Art Collector is biggest threat to Authentic in Preakness

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

BALTIMORE — Trainer Tommy Drury and Art Collector get another chance at Triple Crown glory this weekend.

Drury will start his first horse in a Triple Crown race when he saddles Art Collector in Saturday’s Preakness, which will be the final leg of the Triple Crown for the first time in its 145-year history. And now that Drury’s wait is over, Art Collector looks like the biggest threat to Kentucky Derby winner Authentic at a mostly empty Pimlico Race Course.

Drury was poised to make his Triple Crown debut at the Kentucky Derby until he discovered something was wrong with Art Collector, arguably the best horse he has ever had in his barn. Drury made the difficult decision to scratch him, a move he called a no-brainer.

“The Kentucky Derby’s a race of a lifetime for a horse trainer, but at the end of the day, the ultimate responsibility that we have is to put our horse first,” Drury said. “It just wouldn’t have been fair to him to leave him over there, especially at that level of competition, and ask him to run his very best race knowing that there was an issue going on.”

Now, Art Collector is set to race – four weeks after Drury took no risks with his impressive colt.

“We’re certainly going to stand by that decision and there’s no looking back at this point,” Drury said. “We’re focused on the Preakness and what we can do down the road. … Our horse is good right now, and we’re ready to take our best shot.”

Art Collector is the 5-2 second choice on the morning like after 9-5 favorite Authentic, who if he wins would make trainer Bob Baffert a perfect 6 for 6 taking the Derby winner to the Preakness. There will be no fans on-hand, only select owners, trainers and other essential personnel because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nonetheless, Baffert, who also has Thousand Words in the 11-horse field, is looking for his record-breaking eighth Preakness victory.

Baffert and Drury shared a golf cart ride at Churchill Downs prior to the Derby, and that’s about all they share. The two had never met before, and while Baffert has swept the Triple Crown twice and won 16 races in the series, Drury has never even started a horse in a Triple Crown race until now.

Art Collector, a popular pick to win the Derby before getting scratched, is finally putting Drury in the spotlight after more than 30 years in the business.

“He’s taken my career to places that I never dreamed it would go, and he’s just a member of the family,” Drury said. “I’ve not had anything like him ever before.”

Art Collector’s performance in a race at Churchill Downs in June caught Eddie Olczyk’s eye.

“He just looked like a monster,” said Olczyk, an NBC Sports analyst who questioned why former trainer Joe Sharp didn’t try Art Collector in two-turn races on the dirt last year. “I just think, for me, what has happened is this horse is running the distance and running on the surface that he was bred to run on. I think the sky’s the limit for this horse.”

Some other things to know about the Preakness:

UPSET FORMULA

Art Collector is looking to beat Authentic 20 years after a similar upset of a Kentucky Derby winner by another contender, when Red Bullet defeated Fusaichi Pegasus in the Preakness. Jockey Jerry Bailey knew he had to make his move aboard Red Bullet before Fusaichi Pegasus did and figured he’d need a better 1 3/16-mile trip to win.

It’s a recipe Brian Hernandez could follow with Art Collector.

“If I were riding the race, I would certainly know that you cannot let Authentic get away with anything easy early in the race,” said Bailey, who’s now part of the NBC broadcast team. “You’ve got to challenge him at some point, earlier than he was challenged in the Derby or you’re probably not going to beat him.”

THE FAVORITE

If Authentic runs his best race like he did in the Derby on Sept. 5, he’s probably not losing to any of the top challengers: Art Collector, filly Swiss Skydiver, Derby third-place finisher Mr. Big News or NY Traffic, who challenged him down the stretch in the Haskell Stakes in July.

Starting with the Derby, Baffert switched to jockey John Velazquez, who gave Authentic a masterful ride and will try to do the same in the pursuit of his first Preakness win. “I’ve been chasing this race for quite a bit,” Velazquez said. “You hope that this is it, that this horse is going to do it for me.”

NEED FOR SPEED

Velazquez will have a more difficult task in the Preakness with more speed in the field, after so many in racing watching the Derby were baffled by NY Traffic jockey Paco Lopez sitting back and not pressing Authentic. Like many of Baffert’s top thoroughbreds, Authentic prefers to be on the lead and a fast pace could set up for a stalking horse like Art Collector to go by him, especially with Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law skipping the Preakness.

HAPPY TO BE HERE

Trainer Steve Asmussen, who has three horses in the Preakness with Max Player, Pneumatic and Excession, is just glad the 2020 Triple Crown happened amid all the turmoil in sports and the world.

“These horses are 3 once,” he said. “They deserve this opportunity and very glad that the racetracks came together and made sure that the races were run. I think that it’s no fault of the horses involved, this year’s 3-year-old crop, and they deserve this opportunity.”

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

eclipse awards
Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

bob baffert
Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

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.