Prat honors commitment to ride Hot Rod Charlie in Belmont

Flavien Prat honors commitment to ride Hot Rod Charlie in Belmont Stakes
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK (AP) After Flavien Prat rode Hot Rod Charlie in the Kentucky Derby, he committed ride him again at the Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Doug O’Neill called Prat’s agent multiple times since to double check. When Prat won the Preakness aboard Rombauer, O’Neill made another call to triple check and was told once again the jockey would return to Hot Rod Charlie.

It’s the first time in 12 years a jockey chose not to ride the horse he won a Triple Crown race with in the next leg of the series.

“His agent never wavered,” O’Neill said. “The way Rombauer won, believe me, it’s human nature to be like, `Geez, how do we take off the Preakness horse for a horse that didn’t win the Derby?’ I think that’s a credit to Charlie and what Flavien thinks about Charlie.”

O’Neill chalks it up to loyalty, while Rombauer trainer Michael McCarthy called it a “non-issue.” All McCarthy did was add two-time Belmont-winning Hall of Famer John Velazquez to ride Rombauer.

“Obviously you win a Classic, you expect to kind of put the same team on the floor that got you there,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “That’s the horse they choose. I was aware of that right after the Preakness. We’re fine where we’re at.”

Prat’s agent, Brad Pegram, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment about the situation. The most recent example of a jockey switching like this was Calvin Borel in 2009, when he picked filly Rachel Alexandra over Kentucky Derby champion Mine That Bird – and won the Preakness with her.

“I was taken off horses after a Classic win but I don’t remember ever having that difficult a decision,” said retired jockey Jerry Bailey, now an analyst at NBC Sports. “That’s a tough call.”


Favorite Essential Quality took to the track at Belmont Park for the first time Wednesday morning, jogging just under the 1 1/2-mile distance he’s set to run in the race. Trainer Brad Cox said he heard “everything that you want to hear” from assistant Dustin Dugas who rode Essential Quality in the workout.

“He seemed to get over the ground pretty well,” Cox said. “He said he was very, very smooth.”

Essential Quality went off as the Derby favorite and finished fourth after a difficult trip. He opened as the 2-1 favorite in the field of eight for the Belmont.


If France Go de Ina pulls off a major upset in the Belmont, his owner, trainer and staff would cash in on a $1 million bonus from the New York Racing Association for any horse from Japan that wins the race. The Kentucky-bred colt who’s based in Japan missed the Derby and finished sixth in the Preakness.

“They were hoping originally to go to the Kentucky Derby from there, but that was impossible,” exercise rider and traveling assistant Masaki Tanako said through an interpreter. “Being nominated for the Triple Crown, you’re able to give it a good go for the other two. We figured we might as well take advantage of the other two nominations.”

Beyond the $1 million bonus, France Go de Ina is running for his owner and trainer’s home country that’s in a state of emergency because of the pandemic.

“In Japan, winning abroad is always a big thing kind of carrying that Team Japan spirit,” Tanako said. “With everything going on in Japan with the coronavirus right now, being able to come back with a big win like this would probably be very uplifting.”

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.