Brooklyn Strong: from Philly to the Kentucky Derby quickly

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Brooklyn Strong needed a few horses to drop out to make the Kentucky Derby and now needs to make it to Churchill Downs at the latest possible minute.

The defection of trainer Brad Cox’s Caddo River on Sunday opened the door for Daniel Velasquez’s Brooklyn Strong to be the 20th and final horse in the field for the Run for the Roses. The New York-bred named after one of New York City’s five boroughs worked out at Parx outside Philadelphia on Monday and will be vanned overnight to Louisville to get settled in for his biggest race.

“It’s absolutely insane,” Velasquez said about the quick turnaround. “I can’t put it into words. `Chaos’ is the only thing I can think of because it’s just been that chaotic the last 24 to 48 hours.”

Brooklyn Strong was 23rd on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard a week ago, which normally would lead Velasquez and owner Mark Schwartz to give up on the chances of making it and look toward the Preakness or Belmont. An unusual amount of dropouts paved the way for Brooklyn Strong to make it after a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Wood Memorial on April 3.

“I almost stopped paying attention last week because I was just over it,” said Velasquez, who got a feeling this was coming when he only needed two more horses to exit to make it. “I told Mark: `Somebody’s going to be out. From the way they’re dropping out, we’re going to get in.”‘

It’s still a surprise for a horse who has run only twice since November. Brooklyn Strong’s 10 qualifying points from winning the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in December are the fewest by any horse to make the Derby since Giant Finish in 2013, the year the points system was introduced.

“I’m going there now with no pressure,” Velasquez said in a phone interview from Parx in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. “Now I have zero pressure because I don’t think anybody expects me to do anything anyways, so I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Schwartz, who booked jockey Umberto Rispoli to ride and is trying to get friends and family tickets and accommodations for the weekend, pointed out that Brooklyn Strong beat Derby rival Known Agenda in the Remsen and is confident going into Saturday.

“He’s not a long shot in my mind,” said Schwartz, who didn’t know how much respect oddsmakers would give his horse. “If he’s ready like he was in the Remsen, if he runs like he did in the Remsen, I have no problems. He’ll be there. That’s how I feel. I think the horse is tremendous.”

The story around the horse is just as insane. Schwartz got into racing through a buddy he used to play hockey with, and Velasquez is still recovering from a serious accident a month ago.

Velasquez’s liver was lacerated and a labrum in one of his shoulders torn when a racehorse rear-ended his pony as he was leading another horse onto the track. He may still need shoulder surgery, but said that won’t keep him from getting Brooklyn Strong ready for the Kentucky Derby.

“I’m a little stubborn,” he said. “I shouldn’t even be saddling this horse, but I’m going to do it.”


Political correspondent Steve Kornacki, who has gained increasing fame since the presidential election, is taking his talents to the Kentucky Derby next. Kornacki will offer some insights on betting trends and analyze the top Derby contenders.

This isn’t Kornacki’s first foray into sports: He broke down the NFL playoff picture on NBC’s “Football Night in America” late last season. Kornacki will try to replicate one of his earliest horse racing memories, when he picked five consecutive harness winners at Scarborough Downs in Maine as a kid.


Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday signed a proclamation honoring African-American contributions to racing. Beshear named the final week of April “Ed Brown Society Week” in the state after the 19th century Black trainer.

“I can’t imagine a better way to start Derby week then ensuring derby is truly available for everyone, and that we address and confront our past as it relates both to this and other industries,” Beshear said.

Owners Greg Harbut and Ray Daniels, who saddled Neckar Island in the 2020 Derby, were set to be on hand for the proclamation. They’re founders of the Ed Brown Society, which seeks to create a pipeline for Black executives and sprout a generation of new fans to diversify the sport.


Midnight Bourbon closed the likely final Derby major workout among the 20 hopefuls strongly, clocking 1:02.40 over five furlongs Monday over a fast track at Churchill Downs.

His workout with exercise rider Wilson Fabian included splits of 24.40 and 49.60 and he galloped out six furlongs in 1:16.20 as the colt looked to improve from finishing second to Hot Rod Charlie at the Louisiana Derby in March.

“I’m very happy with how he went,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “We got exactly what we wanted and he continues to do very well.”

Asmussen’s other colt, Super Stock, jogged a mile on Monday, two days after clocking 1:01.20 over five furlongs in Saturday’s final Derby work.


Tori Kelly will sing the national anthem at the Kentucky Derby.

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter’s performance will be shown live on NBC Saturday.

Kelly joins such past performers as Mary J. Blige, Harry Connick Jr., Lady A and Josh Groban.

She recently collaborated with Justin Bieber and released a Christmas album last year.

Watch the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on and the NBC Sports app.

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

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Michael Clevenger and Erik Mohn/USA TODAY NETWORK

Churchill Downs will suspend racing on Wednesday and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance


NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.