Baffert experiences Authentic misery with loss in Preakness

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BALTIMORE — Maybe next year, the Preakness will be run in May and a huge crowd will fill Pimlico Race Course for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Maybe then, Bob Baffert will secure his record-breaking eighth Preakness victory and jockey John Velazquez will snap his 0-for-10 streak in the race.

For now, however, both the Hall of Fame trainer and oft-frustrated jockey must lament a near miss in a no-one-expected-this kind of duel that served as an appropriate finish to an out-of-whack Triple Crown series.

Kentucky Derby winner Authentic, trained by Baffert and with Hall of Fame jockey Velazquez in the saddle, finished a disappointing second behind Swiss Skydiver in Saturday’s Preakness.

Authentic, the 3-2 favorite, led for much of the race. But Velazquez allowed the filly to gain the rail and couldn’t catch her at the wire.

The thrilling finish and surprising upset wrapped up a Triple Crown series that, because of the pandemic, was held without fans and out of its usual order. The Belmont started things off on June 20, followed by the Derby on Sept. 5 and then the Preakness.

The Preakness is usually the middle jewel of the series, and entering the race a Triple Crown sweep is always a possibility. That wasn’t the case for this Preakness, but it did not lack for excitement.

This was supposed to be day of celebration for Baffert, dressed resplendently in a red tie, white shirt and blue jacket. With a victory, he would surpass R.W. Walden for most Preakness wins as a trainer.

Baffert was also looking to go 6 for 6 when running his Derby winner in the Preakness. He had done it previously with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002) and Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).

Unfortunately, this time Baffert’s horse – and to a degree, the jockey – couldn’t make it happen.

“I was hoping he was on the lead,” Baffert said. “But he got beat. He had the whole stretch to get by her. She dug in. She’s tough.”

Velazquez was under orders to get Authentic out in front, and he did. But he couldn’t rally after falling behind at the far turn.

“We had to get the lead. He runs better on the lead,” Baffert said. “He likes to be out there running fast. That’s how he won the Derby – get him running. But (Velazquez) said when he went to pick it up he didn’t have it today. That’s why I like to come back in two weeks.”

At least this time, Velazquez was on his horse at the end. Last year, he was thrown from Bodexpress shortly after the the start.

In his 10 Preakness races, Velazquez has finished second three times. He won’t soon forget this one.

“We had a good start, no trouble at all,” he said. “In the first turn we got by Art Collector. By the backstretch, I tried to open up, but he just stood there and Swiss Skydiver came to him.

“I tried to get him rolling again, but he just stayed with (Swiss Skydiver) from the half-mile pole to the wire.”

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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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.