Derby-winning rider Leon serving suspension by Ohio stewards

0 Comments

The jockey of Kentucky Derby upset winner Rich Strike is serving a four-day suspension handed down by Ohio racing stewards that his agent says won’t prevent him from riding the horse in next week’s Preakness.

Stewards suspended Sonny Leon last week for careless riding during the third race on April 27 at Thistledown Racecourse, east of Cleveland, during which they determined he “deliberately and aggressively” steered One Glamorous Gal toward the rail to block other horses in the stretch. Leon interfered with jockey Alexander Chavez aboard Ultra Rays, the ruling stated, and One Glamorous Gal was disqualified from third place and finished in sixth.

It is Leon’s fifth suspension since last fall and includes a 15-day penalty in West Virginia for providing a false and altered document. Leon’s original eight-day suspension in Ohio was reduced to four because he did not appeal; he began serving the penalty on Monday and it ends Thursday.

The suspension was first reported by the Courier Journal in Louisville.

The Ohio suspension applies to all states, but agent Jeff Perrin told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it will not prevent the Venezuelan jockey from riding designated races. Perrin added that Leon is scheduled to return Friday with six mounts at Belterra Park in Cincinnati and additional weekend rides at Churchill Downs in Louisville among many requests following his stunning victory.

Leon’s future includes another ride aboard Rich Strike in the Preakness on May 21 in Baltimore if the horse is entered, Perrin added. Messages left with trainer Eric Reed seeking comment were not immediately returned.

“Our job is to go where we need to be, but we don’t make those decisions,” Perrin said, comparing the stewards’ decision to a technical foul in basketball. “But that horse will be sticking with him for sure. You can never forget the things you did that got you to ride in the Kentucky Derby and the people that helped get you there.”

Leon rode 80-1 long shot Rich Strike to a three quarters-length upset victory over 4-1 favorite Epicenter in the Derby on Saturday after his last-minute entry following a scratch and a start from the No. 20 outside post position. The chestnut colt paid $163.60 as the second-biggest underdog to win the Derby behind Donerail in 1913, who returned $184.90.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced Wednesday that all samples from the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks came back clean. A year ago, Derby-winning Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance not permitted on race day and was later disqualified.

Derby runner-up Epicenter and filly Secret Oath, who won the Oaks, are set to run in the Preakness, respective trainers Steve Asmussen and D. Wayne Lukas confirmed.

Watch the Preakness on Saturday, May 21 from 2 to 4 p.m. ET on CNBC and from 4 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Coverage is also available on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
Getty Images
0 Comments

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

Betway Challow Hurdle Day - Newbury Racecourse
Getty Images
0 Comments

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.