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.

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.