Coronavius forces changes for Kentucky Derby jockeys

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Jockeys riding in the rescheduled 146th Kentucky Derby have to arrive by Monday and then quarantine upon returning to their home tracks, just one of many changes forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

Initially, Churchill Downs had proposed an arrival date of Aug. 24 – nearly two weeks before the Derby on Sept. 5. Track officials backed down after out-of-state riders and their agents expressed concerns about losing lucrative business at home while being confined in Louisville.

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The out-of-state riders already had to take a COVID-19 test last Monday and have the results reviewed by Churchill Downs. Their next required test comes Monday at the track, followed by a third test on Sept. 3.

In some cases, riders will have to quarantine upon returning to their home bases because of travel restrictions around the country.

As a result, some of the sport’s biggest names are expected to take a pass on the Derby. Among them: New York-based Joel Rosario and brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz, and California-based Flavien Prat, who won last year aboard Country House after Maximum Security was disqualified.

In any other year, few jockeys would miss a chance to ride in the Derby, a career highlight for most.

“It’s not the fact that they have to give up 3-4 days going there,” two-time Derby winner Mike Smith said of his fellow riders. “It’s that they can’t go back to the places.”

Although the field and riders won’t be set until Tuesday’s post position draw, nearly half of this year’s Derby jockeys could come from Kentucky.

Typically, out-of-town jockeys arrive a day or so before a major race and then jump back on a plane that night or morning after to return in time to ride on the following day’s card at their home track. Getting on a high volume of horses is necessary to ensure a living in a dangerous sport without guaranteed contracts.

After arriving in Louisville on Sunday night, Smith will have four days to kill before riding on Friday and Saturday.

“I’ll exercise a little bit just to stay fit and in the groove,” he said. “Good thing for me is I’m used to traveling.”

Smith has spent most of the summer at Del Mar, but the seaside track north of San Diego concludes on Labor Day. Even if he wanted to rush back, he couldn’t because he’d need to quarantine again. Saratoga in upstate New York also closes on Sept. 7.

Smith will bolster his trip to the Derby with a riding assignment the following weekend at Kentucky Downs near the Tennessee border.

New York’s Belmont Park doesn’t open until Sept. 18 and California’s Santa Anita starts a day later, making Kentucky Downs and its average of $2 million a day in purses a quick and potentially lucrative pit stop. Smith will be joined by some other Derby jockeys. Their coronavirus tests from Churchill Downs will be honored at the southern Kentucky track.

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.