Brooklyn Strong: from Philly to the Kentucky Derby quickly

AP Photo
1 Comment

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.”

KORNACKI TO DERBY

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.

BLACK JOCKEYS HONORED

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.

LAST CALL

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.

ANTHEM SINGER

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 NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
Getty Images
0 Comments

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

Betway Challow Hurdle Day - Newbury Racecourse
Getty Images
0 Comments

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.