Army Wife springs Black-Eyed Susan upset at Pimlico

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BALTIMORE — Army Wife pulled off a mild upset in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday at Pimlico Race Course as embattled trainer Bob Baffert’s favored Beautiful Gift finished a well-beaten seventh.

Mike Maker, a former assistant trainer for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, saddled the winner. Army Wife beat Willful Woman by 2 3/4 lengths for her third victory and first in a graded stakes and Maker’s first Black-Eyed Susan.

“She had been a hard-luck horse,” said Maker, who also won the Pimlico Special on the undercard with Last Judgment. “Her whole career it seems like always something happens. But today, it worked out great.”

Jockey Joel Rosario rode the winner, who enjoyed a smooth rail trip for most of the running, though he had to check lightly to find a seam between two competitors.

“She’s a really nice horse – it seemed like she was getting really good over the track,” Rosario said. “One point she looked around a little bit, but she was really great after that.”

“The rail seems like a good spot to be today,” Maker said. “Got the 1-hole and Joel did his usual good job.”

Army Wife, who went off at 9-2, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.63 and paid $11, $5.80 and $4. The 3-year-old filly earned $150,000 to more than double her career earnings.

Beautiful Gift was cleared to run less than an hour before the race after Baffert agreed to submit to additional testing and monitoring for his horses following Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed postrace drug test. Medina Spirit and fellow Preakness runner Concert Tour also passed the three rounds of prerace testing mandated by Maryland racing officials.

“Obviously, we are disappointed,” said Jimmy Barnes, assistant trainer to Baffert, who said jockey John Velazquez said Beautiful Gift simply didn’t respond when asked for more run. “We thought she would run a little better.” Velazquez also has the mount on Medina Spirit in the Preakness.

Friday’s racing came on a brilliant spring day in the wake of Thursday’s announcement by the Centers for Disease Control to relax COVID-19 protocols for fully vaccinated persons, and most fans took advantage of the newly relaxed rules. But attendance was capped at 10,000 spectators, just a fraction of typical Preakness weekend levels.

Saturday’s Preakness Stakes returns to its traditional mid-May spot on the racing calendar after the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the race to October last year.

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

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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.”