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.”

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.