Jesus’ Team finishes a surprising 3rd in Preakness at 40-1

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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BALTIMORE — Jesus’ Team hadn’t won against elite competition going into the Preakness, and his owners had to pay extra money just to get him to the starting gate of the Triple Crown race because he wasn’t nominated.

From that point on, he did the rest, edging out Art Collector for third behind winning filly Swiss Skydiver and favorite Authentic. Jesus’ Team hit the board at 40-1 odds Saturday, a major surprise in the 11-horse field.

“He ran big,” said Jevian Toledo, a Maryland-based jockey who got the chance because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. “I got a really nice trip. I can’t complain. He gave me everything he had. We had no excuse. The other two horses were just much the best, but he was running all the way to the wire.”

Jesus’ Team was coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on Kentucky Derby day Sept. 5 and was stepping up in competition in the Grade 1 Preakness. He showed he belonged.

“He’s really improved every day,” trainer Jose D’Angelo said. “I’m very, very proud of him. He’s like a kid, you know. Every day with him, we’re very proud.”

Jesus’ Team finished a head in front of Art Collector, the 2-1 second choice in wagering. Art Collector, who came back after being scratched from the Derby with a minor foot ailment, was pinned between horses for much of the race as jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. didn’t get the ride he was hoping for.

“You’ve got to be proud of the horse,” . Just to get to this level and for him to be fourth today, it was a big effort off of eight weeks.”

NO PREAKNESS PARTY

There was no traffic jam, no one hawking souvenirs or food outside Pimlico Race Course and not a six-pack in sight.

The scene inside the track was even weirder. The infield was devoid of fans and rock bands, there was no one in the grandstand and no one at the betting windows. There were no vendors selling Black-Eyed Susan drinks because there was no one there to buy them.

And, sadly, no cheering or yelling as the horses headed toward the finish line.

Was this really Preakness Day in Baltimore?

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional second jewel of the Triple Crown was now the last in the series, and instead of being run under a blazing sun during the third week in May, the 12-race card was held on an October afternoon better suited for football.

Media members were placed in the part of a clubhouse usually frequented by high-rollers who would make their bets and windows in the back of the room. The clubhouse one floor down served as a socially distanced jockeys room. Distancing of at least 6 feet and masks were required.

On a typical Preakness morning, some owners and trainers stand in front of the stakes barn and share their thoughts on the day ahead with writers and TV folks.

Not this year, because that section of the facility was closed to the media.

Fortunately for Pimlico, the future is bright. Over the past several years, the rumor was that the esteemed race would leave the timeworn facility for nearby Laurel Park.

Gov. Larry Hogan in May permitted a bill to become law that would enable the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $375 million in bonds to refurbish both tracks. The money would be paid back by the Maryland Lottery and casino proceeds already designated to subsidize the racing industry.

BLACK-EYED SUSAN UPSET

Miss Marissa held off a furious charge by favored Bonny South to win a thrilling Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

After wrestling the lead from Mizzen Beau in the stretch, Miss Marissa charged to its third straight victory and paid $22.20, $7.80 and $4.80.

The 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 race for 3-year-old fillies is usually held in May on the day before the Preakness. This year, it was run immediately prior to the Preakness.

Bonny South was last among the 10 horses for much of the race before finally breaking to the outside in a comeback bid by jockey Florent Geroux. The rally came up short by about a half-length.

Denied its fourth win in seven career races, Bonny South paid $2.80 and $2.20. Hopeful Growth took third and Missen Beau finished fourth.

LOCAL JOCKEYS GET CHANCE

Toledo wasn’t the only local rider with a mount in the Preakness. He was joined by Trevor McCarthy on Liveyourbeastlife, Sheldon Russell aboard Excession and Horatio Karamanos on Ny Traffic.

Excession was sixth, Ny Traffic ninth and Liveyourbeastlife 11th.

“It’s always nice to even just ride on Preakness Day. To pick up a mount in the Preakness makes me even happier,” Russell said.

MUSIC CHANGES

The fans, the bands and the traffic weren’t the only things missing from this year’s Preakness.

Maryland’s state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” was also absent – and no return is planned in the years ahead.

The ballad, which celebrates the Confederacy, is considered by some to be racist and has been eliminated as the go-to song before the big race.

Songwriter and producer Wyclef Jean and composer Darin Atwater’s Soulful Symphony planned to play ” unique and inclusive piece curated for this year’s event.”

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.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert
Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”