Bob Baffert has been suspended from entering horses at Churchill Downs – the home of the Kentucky Derby – for two years, effective immediately.
The news was announced on Wednesday in a statement from Churchill Downs Incorporated, in which it cited confirmation that a second sample taken from Medina Spirit after his win in this year’s ‘Run for the Roses’ had tested positive for the anti-inflammatory medication betamethasone.
Hall of Fame trainer Baffert had already been suspended by Churchill pending the conclusion of an investigation into the matter by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, with Medina Spirit facing disqualification.
Baffert last month issued a statement via his lawyer Craig Robertson, in which he revealed an anti-fungal ointment prescribed for a case of dermatitis could potentially be to blame for the failed test, as his own investigations continued.
According to The New York Times, Clark Brewster, an attorney representing owner Amr Zedan, has said the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has agreed to send the original blood and urine tests to an independent and accredited laboratory for further analysis in order to determine whether the specimens contain other components that prove the source to be the anti-fungal ointment.
Announcing its position, Churchill’s statement read: “Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) announced today the suspension of Bob Baffert for two years effective immediately through the conclusion of the 2023 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack. The suspension prohibits Baffert, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables, from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all CDI-owned racetracks.
“This decision follows the confirmation by attorneys representing Bob Baffert of the presence of betamethasone, a prohibited race-day substance, in Medina Spirit’s bloodstream on the day of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby in violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols and CDI’s terms and conditions for racing.”
CDI said it reserves the right to extend Baffert’s suspension “if there are additional violations in any racing jurisdiction”, adding that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission “has the sole authority to disqualify Medina Spirt as the winner of Kentucky Derby 147” and that it was its understanding the commission is pursuing the completion of its investigation of the matter in accordance with its rules and regulations.
The Kentucky Public Protection Cabinet, a state agency, posted on its Facebook page: “The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission does not provide comment or updates on the status of ongoing investigations. The KHRC values fairness and transparency, and will provide information to the media and public at the close of an investigation.”
Medina Spirit has run once since the Kentucky Derby, finishing third in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. The colt was allowed to run in the race after Baffert and his legal team agreed to out of training testing, which Medina Spirit passed.
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Bob Baffert has pointed to a skin ointment as a possible source for the positive test of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit.
Baffert announced on Sunday that his Churchill Downs hero had failed a post-race test and that his sample had been found to contain 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory medication betamethasone.
The Hall of Fame trainer insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing and stated at the weekend Medina Spirit had not been given betamethasone to his knowledge, calling the failed test a “gut punch”.
On Tuesday, Baffert issued a statement via his lawyer Craig Robertson in which he revealed an anti-fungal ointment prescribed for a case of dermatitis could potentially be to blame, as his own investigations continue.
He said: “Following the Santa Anita Derby, Medina Spirit developed dermatitis on his hind end. I had him checked out by my veterinarian who recommended the use of an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax.
“The veterinary recommendation was to apply this ointment daily to give the horse relief, help heal the dermatitis and prevent it from spreading. My barn followed this recommendation and Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax once a day up until the day before the Kentucky Derby.
“Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone. While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results. As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information.
“As I have stated, my investigation is continuing and we do not know for sure if this ointment was the cause of the test results or if the test results are even accurate, as they have yet to be confirmed by the split sample.
“However, again, I have been told that a finding of a small amount, such as 21 picograms, could be consistent with application of this type of ointment.”
Baffert added: “In the meantime, I want to reiterate two points I made when this matter initially came to light.
“First, I had no knowledge of how betamethasone could have possibly found its way into Medina Spirit (until now), and this has never been a case of attempting to game the system or get an unfair advantage.
“Second, horse racing must address its regulatory problem when it comes to substances which can innocuously find their way into a horse’s system at the picogram (which is a trillionth of a gram) level. Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win, and my pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have had no effect on the outcome of the race.
“Medina Spirit is a deserved champion and I will continue to fight for him.”
Baffert plans to run Medina Spirit in the second leg of the Triple Crown, Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, with the colt having arrived at the track on Monday.
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Bob Baffert intends to run Medina Spirit in the Preakness Stakes – and has cited “cancel culture” after the Kentucky Derby winner failed a drug test.
Baffert insisted he is innocent of any wrongdoing after Medina Spirit tested positive for 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone.
“It did not happen, that’s the really seriously troubling part of it,” he told Fox News.
“These horses don’t live in a bubble. People are touching them. You went from the Derby – after the Derby everybody is up there touching them. There are so many ways they could get contaminated.”
Baffert announced the failed test on Sunday morning, describing the results as a “gut punch”, but officials at Churchill Downs barred him from making any further entries there.
The draw for Saturday’s Preakness was delayed by 24 hours until Tuesday, while Medina Spirit’s participation is in apparent doubt.
But Baffert said: “They (Medina Spirit and stablemate Concert Tour) are on their way now, they should arrive this afternoon. I’m going to run two horses.
“I haven’t heard anything officially – they haven’t told me anything. I know Churchill Downs came out with that statement, that was pretty harsh.
“With all the noise – we live in a different world now – this America is different. It was like a ‘cancel culture’ kind of thing, so they are reviewing it.”
Baffert is currently awaiting the results of the split (B) sample.
“I haven’t been told anything – we’re prepared to run,” he added.
“There’s a long process. There will a split sample, then there’ll be a hearing – it will take months. This isn’t done with a week – it’s a long period.
“We did not cheat to win the Kentucky Derby.”
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Bob Baffert has insisted he is innocent of any wrongdoing after announcing Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit has tested positive for 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone.
The Hall of Fame trainer told reporters at a press conference on Sunday that the findings – which are above the permitted raceday level of 10 picograms in Kentucky – were a “gut punch”.
He said: “All I can tell you is that betamethasone, even though it’s an allowed drug, a therapeutic medication, we did not give it, my veterinarian or anyone here.
“Medina Spirit has never been treated with betamethasone, (and) I cannot believe that I’m here before you guys. I never thought I’d be here. Yesterday (Saturday) I got the biggest gut punch I’ve had in racing, for something that I didn’t do, and it’s really disturbing – it’s an injustice to the horse.
“I don’t know what’s going on in racing right now, but something’s not right. I don’t feel embarrassed, I feel like I was robbed.
“We are going to do our own investigation – we are going to be transparent with the racing commission, like we have always been. We are going to show them everything – and one thing about California, everything is documented every day, what the horses get.
“This horse was never treated with that, and he’s a great horse, he doesn’t deserve this – he ran a gallant race and to me. I just feel like this last 18 months, what I’ve gone through, it’s like all of us right here, just imagine going to work every day and they test you every day for these levels, these contamination levels and they told you if you tested positive you were going to be fired. That’s the way I feel.
“I do not feel safe to train – it’s getting worse and to me going forward how do I enjoy the training? How do I move forward from this, knowing that something like this can happen and it’s just a complete injustice?
“But I’m going to fight it tooth and nail, because I owe it to the horse; I owe it to the owner and I owe it to our industry.
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I know everybody is not out to get me, but there is definitely something wrong. Why is it happening to me?”
Baffert added: “We know we didn’t do it, and that’s the thing. We didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t know how it got in his system, if it’s in his system or was there a mistake – we are going to get to the bottom of it.”
Ridden by John Velazquez, Medina Spirit made all in the Churchill Downs showpiece to beat Mandaloun by half a length, giving Baffert his seventh victory in the ‘Run for the Roses’.
Officials at Churchill Downs said Baffert would be suspended from making entries at the track and that, if the findings are upheld, Mandaloun would be promoted to first place.
A statement read: “It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols.
“The connections of Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample, and we understand they intend to do so. To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.
“Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate.
“Churchill Downs will not tolerate it. Given the seriousness of the alleged offence, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack. We will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s investigation before taking further steps.”
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Where once there was meaningful rivalry, now there is renewed omnipotence. A picture spread through social media early this year of a grinning trainer talking on a mobile phone atop a dead horse has had even more effect than its horrified recipients throughout the horse world could have imagined, writes Tony Stafford.
Up until Cheltenham, the remnants of the Gordon Elliott stables, which had run 321 horses from the time jump racing resumed after the initial stopping through Covid19, was still punching most of its weight under the name if not the supreme control of Mrs Denise Foster.
Traditionally though, every late April/early May the Punchestown Festival has ended any wistful hope that the brash Elliott with his legion of major owners, most notably the O’Leary family’s Gigginstown House Stud, might finally gain a first Irish NH trainers’ championship.
Last week, respectable second place seemed a long way off, that eminence supplanted by the exploits of Henry De Bromhead, he of the surreal Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National hat-trick over the previous six weeks.
But now we were in Willie Mullins territory and the week was just perfectly situated to welcome back the trainer’s previously stricken stable jockey. Paul Townend had seen his advantage over the challenging and seemingly unstoppable Rachael Blackmore slip to less than a handful of winners with seven days to go.
Mullins doesn’t do Cross-Country races, of which there are four over the five days of Punchestown, but he does do everything else. And how!
Eight races are staged each day, leaving 36 to go for. Mullins, with five on the opening day and never fewer than three on the four succeeding instalments, put together the unbelievable tally of 19 wins from the available 36 – so more than 50%. He did have 87 runners, very often multiple chances, then, and another 21 of his horses made the first four, that’s 40 win or placed. Place money at the meeting goes down to sixth and he had another ten of those, so altogether 50 in the money.
In all, Mullins’ runners brought back a total haul over the week of €1,470,950. For the season his 182 winners brought almost €5.5 million.
Elliott’s monetary reward for his 155 wins was €2,863,875 at the time of his suspension. Add to that Mrs Foster’s 16 victories in 205 runs from 135 of the Elliott horses was another €412,860.
But the magic which initially lingered after the paper – if not actual – change of control all but died last week. Mrs Foster’s 36 runners at Punchestown brought no wins, three second places, two thirds and a single fourth and a mere total of €52k. Nineteen of her runners either finished outside the first ten or failed to finish.
You would think that everyone associated with the Closutton steamroller would have been delighted, but what was probably the most spectacular of his victories, in terms of style of performance and the circumstances behind it, was a cause of regret for that horse’s connections.
When Mark Smith first moved to his present house in Essex 40 years ago the one-time Foreign Exchange trader met a neighbour who was soon to become his best friend. Mark owned Balasani, a horse that won the Stayers’ Hurdle for Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, and soon he and his friend, John Coleman, regularly went racing together.
Then a few years back John became gravely ill with cancer by which time he had bought Klassical Dream. Sadly he was never able to see the horse on the track – it raced in the name of his widow Joanne but was a family horse with his two sons and a nephew taking shares. They insisted that Mark should also accept a share.
It was bitter-sweet for the team when Klassical Dream won his maiden hurdle first time up at Leopardstown’s St Stephen’s Day fixture in 2018 and he duly went on to take three Grade 1 prizes, at Leopardstown in February, Cheltenham’s Supreme Novice, and Punchestown’s Champion Novice Hurdle.
The 2019/20 season proved a massive anti-climax, the ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite racing only twice and beaten at odds-on behind less talented stable companions. Cheltenham 2021 was originally on the agenda but that came and went without him, after which the plan was laid for Thursday’s big stayers’ hurdle over three miles. Klassical Dream had never raced over much further than two miles and would have a 487-day absence to overcome.
Mark spoke to Willie a few days before the race and on Thursday morning before leaving home for a funeral of another good friend he tried unsuccessfully to reach the trainer. Mullins left a recorded message when he could and Mark says it was very similar to the previous one.
I’ve heard it and in it Willie says he would be happy if the horse finished in the first six but above all the priority is that he comes home sound. Mark interpreted this to mean the trainer wasn’t sure he would make the first six.
Mark relayed the news to the other owners, and before leaving had what he calls a “suicide throwaway 50 quid” at around 17-1 when he first noticed the price was dropping. He had expected to be home in time to watch the race, but was still at the reception at the off, so watched it on his phone.
In what was described as the biggest gamble of the week, 20-1 down to 5-1, Klassical Dream under Patrick Mullins, and one of four stable-mates in the race, cantered into the lead going to the last hurdle and drew easily clear of Mullins’ James Du Berlais for a nine-length victory.
There was more than a degree of consolation that the horse had come back with such a bang, and not least for winning the €147,500 winner’s prize, but also some irritation that the message might have been a little more accurate.
These words will be written before Mark and the trainer have their next conversation. “I knew I shouldn’t talk to Willie, who has always been so helpful in all our dealings, as I would probably have lost my temper. None of the other owners are racing people in the way John was and of course I am, and their delight at their horse coming back in such a dramatic manner easily outweighs for them any irritation that they might have had a bigger bet if they knew a bit more beforehand”.
The Irish dominated Cheltenham and Aintree and it was the Flat trainers from that side of the wet divide who collected the first two Classics of the season at Newmarket.
First Jim Bolger, 79, and jockey and son-in-law Kevin Manning, 54, took the 2,000 Guineas with brave home-bred Poetic Flare, 16-1 and a son of Dawn Approach, also a Bolger home-bred and winner of the same Classic.
Then yesterday, Aidan O’Brien, a pupil and amateur rider for Bolger before embarking on his own stellar training career, made it seven wins in the 1,000 Guineas. His second string 10-1 shot Mother Earth, ridden by 50-year-old Frankie Dettori, made use of her greater experience to run past long-time race favourite and stable-companion Santa Barbara.
Like Love last year, who came to the “1,000” with three wins from seven juvenile appearances, Mother Earth put in plenty of creditable runs at two but in her case for just one win, although second at the Breeders’ Cup was hardly a negligible effort.
Unlike Love, though, who went on to Epsom and then York for two more emphatic wide-margin Group 1 victories, Mother Earth is being pencilled in for the Irish 1,000. Santa Barbara, who understandably showed signs of greenness - she raced only in one maiden as a two-year-old – goes straight to Epsom.
It was quite a weekend for big numbers and veterans. Bob Baffert, now 68 years old, made it a seventh Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit, at just over 12-1, made all under John Velazquez, who is in his 50th year. The colt had won only once previously too, so it was stretching credibility after three defeats that he could win the most important three-year-old race of the year in the USA.
But it was even more amazing given that two runs back, in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit had been crushed by eight lengths by another Baffert colt, Life Is Good, who was unable through injury to get to Churchill Downs.
The old prototype for winning the “Run For The Roses” was plenty of race-conditioning as a two-year-old, but Medina Spirit didn’t appear until January this year. That was also the starting-point for Life Is Good. That day, Medina Spirit came up short by only three-quarters of a length and he must have been energised when he noticed that his nemesis was not in the field.
Still pictures of the race finish show the Churchill Downs grandstands were packed. I just can’t wait for that to happen here - sooner rather than later I trust!
Medina Spirit gave Bob Baffert a record-breaking seventh Kentucky Derby victory with a gutsy front-running performance under John Velazquez.
On a colt that cost just $1,000 as a yearling in 2019 and $35,000 to his current connections last year, Velazquez was masterful from the front – just as he was in the Covid-delayed renewal in September aboard the Baffert-trained Authentic.
With a crowd of 51,838 in attendance at Churchill Downs, Soup And Sandwich and Mandaloun were never far away, with favourite Essential Quality also having a smooth trip.
The latter made his move rounding the home turn in the hands of Luis Saez, as Hot Rod Charlie also joined the fight.
But in almost a repeat of Authentic’s win when Tiz The Law looked like going past, Velazquez had judged everything to perfection and his mount answered every call to hold off Mandaloun. Hot Rod Charlie was third and Essential Quality fourth.
Baffert – who had been forced to rule the exciting Life Is Good out of the race following a setback – told NBC Sports: “I knew he was training well, but I’m really surprised – when I saw him on an easy lead, I kept waiting for these horses to come at him.
“But Johnny had him in the perfect spot and if you have him on the lead he’ll fight. When those horses came to him – I cannot believe he won this race. This little horse, that’s him – he was all guts.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’m so spoiled bringing these heavy-duty horses in here, but that little horse he’s got a heart, such a big heart.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet (setting new record), I love the record but it’s one of those things – I’m so thrilled, you just never know if you are ever going to be back. It’s so difficult.
“To win a seventh – we stay focused and working at it. I couldn’t be prouder of my team. But that little horse, he won it today, he doesn’t know how much he cost. You know what, what a little racehorse – he was all racehorse today.”
Victory capped a tremendous two days for the masterful Velazquez, who landed the Kentucky Oaks on Friday night with Malathaat.
Winning the Derby for the fourth time, he said: “There’s no words to describe it – what an incredible feeling, this doesn’t get old.
“I said to Bob we’re going to put him on the lead and see what happens and I think he’s the horse to beat. It worked out.”
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World heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury will be at Churchill Downs on Saturday to watch a horse named in his honour, King Fury, run in the Kentucky Derby.
Fury, whose Richard Spencer-trained namesake finished ninth on just his second start in the St Leger at Doncaster last season, is currently in Las Vegas awaiting news on his mega-fight with fellow Brit Anthony Joshua.
King Fury is trained by Kenny McPeek and arrives on the back of a Grade Three win last time out. The trainer came up with the name, having watched Fury’s second fight against Deontay Wilder.
“That was such a great fight and so fun to watch, and he seems like a really fun guy,” McPeek told ESPN.
“The other thing is when you name colts – especially really well-bred, expensive colts – you want to name them with a strong name.”
McPeek had been trying to contact Fury via social media without success until a message caught the boxer’s eye on Wednesday. McPeek subsequently offered Fury VIP tickets to watch the race.
“It’s always something I’ve been interested in, the biggest horse race in the world,” said Fury.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby, never had the opportunity to do so. This is the opportunity to do so.
“I’m really looking forward to going down there and meeting King Fury and getting a win because we only do winning, we don’t do losing here at Gypsy King Headquarters.
“I hope it’s a big colt. I will see him Saturday – looking forward to going down there.
“I’m going to walk the horse out, of course I am. How badass would it be, you own a horse and the Gypsy King, Tyson Fury, the undefeated, undisputed lineal champion is walking your horse into the arena?”
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Wesley Ward hopes to have star sprinter Golden Pal back to his best in time for the Coolmore Nunthorpe after being forced to rule him out of an intended appearance at Royal Ascot.
Narrowly beaten by The Lir Jet when runner-up in the Norfolk Stakes at the Royal meeting in June, the son of Uncle Mo went one better in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at his trainer’s home track of Keeneland in November.
Ward had hoped to give the three-year-old a prep run this spring before returning to Ascot for the King’s Stand – but Golden Pal will not be back until later in the season after suffering a minor setback.
“It’s disappointing as we were so excited for the King’s Stand, but you know how these fast horses are and we’re happy to have him bounce back,” said the Washington-born trainer.
“He’s good again now and should have his first start (of the year) around Ascot time (in America).”
Having saddled both Acapulco and Lady Aurelia to finish second in the Nunthorpe at York, Ward has everything crossed Golden Pal can break his duck in August, adding: “I’ve had too many seconds in that race – I’ve got to get one!”
While Golden Pal is not Royal Ascot-bound, Ward is preparing another strong team for the showpiece meeting.
Campanelle, who provided her trainer with a fourth win in the Queen Mary Stakes last year, is being readied to take on the colts in the Commonwealth Cup this time around.
Her stablemate Kimari was second in the Commonwealth Cup last season – and could this season contest the Diamond Jubilee, having won twice in her homeland already in 2021.
“Campanelle was going to run at Keeneland last week, but she just wasn’t quite right on the day,” Ward said.
“There’s a race in May we can use as her prep and then we’ll be ready for Ascot.
“I need to talk to the owners of Kimari, but she’d be another possible to travel over.”
Another potentially fascinating addition to Ward’s Ascot squad is Like The King, who impressed in the Grade Three Jeff Ruby Stakes at Turfway Park last month.
However, his first target is to provide a trainer more renowned for training sprinters with victory in the Kentucky Derby on May 1 – a race for which Like The King sits fourth on the points leaderboard after the completion of the qualifying races.
Ward said: “He’ll have his next two works on the dirt, this weekend and next weekend, because he’s 100 per cent heading for the Derby.
“He could possibly be a Royal Ascot starter as well, though. I’ve always wanted to have a runner/winner in the St James’s Palace and we worked this guy on the grass last week and he had an ultra-impressive turf work.
“We’ll see how his next two works are on the dirt and how he runs in the Derby, but he’s a big, rangy colt and the St James’s Palace would be a great race for him.”
Ward is still in the early stages of assembling his team of Royal Ascot two-year-olds, with the juvenile turf races at Keeneland not getting under way until next week.
But he enjoyed a double on the dirt on Thursday, with Averly Jane already on the shortlist for a trip across the Atlantic following a scintillating display.
“Averly Jane was very, very impressive. She kind of geared down and won in the fastest time of the meet,” said Ward.
“She had only had three fast works in her lifetime before she ran, which is what made it so impressive – there’s going to be a big upside with her, I think.
“I spoke with the owners and she would be one we’re targeting at the Albany Stakes at Ascot as it looks like she’ll go a bit further.
“We have the first turf races for the two-year-old next week – Thursday for the fillies and Friday for the colts.
“We hope we have a couple of other nice ones to run then.”
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It’s been a topsy-turvy world for everyone this year, writes Tony Stafford. I bet the connections of Tiz The Law, 7-10 favourite for Saturday night’s re-scheduled Kentucky Derby, run in 2020 as the second rather than first leg of the Triple Crown, wished the race had simply been erased from the schedules. Instead it took place in September rather than the first Saturday in May and the Bob Baffert-trained Authentic outstayed the favourite for a memorable sixth win in the race for his silver-haired trainer.
The Americans have not found it within their powers to re-write the programme books as their European counterparts did to keep their Classic races, if not to the normal schedule, certainly in the prescribed order.
The Stateside authorities changed the distance and position of the Belmont Stakes, but kept it in June, racing having resumed over there a good deal earlier in some jurisdictions than others and well before France, the UK and Ireland in that order.
The Belmont, normally the last leg and over a mile and a half of the biggest oval in North America was reduced in distance to nine furlongs. The Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz The Law was untroubled to beat nine rivals there and extend his career stats to five wins in six starts. He embellished it further with a facile win in the Travers Stakes – normally the August date which identifies the summer champion among the three-year-old colts – two months and more after the Belmont.
By the time the three-race, five-week war of attrition is concluded on that June afternoon in New York, normally most of the Classic generation that managed to keep all three dates are on their knees. It takes a good one to survive it.
Two years ago, Justify was Baffert’s fifth winner of the race and his second to complete the generally-elusive Triple Crown. The Belmont, following the Preakness two weeks after the Derby and then the race in New York three weeks further on, proved to be within Justify’s capabilities, but no more. His career came to a full stop after a training injury soon after, but at least he could be retired as an unbeaten winner of the Triple Crown with six out of six on his scorecard.
Three years earlier Baffert was immediately denied an unbeaten campaign for American Pharoah once he was beaten on debut in a maiden the previous autumn. But by the time he’d won his Triple Crown, his tally was seven for eight, with all bar one of the wins in Grade 1 company – the exception a first-time three-year-old cruise in a Grade 2 to get the competitive juices flowing again.
He was tough, too. He won the Haskell Invitational in early August at Monmouth Park, but then as so many before him, got beat in the Travers at Saratoga, for good reason known as the Graveyard race for Triple Crown race winners or Horse of the Year candidates. He bounced back after a sensible break with an impressive win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before drawing stumps and preceding his younger fellow TC hero into stud duties at Ashford Farm.
I was on hand – for the only time - to see Baffert’s third Kentucky Derby win in 2002 with War Emblem in the green and white stripes of Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation. That 20-1 chance made all the running. Baffert had already sent out Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet the following year to score. I’ve no doubt that having put away Tiz The Law in a thrilling set-to up the Churchill Downs home straight, many would have been hoping to see them do battle again at Pimlico racecourse in Baltimore for the Preakness, but immediate post-race reaction suggested one or even both might miss the final leg.
That race, normally run two weeks after the Derby but this year four, unlike the Belmont but in common with the Derby, has retained its traditional distance of one mile and three-sixteenths. This was the course and distance over which California-based Seabiscuit memorably beat the East Coast champion War Admiral, the 1937 Kentucky Derby winner, in that famed match race. This of course was made doubly treasured by Laura Hillenbrand’s book and the film in which Tobey Maguire and Gary Stevens – as good and natural an actor as he has been for so many years an outstanding jockey – played the roles as the great underdog’s jockeys.
As they turned for home in that 1938 race, the big favourite War Emblem had drawn upsides and most of the massive crowd expected him to pull away. Instead it was Seabiscuit, who had become a much-loved symbol of the American working class in those Depression years, who gained the upper hand: courage and toughness outpointing class and evidently superior breeding.
Saturday’s Classic was virtually a re-make of the Seabiscuit film. Two horses came around the long turn between the back stretch and the home run with the favourite poised on the outside and the rest clearly irrelevant. Authentic had moved quickly from an ordinary start into an early lead from his wide position, so it was reasonable watching live to think he could be swamped when Tiz The Law, always well placed, came with his customary wide run to take his rightful place at the top of the podium.
But as with Seabiscuit, this relative underdog, third favourite at a shade over 8-1, kept going much the better for a length and a quarter success.
Going into the race, Authentic, like the favourite, had suffered only a single reverse, in his case behind Honor A P in the Santa Anita Derby, turning over an earlier result between the pair. Understandably, Honor A P edged him for second best in the Derby market, but there can be no doubting the pecking order now, as Honor A P finished five lengths behind the winner in fourth.
A smaller-than-usual field contested the race this year. Normally it’s a bun-fight to qualify for one of the 20 available stalls. This time, only 15 turned up, reflecting that there are fewer untested dreams at this stage of the season from later-developing horses than is customary. What I did notice, possibly because of the smaller field and the fact that the runners have had more racing experience than is customary, hard-luck stories seemed minimal.
Also it was one of the fastest-ever Kentucky Derbys, the winner clocking 2 minutes 0.61 seconds. Secretariat in 1973 still holds the all-time best with 1 minute 59.4 seconds in his Triple Crown year. Monarchos in 2001 has the fastest electronic time, while in 1964 Northern Dancer, the ultimate sire of sires, most significantly the direct line, from his son Sadler’s Wells through to Galileo and then Frankel and the rest, clocked an even 2 minutes.
Other fast times were Spend A Buck, 2.00.2 in 1985 and Decidedly 2.00.4 in 1962. Authentic, with only five faster than him is right up there in historical terms, certainly in front of Baffert’s previous quintet, the less attritional, more even-tempo nature of the race – on a track that was riding fast – doubtless contributing.
Many times, beaten Kentucky Derby runners avoid the Preakness entirely. This year, of the nine horses beaten by Tiz The Law in the first leg of the Triple Crown, only two – neither in the shake-up on Saturday – tried again.
It would be eminently understandable should either or both the big two miss the Preakness in four weeks’ time. A great shame too as if they did clash they would surely provide another proper shoot-out. Considering, though, how much money is on offer for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the autumn and how easily future stallion fees can be affected by reverses, maybe it’s more likely that we’ll have to wait for a definitive verdict of the Horse of the Year - Covid19 edition!
While the Kentucky Derby was taking all the attention over the water, Enable was fulfilling presumably her last public duties in the UK (she still has entries on British Champions’ Day – here’s hoping) before embarking on her final act of an epic career when easily landing the odds (1-14 are hardly odds!) in the September Stakes at Kempton Park.
She was quickly into the lead under Frankie Dettori and won easily from Kirstenbosch, owned by Luca Cumani’s Fittocks Stud. Lightly-raced and on the comeback trail after an interrupted career, Kirstenbosch looks sure to win more races for the James Fanshawe stable.
Meanwhile Enable will be preparing for her ultimate quest, aiming to add a third Arc win after last year’s agonising second to Waldgeist, interestingly on the same weekend as the Preakness. Dettori has been a fitting co-respondent in the mare’s final glorious chapter along with trainer John Gosden. How typical in sport that a younger rival has come along from out of nowhere – well, Ballydoyle! - to make this possibly the toughest of all her four challenges for the famed French race that has become the true European championship.
Love stands in her way, gloriously after three authoritative and sometimes wide margin wins at Group 1 level in the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks. I suppose there will be other challengers, but nobody loves a two-man (or woman) sporting tussle more than the viewing public. I’d love Enable to win but I don’t think Love will enable her to do so. If you see what I mean!
On an otherwise quiet weekend domestically, Haydock Park’s Group 1 race, the Betfair Sprint Cup, developed into a battle of the six-year-old geldings. The 5-2 favourite Dream Of Dreams, ridden by Oisin Murphy for the Sir Michael Stoute stable, got up in the closing stages to beat the Archie Watson-trained and Hollie Doyle-ridden 25-1 chance Glen Shiel, the pair leaving the three-year-olds Golden Horde, Art Power and Lope Y Fernandez well behind. The same went for two previous winners, The Tin Man and Hello Youmzain.
A race with rather more significance for the future was Yesterday’s Prix du Moulin de Longchamp on the first weekend since the racing roadshow decamped back from Deauville and its chewed-up terrain to the capital. Only six turned out, but it was a high-class affair. The Andre Fabre-trained Persian King (by Kingman) turned away Pinatubo by just over a length, with Circus Maximus a long way back in third but still ahead of Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Siskin who seems a shadow of the early-season version.
Persian King had been three lengths in arrears to Circus Maximus when they were third and fourth behind unbeaten Palace Pier in the Prix Jacques le Marois (also Group 1) three weeks earlier over the same trip at Deauville. This performance requires some re-alignment among the division, but it is clear that Palace Pier stands alone at the top of the mile rankings. Those three Irish fillies, Fancy Blue, Alpine Star and Peaceful, who dominated the finish of the Prix de Diane over the extended mile and a quarter at Chantilly, might prove more of a test to Palace Pier than any of yesterday’s Moulin contestants should they be given the opportunity to tackle him.
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