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.

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland


To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Qatar Prix de Arc de Triomphe
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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.