Horse Racing News and Notes: April 20, 2019

Just Like His Dad
American Pharoah, who captured the imagination of race fans worldwide with his Triple Crown triumph in 2015, is now in the breeding shed, producing a new generation of racehorses. On Friday, Maven, trained by Wesley Ward, took the first at Aqueduct, marking the first time progeny of one of the game’s all-time greats won a race in North America. Sent to post as the odds-on favorite in the 4 ½-furlong maiden sprint, Maven went straight to the lead under jockey Dylan Davis. The chestnut colt led the entire way, repelling a challenge from Lebda to win by a half-length.

“With the horse being by American Pharoah, everyone expects a lot and he ran really well,” Davis told “I was jogging and galloping him in the mornings, so I got a good feel for him. A huge thanks to the connections, I’m sure they’re looking for bigger and better things.”

Maven’s stay in the claiming ranks and North America is going to be short-lived as Ward plans to target the Norfolk Stakes at England’s Royal Ascot as his next start.

“I’m getting texts from everyone watching the race,” Ward told “It’s fantastic for racing, for Coolmore, for owner Richard Ravin and most importantly, for me. What I see is that he’s going to be a good sire. He’s had outstanding works over the Polytrack at Turfway which translates to turf.”

Day To Remember
Until now, racing enthusiasts in southern California remember September 2, 2018, as the day violence erupted at the beloved Del Mar racetrack.  Prior to the last race on the card, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said a man fired several rounds from a semiautomatic handgun when he was told that no more tickets for the Ice Cube concert were available. Deputies returned fire, and the man was taken to a hospital with unknown injuries.

Earlier that day, in Del Mar’s 10th race, a one-mile affair on its turf course, a young horse finished third despite being shuffled back and making the final turn three wide. That horse turned out to be none other than Richard Mandella’s Omaha Beach, the presumptive Kentucky Derby favorite who was the beaten favorite that day in a race won by, ironically enough, a horse named More Ice.

Wrona to Call Races in Prescott
One of the more picturesque and breathtaking venues in racing has a new life in 2019 as Arizona Downs begins racing with a meet that starts in mid-May and continues through Labor Day. Following a nine-year hiatus, the site of the old Yavapai Downs has been reconditioned and re-branded and is now ready to host a meet. Enter Wrona, considered one of North America’s most seasoned race callers who elected to spend his summer in the beautiful Prescott Valley.

“In this year of exploring fresh opportunities, it seems fitting to become associated with a brand-new project,” Wrona told “The racing industry is contracting in so many ways, so everybody should be supportive of a new track. There’s an air of anticipation and excitement surrounding Arizona Downs, and I’m looking forward to helping launch this new venture.”

The 53-year-old Australian-born Wrona has earned a reputation as one of the sport’s most colorful and entertaining announcers, weaving humor into precise calls. His simple proclamation of “Racing!” as the horses spring from the gate is among the best-known race-call signatures in the sport.

His extensive resume includes calling the action at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, Chicago’s Arlington Park, Retama and Lone Star Park in Texas, New Orleans’ Fair Grounds, Los Alamitos thoroughbreds and California’s Sonoma and Fresno fair meets.

Another Opening, Another Show

Two prominent tracks begin their thoroughbred meets this weekend, with Emerald Downs drawing the curtain on its 67-day meet in Auburn, Washington. Meanwhile, north of the border outside of Toronto, Woodbine opens its 133-day meet extending deep into December.

In honor of the track’s 24th season, festivities at Emerald Downs include a unique “24 Karat Giveaway” featuring drawings for a necklace, bracelet, earrings, and a specially engraved “24” ring.

The 2019 jockey colony figures to be strong with defending champion Rocco Bowen, currently awaiting medical clearance, poised to capture another title. Other prominent returning riders include Kevin Orozco, Gary Wales, Javier Matias, and Jose Zunino. Second on Emerald Downs’ all-time wins list, Juan Guiterrez returns after missing all of 2018 due to injury. Patrick Henry Jr. and Lorenzo Lopez, first and second in the standings this winter at Portland Meadows along with veteran Jorge Carreno and Franklin Ceballos, an apprentice who has spent time in Southern California are among the top newcomers.

Blaine Wright and Frank Lucarelli are top contenders for the training title. Wright, who won Emerald Downs’ titles in 2016 and 2017, has amassed 20 stakes wins the last two seasons while Lucarelli last year overtook Tim McCanna as the track’s all-time leading trainer with 944 wins.

Stakes action begins Sunday, May 12 with the $50,000 Seattle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and concludes Sunday, September 22 with the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity for 2-year-olds. In a new twist, the $200,000 Longacres Mile (Grade 3) anchors a Championship Sunday quadruple-header Sunday, August 11 also featuring the $50,000 Emerald Distaff, $50,000 Muckleshoot Derby and $50,000 Washington Oaks. In all, 27 stakes worth $1,550,000 will be offered during the 2019 season along with three Quarter Horse races worth an additional $75,000 in purses.

Top trainers Mark Casse, Norm McKnight, and Josie Carroll all return to Woodbine this season with designs on taking home the top trainer title. Carroll, who spends her winters in south Florida was recently inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, becoming the very first female trainer to be enshrined. On her own since 1994, Carroll has amassed $45M in lifetime earnings and has captured a pair of Queen’s Plate’s with Edenwold in 2006 and Inglorious in 2011.

“I’m very honored,” Carroll told Woodbine Entertainment. “This industry means a lot to me. I’ve really made it my life and to receive an honor like that, it’s pretty overwhelming.”

A total of 95 stakes with total combined purses of $16M in stakes purses will be offered. The 160th running of the Queens Plate on in late June highlights the meet. The $1 million first leg of the Canadian triple crown will again be the centerpiece of a three-day festival with a total of nine stakes races between June 28-30.

In addition to its main turf course, a newly-constructed inner turf course, which track operators hope will cement Woodbine as a North American leader in turf racing, is set to open in late May. Last season, riders and ownership sparred frequently over turf course conditions and the new course, built on the site of the old harness track will bolster safety and fan enjoyment.

“With the addition of this world-class inner turf track to complement our suite of turf assets including the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, we will be able to offer more turf racing opportunities and flexibility to our local horsemen and visiting competitors,” Jonathan Zammit, Woodbine’s VP of Thoroughbred Racing Operations told the Toronto Sun.

Defending jockey champion Eurico Rosa Da Silva returns along with Woodbine veterans Rafael Hernandez, Louis Contreras, Gary Boulanger, Patrick Husbands, and Emma-Jayne Wilson. Da Silva was a runaway winner of the jockey title last season, crossing the wire first 237 times, 69 times more than Hernandez.

Horse Racing News: April 18, 2019

Smith to Ride Omaha Beach
Jockey Mike Smith has opted to ride presumptive Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach on the first Saturday in May. Smith will ride Richard Mandella’s son of War Front instead of Roadster, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, for regular client Bob Baffert. Ironically, Smith has only bee aboard Omaha Beach twice, guiding him to in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby both over the Oaklawn Park strip.

“I would not be surprised if either Omaha Beach or Roadster won the Derby,” Smith told the Albany Times Union’s Tim Wilkin. “If they don’t win, I think they are going to run well, but there are more than just those two in there. Omaha Beach just seems to be getting better; the ‘now’ horse.”

Scene Shifts to West Virginia
Charles Town Race Course hosts a full day of stakes action on Saturday, highlighted by the crown jewel of the track’s stakes calendar, the $1M Charles Town Classic for older horses going 1 1/8 miles on the tracks dirt course. Ten horses are entered with Todd Pletcher’s lightly-raced Rally Cry expected to garner favoritism once the gates open. A 6-year old with just 14 career starts, Rally Cry has proven formidable against top stakes company, finishing 4th in the Woodward on closing weekend at Saratoga last summer.

“Rally Cry has always impressed us with his physical presence and training,” Pletcher told “We feel like he will run well off the bench and think he will handle the track.”

Other horses who figure to attract the public’s attention are War Story, the runner-up in last year’s edition of the Charles Town Classic. Trained by Jorge Navarro with veteran Kendrick Carmouch in the irons, War Story never ran back to his Charles Town form the rest of 2018 but could be a proverbial horse for course on the tight and uniquely configured West Virginia oval.

Freshened by his trainer John Servis, 4-year old Diamond King, a son of Quality Road, appears to have what it takes to contend as well. Two defending champions could offer bettors potential value as 2018 victor Something Awesome and Imperative who took home the title in 2015 are part of the field.

Lasix Ban Closer to Coming to Fruition
A coalition of leading Thoroughbred racing associations and organizations unveiled a new initiative geared to phasing out the use of anti-bleeding medication Lasix beginning in 2020 and eliminating the use of Lasix in stakes races held at their racetracks beginning in 2021.

Coalition racetracks that have signed on to this initiative include all tracks owned or operated by Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI), the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and The Stronach Group as well as Del Mar, Keeneland, Lone Star Park and Remington Park, Los Alamitos Racecourse (Thoroughbred), Oaklawn Park and Tampa Bay Downs. Taken together these tracks represent 86% of the stakes races assigned graded or listed status in the United States in 2018.

Under the new program, beginning on January 1, 2020, two-year-old horses would not be allowed to be treated with Lasix within 24 hours of a race. Beginning in 2021, the same prohibition would extend to all horses participating in any stakes race at coalition tracks. Accordingly, in 2021 the races comprising the Triple Crown would all be run under the new rules regarding race day medication.

“This is a progressive and unified approach to the subject of race day medication, achieving consistency with international standards for young horses and those that form the foundations of our breeding stock,” NYRA President and CEO David O’Rourke said in a statement.

Horse Racing News and Notes: April 17, 2019

Let the Games Begin
The mount on Arkansas Derby runner-up Bob Baffert’s Improbable stays within the Ortiz family, as older brother Irad takes over for Jose, who elected to stay with Wood Memorial victor Tacitus. The elder Ortiz brother teamed up with Improbable’s ownership (WinStar Farm) to win the Belmont Stakes aboard Creator in 2016.

Irad Ortiz rode Win Win Win to a second-place finish in the G2 Blue Grass Stakes, but the son of Hat Trick will now be ridden by Maryland-based jockey Julian Pimentel in the Kentucky Derby. Pimentel rode the colt in each of his three wins, including the record-setting Pasco Stakes victory, and will be riding beneath the Twin Spires for the first time in his career.

Maximus Mischief Retired
Maximus Mischief, winner of the Remsen Stakes last fall and seemingly well on his way to the Kentucky Derby, has been retired, trainer Butch Reid said Tuesday.

Maximus Mischief won his first three starts, then suffered his lone defeat when third in the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes, his only start at age 3. He was taken out of training after that race with what was described as a soft-tissue injury.

“We didn’t feel he would come back at the level he deserves to be at, so we’re going to give him a chance to make babies,” Reid told the Daily Racing Form.

Preakness Venue to Remain the Same
Despite industry-wide speculation that the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, will have a new home as its current venue at Pimlico is in a state of disrepair and decay, officials in Maryland issued a public assurance that the race will remain at the Baltimore site and not be relocated to nearby Laurel Park in 2020.

“To be clear, the structure is over 100 years old, and the building has always been open to the weather, given it was never enclosed nor air-conditioned,” Bill Hecht, the Stronach Group’s Chief Real Estate Officer told the Daily Racing Form. “It is also important to note that from the findings of the engineer’s report, we are making repairs to other areas so they are usable for the Pimlico meet.”

The Stronach Group announced that it was closing the section on Saturday in a public statement, saying the engineer’s report determined it was “no longer suitable to sustain that level of load-bearing weight.” That statement said the closed section contains 6,670 seats, from a total of 14,000 seats in the entire building.

The statement said that ticket holders for the closed section would be able to “trade in their tickets at face value for similar seating.”

Hold Those Tickets
Bettors who sided with Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach in the now-completed Kentucky Derby fourth and final Future Pool are undoubtedly thrilled with the 10/1 odds they got on Richard Mandella’s prized pupil. A $2 future wager on Omaha Beach will reward his supporters $22.40 should he cross the wire in the Derby before the rest of the field.

Hold Those Tickets Part 2
Australian super horse Winx captured his 33rd consecutive victory last weekend at Royal Randwick in his career finale at the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. It put the period on the career which has included 25 Group I wins and 37 total wins in 43 lifetime trips to the starting gate.

Often times at Triple Crown races, bettors go to the win early and often, purchasing $2 win tickets on the prohibitive favorite to save as a memento should history be made and greatness achieved. Sensing the enormity of the occasion, officials at Royal Randwick, in somewhat of an unprecedented move, allowed fans to hang onto their $2 win tickets as souvenirs and cash on their victory as well.

Racing News and Notes: April 15, 2019

According to Plan
In horse racing, it’s seldom that races run on the track duplicate or even resemble how handicappers and experts envision them playing out on paper prior to the gates opening. Saturday’s Arkansas Derby certainly lived up to its billing as favorites Omaha Beach and Improbable treated fans to a thrilling stretch duel over a muddy going in Hot Springs.

Jockey Mike Smith took minimal chances with Omaha Beach, darting to the lead on the backstretch and never looking back, while Jose Ortiz on Bob Baffert’s Improbable was fanned wide going into the final turn before being set down for the stretch. However, the son of City Zip was unable to catch up to Omaha Beach. Now a winner of three in a row after breaking his maiden in February and winning a division of the Rebel in mid-March, Omaha Beach will arrive in Louisville as a popular pick to claim victory in racing’s premier event.

“Since the Rebel, he has grown and is bigger,” Mandella told America’s Best Racing. “Either that or the mud is making him look bigger, I’m not sure which, but we’re sure excited. I hope he stays as good as he’s been because he has improved all year long.”

Wait and See
Needing a victory to ensure a first-ever trip to the Derby, trainer Blaine Wright saw his horse Anothertwistafate fall victim to an incredible mid-race move by eventual Lexington winner Owendale. Now 23rd on the Derby points list, Wright and owner Peter Redekop must hope for injuries or defections if they’re able to land in the starting gate come the first Saturday in May.

“He will spend a couple more days here (Keeneland) and then go to Churchill maybe Tuesday or Wednesday,” Wright told Keeneland’s publicity office. “We planned to go to Churchill no matter what, so now we will take a wait-and-see approach. If he doesn’t get in (the Derby), we still have the Preakness. He has done a lot of shipping, and I think the best thing now would be to get to one place and settle in.”

For his part, Owendale has just 20 Derby points, well outside the cutline. Trainer Brad Cox plans to point the son of Into Mischief to the Preakness. The Lexington triumph was the horse’s first stakes win in his second try versus stakes company, having finished 8th in the Risen Star.

“He was one of the first 2-year-olds we got here last year about this time,” Cox assistant Tessa Bisha told Keeneland publicity. “He has always had the talent, and I think the big thing yesterday is the rider (Florent Geroux, who was aboard for the first time) let him settle.”

Decisions, Decisions
Two prominent jockeys faced difficult decisions as to who they’d elect to ride in in the upcoming Kentucky Derby. After riding Bob Baffert’s Improbable to a second place finish in the Arkansas Derby, Ortiz decided to ride Bill Mott’s Wood Memorial victor Tacitus on the first Saturday of May. Mike Smith, the winning rider on Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach, will have to ponder whether to ride for Richard Mandella or Baffert and Roadster, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby.

Noted horse racing analyst Mike Battaglia, who doubles as Churchill Downs’ morning line oddsmaker weighed in on Smith’s dilemma in an interview with the Louisville Courier Journal’s Jason Frakes.

“I think he’ll probably stay with Roadster,” Battaglia told Frakes. “But if he doesn’t ride Roadster, that says a lot. … The way Roadster finished up in the Santa Anita Derby, I think if Mike stays on him he’ll probably be the favorite.”

Racing News and Notes: April 13, 2019

Big Step Up
A star-studded field is expected to go postward in Sunday’s Grade I $750,000 Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Restricted to fillies four and up, the race features multiple grade I winners Elate and Midnight Bisou, widely regarded as two of the best older fillies in training.

However, there’s another horse in the field that has done some of her best running under the radar at smaller Canadian tracks Assiniboia, Northlands, and Century Downs. Based at Phoenix’s Turf Paradise, Escape Clause enters the Apple Blossom having won 20 of her 30 lifetime starts, including 18 stakes triumphs. However, her relatively small $495,500 career earnings are indicative that Sunday’s start is a significant step up in class.

This isn’t the first time veteran conditioner Don Schnell has ventured outside of his comfort zone with the star of his stable, as Escape Clause has tested the waters in southern California at both Del Mar and Santa Anita. In the game for over nearly five decades, Schnell has sent some 5,200 horses to the starting gate, winning over 900 races. One thing missing from his resume is a Grade I win, something that Escape Clause could give him Sunday.

“It seems like the older she gets, the better she gets,” Schnell told Oaklawn Park’s publicity office earlier this week. “People thought I was crazy to bring her down to Del Mar to run her in a stake there and at Santa Anita. I always had faith in her. I’m used to training $3,000, $4,000 horses. I don’t get the chance to train good horses, and she developed into a good one. Maybe we’re crazy, but I’m going to give her a try at one Grade 1.”

Schnell said Tyler Baze, a recent addition to the Oaklawn jockey colony, will ride Escape Clause in the Apple Blossom. Baze has been aboard Escape Clause in her last three starts, including a 5 ½-length victory in the $100,000 La Canada Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 12 at Santa Anita.

Brown Has Strong Duo in Aqueduct Turf Stake
Trainer Chad Brown boasts a pair of strong contenders for the fifth edition of the $100,000 Plenty of Grace over the inner turf on Sunday at Aqueduct Racetrack. Thais makes her 5-year-old debut after a distant 13th behind stablemate Sistercharlie in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on November 3 at Churchill Downs. The daughter of Rio de La Plata enters the one-mile event for fillies and mares with several stakes placings in the United States and her native France but seeks her first North American victory at this caliber.

Brown also sends out Peter Brant’s Fifty Five, who has won four of her last seven starts. Like Thais, the New York-bred daughter of Get Stormy will make her 2019 debut. Last out, she was a one-length winner against fellow Empire State natives in the Ticonderoga on October 20 over the grass at Belmont Park, a race which she won by the same margin the year prior.

“They both seem to be training well,” Brown told the NYRA Press Office. “Both horses have different running styles, so they should complement each other well. Right now is that time of year to get them both started.”
Safety First

Santa Anita has canceled races on its hillside turf course through April, according to a notice on Sunday’s overnight. Five races scheduled for about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside course from April 19 to April 28 will be offered at five furlongs on turf, and one race scheduled for 1 1/4 miles on turf on April 27 will now be run at 1 1/8 miles. There has been no racing on the course since March 31 when Arms Runner suffered a fatal injury in the Grade 3 San Simeon Stakes on the course.

Rewarding the Little Guy

Trainer Mertkan Kantarmaci netted the most points and the $18,000 top prize for winning the New York Racing Association’s ‘Under 20’s Claiming Challenge’ during the Aqueduct winter meet. A concept launched last April at the Belmont spring/summer meet, the Under 20’s Claiming Challenge was open to trainers with 20 or fewer horses in their barns. Points were earned based on their horses’ performances in all winners’ claiming races at Aqueduct through the end of the winter meet, which closed March 31.

“It feels great. It’s been hard work, and we haven’t been in New York long,” Kantarmaci told the NYRA Press Office. “Here, I work together with my family. It’s not a surprise for us. Our goals are to continue and improve. In our country (Turkey), we won all kinds of stakes races. So, we knew we could be all right over here. Right now, our goal is to be better. We’ll always try our best.”

The 27-year-old Kantarmaci came to the United States in 2016 from Turkey. As a conditioner in one of the country’s most challenging circuits, Kantarmaci saddled 11 total winners in 36 starts during the Aqueduct winter meet, tying for the 11th most. In Turkey, Kantarmaci worked for his father Tuncay, a successful trainer, where he served as an exercise rider as well.

Looking to Cement a Legacy
Australia’s super-mare Winx has her sights on a grand farewell in the G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, set for Day 2 of The Championships at Sydney’s Royal Randwick racecourse, on Friday.In what will be her final appearance, Winx will look to topple Arrogate as the all-time leading money earner with over $17M in prize money.

Regular rider Hugh Bowman will be aboard as one of racing’s all-time greats breaks from the 9 hole in a race she has won the past two years. All told, Winx has prevailed in 36 of her 42 lifetime starts including a remarkable 33 wins in a row.

“We prefer to be wider than in close to eliminate the problems you might get early in a race, and Hugh’s always been happy to be out of trouble,” co-owner Peter Tighe told the Associated Press.

Two More Chances Remain
With the first Saturday in May fast approaching, just two more prep races with Derby implications remain: the Lexington Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. Offering just 20 points to its winner, on paper the Lexington is the race with less likely to produce a Derby contender. However, a closer look at the field reveals a slew of horses capable of making a run for the roses.

Four horses already within striking distance of qualifying are Anothertwistafate (22nd), Sueno (24th), Knicks Go (28th) and Harvey Wallbanger (29th). With the Arkansas Derby offering 100 points for first and 50 for second, the aforementioned horses all need a win and then some help to punch their ticket to Churchill Downs.

Trained by Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go has enjoyed the most success at Keeneland his home track, shocking the world in last fall’s Grade I Breeder’s Futurity at odds to 70/1 while coming back to finish a game second in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, also held on the Keeneland strip. Since that time, there’s been only limited success with a 7th place finish at the Sam F. Davis Stakes in Tampa and a 5th place showing in the Gotham at Aqueduct.

On the cusp of Derby eligibility, Northern California-based Anothertwistafate has taken an unconventional road to the Blue Grass state. After a trio of convincing wins at Golden Gate Fields, including a triumph in the El Camino Real Derby, trainer Blaine Wright opted to take the show to the shadow of the Mexican border and Sunland Park, finishing second in the Grade II Sunland Park Derby. After showing loyalty to Northern California stalwart Juan Hernandez, Wright and owner Peter Redekop have given the mount to national star Javier Castellano on Saturday.

Baffert at Home in Hot Springs

Trainer Bob Baffert has dominated the Southern California racing scene for the better part of two decades, winning stake race after stake race. However, whenever the veteran conditioner ships out of town, success usually follows. Top assistant Jimmy Barnes has become accustomed to the backside of Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park in recent years as his boss has had the post time favorite in an impressive seven of the last nine runnings of the Arkansas Derby.

Already with Game Winner and Santa Anita Derby victor Roadster bound for Churchill Downs and the first Saturday in May, Baffert sends Improbable, who gained morning-line favoritism to the gate in Saturday’s million dollar race. Improbable emerged victorious in his first three career starts before being beaten a neck in his 3-year-old debut, the first division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes over the Oaklawn Strip. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.

“I just got a call from Elliott Walden, and he told us about our wonderful draw,” Baffert lamented to the Oaklawn Park publicity office, referring to WinStar’s president/CEO and racing manager. “I think I’ve drawn the rail seven out of eight times in the last week. Unbelievable.”

Other West Coast Invader

Trainer Richard Mandella, a Hall of Famer in his own right also based in Southern California sends out 2-1 morning line second choice Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby. Omaha Beach, a son of War Front, is a relative newcomer to the Derby trail. After breaking his maiden in his fourth start in Southern California, the horse shipped to Arkansas, prevailing in the Rebel, run in two divisions and is now poised for a big effort on Saturday.

The Southern California-based Omaha Beach returns to Oaklawn after winning the second division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. In that race, he turned back Baffert’s heavily-favorite Game Winner by a nose and is a first or second place finish away from
heading to Churchill Downs.

“He’s definitely impressive,” barn foreman and assistant Taylor Cambra told Bloodhorse following Omaha Beach’s latest workout. “You get on so many nice horses in Mandella’s barn, but he definitely sticks out more than the other ones.”

Other horses who figure to contend include Long Range Toddy (5/1 morning line), Gray Attempt (8/1 morning line) and Galilean (10/1 morning line). Since 2004, the Arkansas Derby has produced just two Kentucky Derby winners: Smarty Jones (2004), and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015).
Brown Figures to Stand Out

The richest race on Keeneland’s Saturday card, the Grade I Coolmore Jenny Wiley for older fillies, features a trio of Chad Brown horses. Rushing Fall (6/5 morning line), Rymska (5/2 morning line) and Onthemoonagain (7/2 morning line) give Brown a strong chance to find himself in the winner’s circle. Only one other filly is listed as single-digit odds, Todd Pletcher’s Bellevais, listed as 8/1.

Rushing Fall enters the race looking to join all-time greats Wise Dan and Take Charge Lady to win four different Keeneland career stakes races. Boasting wins over firm, soft and yielding turf courses, Rushing Fall is 6-for-7 lifetime and has won the Jessamine Stakes, Appalachian Stakes Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland. Rymska heads to the Blue Grass stakes following a win Tampa Bay Downs’ Hillsborough Stakes a race which saw Onthemoonagain finish third.

“You bring your best ones to Keeneland or you won’t have any luck here,” Brown told Horse Racing Nation. “Luckily I have a lot of good horses and my staff has been working overtime. All the credit goes to them.”

Mott’s Hopes Rest on Tacitus

Trainer Bill Mott has enjoyed a Hall of Fame career spanning some five decades, complete with a bevy of Breeder’s Cup victories and Eclipse Awards. He’s won 10 Breeder’s Cup races, a Dubai World Cup and a Belmont Stakes. One race that has eluded the veteran conditioner is the Kentucky Derby.

In fact, Mott has only had seven Kentucky Derby starters in a career that began in 1973 and includes nearly 5,000 wins. His best chance by far will come in 2019 as Wood Memorial victor Tacitus sits atop the Derby points leaderboard with 150 after capturing both the Wood and Tampa Bay Derby. After breaking his maiden by a neck at Aqueduct in November of 2018, the son of Tapit was freshened, coming back to win by 1 ¼ lengths in Tampa while winning by an identical margin in the Wood despite a troubled trip.

“He came out of it (The Wood) very well,” Mott’s assistant Leana Willaford told Bloodhorse. “He was a little tired, but that’s to be expected. It’s nice to see him overcome (an unfavorable trip). He’ll go back to the track here (at Aqueduct) in three days, and we’ll train him lightly and send him over there when Bill gets to Churchill.”

Hidden Scroll’s Plans a Mystery
After romping by 14 lengths in his debut over the sloppy going at Gulfstream, Hidden Scroll appeared to be Mott’s best Derby hope. However, after a fourth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth, Hidden Scroll finished a well-beaten 6th in the Florida Derby dashing his Derby dreams. The horse’s future plans are now up in the air as ownership and Mott will give the son of Hard Spun some much-needed rest.

“We’ll regroup,” Garrett O’Rourke, Juddmonte Farms racing manager, told the Gulfstream Park media office. “We moved too quickly. We all got impressed. The Derby is always on the first Saturday in May. We got Derby dreams. We threw him in there — tried to get there — and the horse wasn’t ready.”

Filly Picture Shaping Up as Well
The Kentucky Oaks picture is becoming clearer by the day as well. In Saturday’s Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, longshot Out for a Spin outran her 52-1 odds under Paco Lopez, prevailing by a neck to reward her backers, paying $106 to win. Trained by Dallas Stewart, the daughter of Hard Spun is now a winner of four in a row and four out of five lifetime starts. Heavy favorite Jaywalk, the 2018 juvenile filly champion never recovered from a bump at the start, eventually finishing third.

“In this great game that we have, there are ups and downs, and this is an up,” Stewart told Bloodhorse. “Great to have a win today with this big, beautiful filly. She took it (almost) wire-to-wire, and Paco (Lopez) gave her a great ride. We’re going to take (her) to the Kentucky Oaks from here.”

From Misery to Elation
Less than one hour after winning the Ashland and punching his ticket to the Kentucky Oaks, Stewart experienced the lowest of lows as his 4-year old filly Cathedral Reader broke down at the top of the stretch in the Grade I Madison and had to be euthanized.

“On what was an otherwise spectacular day, our celebration is tempered due to the catastrophic injury sustained by Cathedral Reader during the running of the Madison,” Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason said in a statement Saturday night. “We have spoken with Ms. Gayle Benson’s Racing Manager, Greg Bensel, and trainer Dallas Stewart, expressing our sympathy for their loss.”

Lead Up to the Kentucky Derby

As the Kentucky Derby picture comes more into focus, a familiar name has two horses that figure to receive lots of attention at the betting window on the first Saturday in May. Following his victory in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Bob Baffert’s Roadster finds himself as the 6-1 favorite in the fourth and final Derby Future. The Hall of Fame trainer has won America’s most storied race five times, most recently in 2018 as Justify crossed the wire first at Churchill Downs en route to capturing the elusive Triple Crown.

A short and talented field headed to the starting gate in the Santa Anita Derby, with the 2018 juvenile champion Game Winner, a Baffert trainee, installed as a 1/2 favorite.  A co-second choice, Jerry Hollendorfer’s Instagrand, needed to win or finish second to punch his ticket to Louisville. He led until the top of the stretch, when Roadster and jockey Mike Smith took control and won by a half-length over stablemate Game Winner to pay $8.20, $3.00 and $2.40.

“They’ll both like 1¼ [miles, the Derby distance],” Baffert told the Los Angeles Times’ John Chewra following the victory. “Game Winner’s the kind of horse that’s going to get better. His next race will be even better. Roadster is a light horse that has always shown the brilliance.”

Whole Lotta Baffert
Five horses find themselves at single-digit odds in the final Derby Future, including a trio trained by Baffert. Roadster (6-1), Game Winner (7-1) and likely Arkansas Derby favorite Improbable (8-1) are joined by Florida Derby winner Maximum Security (7-1) and the Bill Mott’s Wood Memorial victor Tacitus (8-1) as horses that the public has backed. With just 25 Derby points, Improbable likely needs a first or second place finish at Oaklawn on Saturday to give Baffert three Kentucky Derby starters, something that has not happened since 2006 when he sent Point Determined, Sinister Minister, and Bob and John into the gate.

New Names Abound
To hardcore racing fans, Danny Gargan, Bret Calhoun, and Brendan Walsh are well known, but to casual observers who hone in just on the big races, they may not be. All three find themselves poised for their first Kentucky Derby trip. The most accomplished of the group, Calhoun boasts over 3,000 career trips to the winner’s circle as well as a Breeder’s Cup win in 2010 with Chamberlain Bridge. Walsh conditions UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait, Calhoun has Louisiana Derby champ By My Standards and Gargan has Wood Memorial runner-up Tax in his barn.

Shorter Sometimes Better
Trainer Gregg Sacco spent the fall and winter focused on making Mind Control his first Kentucky Derby starter.  A win in the Hopeful at Saratoga last summer has visions of Churchill Downs’ twin spires running through the lifelong horseman’s head. Mind Control’s two-year-old campaign concluded with a 7th place finish in the Breeder’s Cup juvenile. Freshened and ready to go, the son of Stay Thirsty prevailed in the Jerome at Aqueduct before finishing second in the Gotham. Saturday, Mind Control ran on the Wood Memorial undercard, crossing the wire first in the 7 furlong Grade III Bay Shore.

“My brother, Rick Sacco, is our racing manager and he thought that, in his development, that this race would be the right choice for him. My brother was right for once. Usually, I’m right,” joked Sacco to the NYRA press office, after taking his horse off the Derby trail and focusing on short races. “With all that being said, my brother realized how talented he is up to a mile, and they just didn’t want to churn him up in the Derby fever. There was serious consideration for the Wood and to try and make it to the Derby, but he’s just so talented at this distance.”