country have remained open, which trainers like Todd Pletcher have said is important. But no one knows how long racing will continue, with the pandemic only seeming to be growing in the U.S.

“It’s just been a frustrating time for everyone,” said Pletcher, who has 8-1 shot Gouverneur Morris in the field for Saturday. “So, juggling some horse schedules seems like unimportant stuff considering what’s going on in the rest of the world.”

When the horses cross the finish line after their 1 1/8 mile run Saturday they’ll be headed toward an uncertain future. Races like the Florida Derby are often preps for the Triple Crown races, starting with the Kentucky Derby. But with virtually everything on hold, it’s going to be difficult for owners and trainers to make a plan for the spring and summer. The rescheduled Arkansas Derby on May 2 may provide an option, or owners and trainers may simply give their horses a long layoff.

“Nobody knows what any next races may be,” Knowlton said. “It’s a blank sheet in front of us with no idea where we go, what we do.”

Tiz the Law, Independence Hall and Gouverneur Morris were all sired by Constitution, the 2014 Florida Derby winner. Tiz the Law drew the No. 7 post, Independence Hall will start from the No. 9 position and Gouverneur Morris will be in the No. 5 spot in the gate.

The rest of the field, from the rail out: No. 1 As Seen On TV (12-1), No. 2 Shivaree (30-1), No. 3 Disc Jockey (20-1), No. 4 Soros (30-1), Gouverneur Morris, No. 6 Ajaaweed (20-1), Tiz the Law, No. 8 My First Grammy (50-1), Independence Hall, No. 10 Candy Tycoon (20-1), No. 11 Sassy But Smart (50-1) and Ete Indien.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.