American Pharoah, Todd Pletcher elected to Hall of Fame

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The highlight of Bob Baffert’s Hall of Fame career as a thoroughbred trainer happened six years ago. Nothing else comes close.

“Winning the Triple Crown with American Pharoah was the greatest sports moment of my life,” said Baffert, fresh from winning his seventh Kentucky Derby. “It was so emotional and such a terrific thing for racing. He deserves all the accolades he gets.”

The greatest accolade came at Wednesday’s announcement that American Pharoah has been elected to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher and 13-time champion steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher also were elected.

American Pharoah ended racing’s 37-year Triple Crown drought when he swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 2015. A bay colt bred in Kentucky by owner Zayat Stables, American Pharoah went on to win the Haskell Invitational and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Coupled with his victories earlier in the year in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, he was voted Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male for 2015, a year after he was crowned as the top 2-year-old.

Overall, American Pharoah posted a career record of 9-1-0 from 11 starts and earned $8,650,300. He now stands at stud in Kentucky.

“He’s certainly among the all-time greats. I don’t think there is any question about that,” Baffert said in a release from the Hall of Fame. “He did everything so effortlessly and with such class. The way he moved, his mechanics were absolutely flawless.”

The 53-year-old Pletcher holds records for career earnings ($405,791,977) and Eclipse Awards and ranks seventh in wins (5,118). He’s won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017), and the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), and Tapwrit (2017). Pletcher also has won 11 Breeders’ Cup races and has led all North American trainers in earnings 10 times.

Since he struck out on his own after breaking into the thoroughbred racing business as an assistant for D. Wayne Lukas from 1989-95, Pletcher has won 60 individual meet training titles and, according to Equibase data, has won 708 graded stakes, including 166 Grade 1s.

“I’m really humbled to be elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s an incredible honor,” Pletcher said. “Training horses is all I ever wanted to do. I remember being 11 or 12 and telling my mom I wanted to train and she said it was wonderful. From that point on with her endorsement I never thought of doing anything else.”

Fisher, 57, won his first race as a trainer in 1988 at Middleburg, Virginia, and has been a dominant force atop the National Steeplechase Association standings for the past two decades. Fisher has 593 career steeplechase victories, ranks second all-time in purse earnings with more than $17.8 million, and is the only trainer in steeplechase history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings in a year, something he’s done five times.

Among his champions was two-time Eclipse Award winner and Hall of Famer Good Night Shirt, one of only three horses to earn $1 million in steeplechase racing. Fisher also trained Eclipse Award winners Scorpiancer (2017) and Moscato (2020).

“I was terrible in school and didn’t want to be there. I loved riding and I love training,” said Fisher, whose father, John, also was a trainer. “I’ve had some wonderful and patient owners and great talent in the barn. I’m pretty darn lucky.”

American Pharoah and Pletcher were selected in the contemporary category in their first year of eligibility. Fisher was chosen by the museum’s steeplechase review committee, which meets once every four years.

The class of 2021 will be enshrined Aug. 6 in Saratoga Springs, New York, along with the 2020 inductees: trainer Mark Casse; jockey Darrel McHargue; thoroughbreds Tom Bowling and Wise Dan; and Alice Headley Chandler, J. Keene Daingerfield Jr. and George D. Widener Jr. in the “Pillars of the Turf” category. Last year’s induction ceremony was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ceremony this year will be broadcast live on the museum’s website. An announcement regarding public attendance will be made later.

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.”