Epicenter wins Travers Stakes decisively at Saratoga

America's Best Racing
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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Favored Epicenter stormed down the stretch past his rivals and won the 153rd running of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

The runner-up in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Epicenter, with Joel Rosario aboard, won his second stakes in a month at Saratoga and covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes, 0.72 seconds, easily beating Cyberknife and Zandon to capture the $1.25 million Grade 1 race for 3-year-olds on a picture-perfect day. Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike was fourth.

Epicenter began to close on leader Cyberknife as the field neared the top of the stretch and then took control, pulling away by 5 1/4 lengths at the finish to give trainer Steve Asmussen his first victory in the so-called Midsummer Derby.

Gilded Age, Artorius, Ain’t Life Grand, and Early Voting completed the order of finish.

The eight-horse field was stacked with Preakness winner Early Voting and Haskell winner Cyberknife, who set the early pace. Chad Brown, leading trainer at Saratoga with 34 wins entering the day, saddled three horses – Early Voting, Zandon, and Artorius – in his bid to win the Travers for the first time.

This was the first race for Rich Strike, the stunning Kentucky Derby winner at 80-1 odds with jockey Sonny Leon, since he finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes in June.

Early Voting did not run in the Derby and skipped the Belmont, making the Travers the first time he had raced against Rich Strike. Both were far behind the winner, who staked his claim as the top 3-year-old in the country.

A month ago Epicenter, owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, won a four-horse stretch duel that included Early Voting and Zandon in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, the traditional prep race for the Travers. Epicenter charged along the outside as the field of four was bunched together across the track at the top of the stretch, then pulled away to hold off Zandon by 1 1/2 lengths.

The Travers culminated a customary big day of racing at the venerable track in upstate New York. In other stakes races: even-money favorite Technical Analysis led the entire way and held off Fluffy Socks by a half-length to win the Grade 2 Ballston Spa for fillies and mares 4 years old and upward on the turf; Cody’s Wish overtook overwhelming favorite Jackie’s Warrior in the final strides to capture the Forego by 1 1/4 lengths, handing runner-up Jackie’s Warrior his first loss in five starts this year and depriving him of his fourth Grade 1 triumph at Saratoga in his final race at the track; Jack Christopher held off Gunite to take the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial; Malathaat charged past Search Results to win the Grade 1 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares 4 years old and up; and Gufo came from far back to beat Mira Mission in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 Sword Dancer on the inner turf course.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

Matt Stone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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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Abbey Cutrer/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.