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Legendary horseman John Nerud dies at age 102

John Nerud, Hall of Fame trainer and one of the most influential horsemen ever to grace Thoroughbred racing, died Thursday morning in New York at the age of 102.
Nerud’s impact on the sport has proven as enduring and far reaching as any individual in modern times. Born in Minatare, Nebraska, Nerud rose from the ranks of ranch hand to rodeo cowboy, to jockey, to jockey’s agent, to Hall of Fame trainer, to co-founder of the Breeders’ Cup, to influential breeder who built a breeding and racing dynasty with William McKnight of the 3M company, who at the time was one of the richest men in America.
Inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1972, Nerud is credited with saddling more than 1,000 winners, including 27 stakes winners before retiring from training in 1978.  Nerud’s list of champions include Delegate, Intentionally, Ta Wee, and Dr. Patches but by far his greatest conditioning success was in the development of champion and Hall of Famer Dr. Fager, whom Red Smith of the New York Times described as “the fasted horse in the world”.
Nerud had sustained a near-fatal head injury after being thrown from his lead pony on the racetrack. Famed neurosurgeon Charles Fager of the Leahy Clinic in Boston saved his life and became forever immortalized by the horse who bore his name. In 1968, Dr. Fager did what no horse had ever done nor will likely ever do again, which was to win four championship titles, including Horse-of-the-Year, champion handicap horse, champion sprinter and champion grass horse.
The first and only time Nerud ran a horse in the Kentucky Derby was for Texas oilman, Ralph Lowe. In one of the most memorable Derby’s in history, his charge, Gallant Man, was en route to clear victory when Iron Liege surpassed him in the final strides because Gallant Man’s jockey, Willie Shoemaker stood up in his irons before the wire. Ironically, Shoemaker had told Lowe at dinner the night before the Derby that he had a dream where he stood up in the irons and lost the race. Gallant Man would go on to win the 1957 Belmont Stakes by eight lengths establishing an American record which stood until the mighty Secretariat bested it in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
In 1957,  Nerud and McKnight founded what would become a lasting and influential legacy to breeding and racing​ for Tartan. Though he did not breed his first horse until after the age of 50, Nerud established his own branch in the stud book, which includes the likes of Kentucky Derby Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled, Metropolitan Handicap winner Fappiano, Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile winner Cozzene, and In Reality, among many others.
Nerud’s post-training achievements also included working closely with Breeders’ Cup founder John Gaines in developing a World Championship day for racing and serving as chairman of the Breeders’ Cup marketing committee for the first 10 years of its existence. Following his career at Tartan Farms, Nerud went on to breed 1985 Champion Turf Horse Cozzene, winner of the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Mile, who was trained by his son, Jan.


“Over the long history of Thoroughbred racing in America, few individuals made as indelible an impact on our sport as John Nerud did over many decades,” Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel said in a statement. “In addition to the many great horses that he trained, owned and bred, and the advice and counsel he provided to grow the sport, Mr. Nerud made an enormous contribution to the formation of the Breeders’ Cup. Working closely with John Gaines and the initial founders, Mr. Nerud combined acute judgement, incredible boldness and powers of persuasion to help create a unique international championship event for horse racing. His interest and participation as a Member of the Breeders’ Cup continued to the end.  Mr. Nerud leaves a remarkable legacy, and all of us who love racing mourn his passing.”


Despite his many successes in the Thoroughbred business, he deemed his greatest accomplishment to be 69 year marriage to his beloved wife, Charlotte, who passed away in 2009. He is survived by his son Jan, daughter-in-law Debra, and grandkids.
A private family service will be held.

Points for Breeders’ Cup Juvenile doubled for 2015-16 ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ system

The latest evidence of an improved working relationship between Breeders’ Cup and Churchill Downs Inc. came down Wednesday when it was announced the points for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile have been doubled for the 2015-16 Road to the Kentucky Derby – the series of 35 select races that help determine which horses will qualify for the 142nd Kentucky Derby on May 7, 2016.


Points awarded to this year’s Top 4 finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – to be held at Keeneland on October 31 – will be 20-8-4-2, which is valued twice as much as its previous three runnings in the series. The race also is worth twice as much as the other 18 “Prep Season” races, which are considered by track officials to be foundation-building races between September and late-February.


The record of Breeders’ Cup horses in the Kentucky Derby is 5-5-8 from 88 starters. Fifteen Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners have raced in the Kentucky Derby but none since Hansen finished ninth in 2012.


“The point system has been a resounding success since its inception for the 2013 Kentucky Derby,” Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack, said in a release. “Our committee has annually reviewed past results and discussed input from stakeholders. We believe this new valuation of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is warranted.”


The increase in points to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is the only change from last year’s series of races. This  will mark the fourth consecutive year that Churchill Downs will use a sliding scale of points awarded to the Top 4 finishers in choice races to determine preference for its 20-horse Derby field.


Coupled with Monday’s announcement that Breeders’ Cup and CDI-owned had reached a multi-year agreement to make the online and mobile betting platform the official wagering partner of the Breeders’ Cup and the title sponsor of the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint, it would appear the perceived, once-strained relationship between Churchill Downs Inc. and Breeders’ Cup has warmed and that the path is clear for the flagship Louisville track to become a Breeders’ Cup host site in the near future.

Churchill Downs has hosted the Breeders’ Cup eight times and holds the record for the largest single day and two-day attendance for the event, but has not been part of the rotation since last holding the two-day card in 2011. The earliest the track could host Breeders’ Cup again would be 2018 with Keeneland, Santa Anita Park and Del Mar lined up through 2017.


Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel said the Board has not taken up any discussions regarding host sites beyond 2017 and also dismissed the notion Churchill Downs was ever out of the host site picture.


“I would say the path has always been clear for Churchill to host Breeders’ Cup in terms of eligibility interest and all that,” Fravel said. “I don’t think this necessarily reflects any kind of change of relationship between the two of us. I just think it’s a very positive move recognizing the importance of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“Ever since I’ve been here which is 2011, I’ve felt like our relationship with Churchill Downs is good,” Fravel continued. “I think that with the sponsorship and their responsiveness on this subject, I think it’s even better than good. We’re very pleased that they’ve done this. It’s a deserving recognition of the stature of the race.”

As was the case for the past two years, the Road to the Kentucky Derby “Prep Season” will commence at Churchill Downs with the Grade III, $150,000 Iroquois at 1 1/16 miles on Sept. 12.

The 16 significant events that comprise the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series” during the 10-week run-up to the first Saturday in May remain unchanged from a year ago.


The 20-point threshold has proven enough to get a horse into the Derby field since the inception of the system. In 2013, the last horse to make the Kentucky Derby field was Giant Finish with 10 points. This year saw Tale of Verve entered as an also-eligible with zero qualifying points and he would have drawn into the race had graded stakes winner El Kabeir – who was scratched from the Kentucky Derby the afternoon of May 1 – been withdrawn before the 9 a.m. cutoff time that day.


A similar series remains in place to qualify for the Derby’s sister race, the $1 million Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on Friday, May 6, 2016.


The lone change to the 31-race Road to the Kentucky Oaks series is the doubling of points to the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to 20-8-4-2.




Sept. 12 Iroquois Churchill Downs 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

Sept. 26 FrontRunner Santa Anita 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

Oct. 3 Champagne Belmont Park 1 Mile (10) (4) (2) (1)

Oct. 3 Breeders’ Futurity Keeneland 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

Oct. 4 Grey Woodbine 1 1/16 Miles (S) (10) (4) (2) (1)

Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Keeneland 1 1/16 Miles (20) (8) (4) (2)

*Nov. 21 Delta Downs Jackpot Delta Downs 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Nov. 28 Remsen Aqueduct 1 1/8 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Nov. 28 Kentucky Jockey Club Churchill Downs 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Dec. 19 Los Alamitos Futurity Los Alamitos 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Jan. 9 Jerome Aqueduct 1 Mile 70 Yards (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Jan. 16 Sham Santa Anita 1 Mile (10) (4) (2) (1)

Jan. 18 Smarty Jones Oaklawn Park 1 Mile (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Jan. 23 Lecomte Fair Grounds 1 Mile 70 Yards (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Jan. 30 Holy Bull Gulfstream Park 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Feb. 13 Withers Aqueduct 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Feb. 13 Robert B. Lewis Santa Anita 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

Feb. 15 Southwest Oaklawn Park 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Feb. 20 El Camino Real Derby Golden Gate 1 1/8 Miles (S) (10) (4) (2) (1)

*Feb. 27 Fountain of Youth Gulfstream Park 1 1/16 Miles (50) (20) (10) (5)

*Feb. 27 Risen Star Fair Grounds 1 1/16 Miles (50) (20) (10) (5)

*March 12 Gotham Aqueduct 1 1/16 Miles (50) (20) (10) (5)

*March 12 Tampa Bay Derby Tampa Bay Downs 1 1/16 Miles (50) (20) (10) (5)

*March 12 San Felipe Santa Anita 1 1/16 Miles (50) (20) (10) (5)

March 19 Rebel Oaklawn Park 1 1/16 Miles (50) (20) (10) (5)

*March 20 Sunland Derby Sunland Park 1 1/8 Miles (50) (20) (10) (5)

*March 26 Spiral Turfway Park 1 1/8 Miles (S) (50) (20) (10) (5)

*March 26 UAE Derby Meydan Racecourse 1 3/16 Miles (100) (40) (20) (10)

*April 2 Florida Derby Gulfstream Park 1 1/8 Miles (100) (40) (20) (10)

*April 2 Louisiana Derby Fair Grounds 1 1/8 Miles (100) (40) (20) (10)

*April 9 Wood Memorial Aqueduct 1 1/8 Miles (100) (40) (20) (10)

*April 9 Blue Grass Keeneland 1 1/8 Miles (100) (40) (20) (10)

*April 9 Santa Anita Derby Santa Anita 1 1/8 Miles (100) (40) (20) (10)

April 16 Arkansas Derby Oaklawn Park 1 1/8 Miles (100) (40) (20) (10)

*April 16 Lexington Keeneland 1 1/16 Miles (10) (4) (2) (1)

* Race dates and distances to be announced by host track; date based on previous year’s placement.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Baffert still mulling Travers option for American Pharoah

Edited NYRA release:
In town from California for Fasig-Tipton’s Selected Yearlings Sale Monday and Tuesday, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert spent part of his first morning in Saratoga on the main track backstretch.
He stopped by the barn of trainer John Terranova, who for several years has housed Baffert’s horses when he ships to New York. The next one could be Triple Crown champion American Pharoah for the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers on August 29.
“I’m just here doing a little recon if he were to come here, where he’s going to go, what stall, what barn, the layout with the track and everything,” Baffert said. “We’re trying to make it, but he’s going to have to really convince me. I have to be all in and feel really confident, because if he comes here I know he’s going to have to run hard. It’s a tough, demanding racetrack, but he’s handled everything thrown at him so far.”
American Pharoah would be the sixth horse Baffert has brought in for the Travers, a race he won with eventual Horse of the Year Point Given in 2001. He was third with Roman Ruler in 2005 and off the board with Coil in 2011, Liaison in 2012 and Bayern last year.
“He’s been such a special horse and he has this following now. I want to make sure I do the right thing,” Baffert said. “I know there’s always that pressure that we want to run. I’ve been pressured into bringing other horses here and they didn’t do so well, but this horse is different. Point Given was the only one that I brought in for the Travers that had a chance to win; the other ones, I was just trying to make something happen.”
Following a romp in the Grade I Haskell August 2, the first race following his sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah returned to California. He galloped Sunday morning for the first time since the Haskell, and Baffert said he is likely to have a work next week.
“We’ll just work him maybe next Sunday. I’ll breeze him and see how he breezes over that track,” he said. “When he came back the next day [after the Haskell], it was normal that he was tired. You could tell, he was pretty quiet and all. For two days there he just laid around and we left him alone. It took him about four days to snap out of it, and he filled back up a little bit. He looks great. After he galloped, (assistant) Jimmy (Barnes) said he looked like his normal self.”
As he has done in the past, Baffert will let American Pharoah tell him when he’s ready to run again. Owner Ahmed Zayat has been public with his desire to run American Pharoah in the Travers, Saratoga’s centerpiece event.
“I’m in a situation with him where if he would have gone to the Haskell and I didn’t like the way he trained there, I would have scratched him. If he were to come here and train and I didn’t like something, we would scratch him. Fortunately, I haven’t had to do that,” Baffert said. “If he comes, that means that he’s doing really, really well.”


Casse aiming for Spa breakthrough with Noble Bird

Courtesy of NYRA publicity department:

Trainer Mark Casse is hoping to fill in one of the few blanks in an impressive resume: a graded stakes victory at Saratoga Race Course.

Stabled on the grounds for the first time in three years, Casse nearly reached his goal on July 25, only to see his top turf mare Tepin lose the Grade I Diana by a nose. He gets another chance to break through in a big way this Saturday with John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird in the Grade I, $1.25 million Whitney going 1 1/8-miles at the Spa.

The 88th edition of the Whitney for 3-year-olds and up is part of an action-packed Saturday at Saratoga that also includes the Grade I, $500,000 Test, the Grade II, $200,000 Waya, the $100,000 Lure and the $100,000  De La Rose.

Noble Bird is one of seven Grade I winners entered in the Whitney field – including defending race winner Moreno and morning-line favorite Honor Code – as the son of Birdstone captured the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 13. Though Casse has won meet titles at Keeneland, Churchill and Turfway during his career, saddling a top-level winner at Saratoga remains a bucket list item.

“It’s one of the reasons we’re here,” said Casse, who spent last summer at Del Mar before the track’s changeover from Polytrack to conventional dirt. “This is one place where we’ve struggled; there’s no doubt about it. When Tepin got beat, that was a heartbreaker for us.”

“I’m looking for wood right now, because I do a lot of knocking,” he continued. “This game is so up and down. I don’t think we could ask him to be coming into the race any better. This is going to be quite a race. It’s exciting for everybody. I’m looking forward to it.”

Casse’s career includes a win in each of Canada’s Triple Crown races; eight Sovereign Awards as its leading trainer, including four in a row; and eight straight Woodbine meet titles and nine overall.

In his last stay at Saratoga, Casse won with three of 40 starters from 2010 to 2012. He has competed in some of America’s biggest races, but admits a Whitney victory would be special.

“I grew up on Saratoga. I’ve been here since I was 8 years old, and I want this really, really badly,” Casse said. “I would say the only thing that would compare to winning this race, if we could win it, would be maybe the Kentucky Derby; that’s how important it is to me. And, I think it would mean a lot for the Oxleys as well. They have been great to me, and I would love to see them win it.”

Unraced at 2, Noble Bird raced five times in 2014 but was shut down for the year after breaking his maiden in August at Del Mar. Since finishing sixth in his 4-year-old debut in February at Oaklawn Park, he has won three of four starts including the Foster; the lone loss coming by a head in the Grade II Alysheba May 1.

“When this horse was a 2-year-old, I told Mr. Oxley that this was our Derby horse. This is a really good horse,” Casse said. “He had a little tibia stress fracture as a 2-year-old and we ran him once or twice and, again, he had some issues. Now, for the first time, he’s been able to get into a steady routine and pattern, and he’s just been progressing. A lot of people say he just got good, like ‘Where did this come from?’ He’s always had it; it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Noble Bird’s wins this year have come by either a nose or a neck, all under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who will return to ride at co-highweight of 124 pounds. He is listed at 5-1 on the morning line from post 3.

“He’s very deceiving, because he pulls himself up when he makes the lead,” Casse said. “When you look at him, he never wins impressively but he just kind of beats whatever he runs against.”

The Whitney field will also include last year’s Belmont Stakes winner, Tonalist, who will go out for trainer Christophe Clement and attempt to bounce back off a gut-wrenching defeat in the Grade II Suburban Handicap on Stars & Stripes Day at Belmont Park. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens will saddle his Grade I-winning duo of Wicked Strong and V. E. Day, winner of last year’s Travers.

Meanwhile, the Whitney field got a little lighter on Thursday with the defection of trainer Todd Pletcher’s Coach Inge, who will instead target the Grade I Woodward on September 5 at the Spa or the Grade I Pacific Classic. Pletcher, the meet’s leading trainer, will still be represented in the Whitney by Liam’s Map.

Grade I winner Materiality retired due to soft tissue injury

Edited release:

Alto Racing LLC  announced Friday that its Grade I winner Materiality has been retired due to a soft tissue injury he sustained while training. Stallion arrangements have not yet been finalized.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Materiality won the first three starts including taking the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 28 in what was his third career outing. The bay son of Afleet Alex went on to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby and eighth in the Belmont Stakes and retires with three wins from five starts for $686,028 in earnings.

“Materiality was a very special racehorse, winning from 6 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles against the best of his generation,” said Alto Racing’s bloodstock adviser Steven  Young in a release. “He is a good-looking individual and we expect the breeders will like him as much as we do.”

Added Pletcher, “Materiality was a strong, robust horse with a great disposition. He had sprinter speed with the ability to carry that speed to 1 1/8m.”

Breeders’ Cup facilities taking shape at Keeneland

Edited release:

Keeneland’s preparations for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup World Championships are progressing on schedule as the campus is readied for the Oct. 30-31 event, the first time the track has hosted Thoroughbred racing’s year-end championship.

 Temporary facilities to provide premium seating for an additional 7,000 fans for the Breeders’ Cup are being constructed throughout the Keeneland grounds.

–   Framing is underway on the Bourbon Lounge, Trackside Chalets and Clubhouse Lawn Chalets located along the Clubhouse turn and upper stretch. The Breakfast Marquee that will host horsemen and VIPs each morning of Breeders’ Cup week is taking shape between the north end of the Grandstand and the Racing Office.

–   The structure for the Saddling Paddock Chalet, which runs the entire length of the Paddock and provides a unique view of the horses being saddled before each race, is rising up just next to the Grandstand East entrance, and

–   Construction of tiered Loge Boxes, which will elevate from the first floor Grandstand to sit just below the permanent boxes, will begin this month.

Seating in the Clubhouse Lawn Chalets, Saddling Paddock Chalet and Loge Boxes will be available to guests during the upcoming Fall Meet. Tickets for those areas are currently on sale via

Among the other projects underway as Keeneland prepares for Breeders’ Cup are:

–   The horse path in front of the stone saddling stalls at the north end of the Paddock has been enlarged and an additional saddling ring is being created. Both paths feature rubber pavers. Four oak trees also will be planted in the Paddock.

–   A new Polytrack surface is being laid on the five-furlong Training Track. The old Polytrack has been removed and maintenance is being performed on the asphalt base. A new layer of Polytrack, formerly used in the 4½- and seven-furlong chutes of the main track, will be installed.

–  The barns on Rice Road, where the Breeders’ Cup horses will be stabled, are being equipped with new data and wireless systems, and

–   The Paddock Garden surrounding the Paddock area has been repaved.

“This has been an exciting summer as we watch years’ worth of planning for Breeders’ Cup now taking form,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “Workers are busy throughout the grounds building chalets, refurbishing the Saddling Paddock and Training Track, painting and repaving. Keeneland will welcome the world here this fall, and we want to give our guests the most memorable racing experience possible.”

American Pharoah in good order after Haskell win; next start still up for debate

OCEANPORT, N.J. – In NASCAR they have what is termed “silly season” where rumors over which driver may be headed to which team are fervently debated and analyzed before any official decisions are announced.

The current king of horsepower in the Thoroughbred racing is inspiring his own version of said events. Everyone has an opinion about where Triple Crown winner American Pharoah should head next following what was essentially a paid workout in the form of his Grade I, $1.75 million Haskell Invitational triumph Sunday.
And the ones who actually have a say in the matter maintain they will keep deferring to the horse.

American Pharoah’s days of going through the sales ring are long done, but a bidding war of sorts is building steam as tracks on either coasts attempt to lure the connections of the champion colt before he makes what is expected to be his final career start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on October 31.

Given the ridiculously easy nature of American Pharoah’s 2 1/4-length Haskell win where jockey Victor Espinoza had him geared down through the Monmouth Park stretch, there is now no doubt the son of Pioneerof the Nile is continuing to thrive in the aftermath of his sweep of the classics.

Trainer Bob Baffert said after the Belmont Stakes he wanted to run American Pharoah twice before the Breeders’ Cup. When asked on Sunday if one more start before the Classic was still the plan, Baffert went back to stating that the condition of his top charge was going to determine everything from here forward.

“We’re just playing it race by race,” Baffert said. “It’s hard to keep a horse at that level especially what he’s been through. But as long as he’s at the top level, I’ll lead him up there. I don’t care what kind of track…he just runs on everything.”

Among the races in play for the Pharoah Sweepstakes is the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga on August 29 as NYRA announced Friday it would increase the purse of the race to $1.6 million contingent on American Pharoah running.

A Travers start would likely then necessitate Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat running the colt once more before the Breeders’ Cup. From a timing and financial standpoint, the Grade II, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on September 19 could be a more viable option in that it would give American Pharoah a start six weeks out from the Breeders’ Cup.  Parx also offers additional financial incentives to the owners and trainers of any entrant who has won a Triple Crown race.

Del Mar, where Baffert is currently based, is expected to make a hard sell as well to try and get American Pharoah for the Grade I Pacific Classic on August 22, though Baffert said “it doesn’t make sense to put him in with the older horses right now” given the 3-year-old races still available.

“I know when I get home Del Mar will put a lot of pressure on me too,” Baffert said post-race. “Mr Zayat told me you don’t run him unless he is 100 percent, do right by the horse.

“I’m not worried about Saratoga or the surface. As long as American Pharoah is on top of his game, that’s my main concern. Only he can tell me by watching him work.”

Baffert and Zayat flew back to California Sunday night leaving regular exercise rider George Alvarez to watch over the sport’s 12th Triple Crown hero. On a quiet, sunny morning with only a smattering of media tracking him, American Pharoah was in good order Monday as he calmly boarded the van at 8:30 a.m. to take him to the airport.

“He came out good, no problem. He wasn’t even blowing or anything,” Alvarez said Monday. “It (the Haskell) was easy for him. The only difference I see with the other races and this one is he’s a little more mature. Energy wise, he’s pretty much the same. But, he knows his job better.”

Trainer Dale Romans said that Haskell runner-up Keen Ice was in good order as he shipped out of Monmouth at 5 a.m. The Travers is the likely next target for the large-bodied colt, who boosted his earnings to $640,395 though he owns just a maiden win from 10 starts.

“He just keeps improving,” Romans said.

Trainer Eddie Plesa said graded stakes winner Mr. Jordan seemed to have no obvious issues Monday after finishing a distant last in the Haskell after rating third in the early portion of the race.

“We just had him jogging on the pavement and it looks like he came out of the race fine,” said Plesa, who added Mr. Jordan would likely be sent to the farm for a freshening. “I don’t really have an explanation for what happened. We’re going to do some more testing…but we can’t tell anything is wrong with him.”

Disheartened as he was by Mr. Jordan’s run, even Plesa couldn’t help but get caught up in the dynamic scene around him as American Pharoah stomped all over another would-be challenge.

“He’s a tremendous racehorse, no ifs ands or buts,” Plesa said. “He’s the number one horse certainly this year and years past, possibly. (Sunday) was electric. Even though I was concentrating on one thing, you couldn’t help but hear what was happening. You always hear about the roar of the crowd, you heard it yesterday.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Royal return: Triple Crown hero American Pharoah rolls in Haskell Invitational

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Ahmed Zayat, one of the most assured owners in Thoroughbred racing, found himself in the Monmouth Park stands on Sunday trying to squash the pangs of doubt that kept buzzing like gnats within his mind.

It wasn’t that Zayat had lost a drop of faith in the homebred bay colt of his that was whipping the announced crowd of 60,983 into a frenzy before the Grade I, $1.75 million Haskell Invitational. It’s just that he, like many, were wondering how the horse who had already kicked history in the teeth could possibly keep raising his own bar of brilliance.

Beside Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert was giving an Academy Award worthy performance as his unfazed demeanor masked his nerves as he watched the colt he developed into the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years load into the gate.

One would think American Pharoah’s human companions would know better by now. The son of Pioneerof the Nile   doesn’t do things a conventional racehorse does and, in the ninth start of his already storied career, he again make a mockery out of the notion he was in danger of being felled by a peer.

Another day. Another start. Another American Pharoah demolition. In his first race since capturing the Belmont Stakes on June 6 to become just the 12th horse to sweep the American classics, American Pharoah was his usual condescending self in the Haskell Invitational, crossing the wire 2 1/4 lengths in front of Keen Ice in a race whose margin was only that close due to jockey Victor Espinoza wrapping up on his champion mount in midstretch.

Though seven of the prior 11 Triple Crown winners won their first start back after their sweep (1943 winner Count Fleet was retired after his Belmont triumph), both Zayat and Baffert conceded to feeling the pressure of expectations as each one of American Pharoah’s seven prior victories had seemingly been better than the one before.

The Haskell is now in the conversation as being the colt’s best outing yet. After sitting second behind Grade I winner Competitive Edge through fractions of 23.22 and 46.14, American Pharoah pulled Espinoza to the front at the quarter pole and was a couple gears from being in a canter as crossed the wire in 1:47.95 over a fast track for the 1 1/8-miles test.

“I was extremely nervous before the race, more than the Belmont,” said Zayat, who bred and campaigns American Pharoah under his Zayat Stables banner. “I had a lot of faith in my horse but I would be lying if I didn’t have…second guessing of myself. Today, there were a lot of question marks.

“What would he do after the Triple Crown? Am I doing right by this sport or not? I did not want to disappoint the fans. Today, when I saw him running and being pressured and…when I started seeing those ears perked up and happy, it’s total gratification.”

American Pharoah gave Baffert his record eighth win in the Haskell. He also validated his trainer’s theory that the colt might actually be on the improve in the aftermath of his Triple Crown journey.

In his works over what Baffert has termed a deep, tiring Del Mar main track, American Pharoah has continued to float effortlessly. If he doesn’t look physically much bigger than he did eight weeks ago, his action has been that of a horse who is growing in power.

“Today I felt it for the first time. I might not have looked nervous but…I was more nervous than any time I’ve run him,” Baffert said. “What I saw was amazing. I’m looking at this horse like ‘Where did he come from?’

“He makes me emotional because he’s a gift from God or something. He’s just a brilliant race horse and one that as a trainer we wait a lifetime to get one like this.”

Breaking from post three in the seven-horse Haskell field, American Pharoah took back kindly for Espinoza and was perfectly relaxed rating just outside of Competitive Edge with Mr. Jordan third early on.

“I knew the other horse would want to take the lead so I sat back a little bit,” Espinoza said. “He did everything by himself. It was pretty easy, pretty impressive today.”

With Competitive Edge put away entering the head of the lane, American Pharoah was in a hand ride as he poured it on with a wall of joyful noise as his soundtrack. Keen Ice bravely rallied from sixth to get runner-up honors with Upstart third in his first start back since being eased in the Kentucky Derby.

“This is best this horse has ever run for us. He just keeps improving and he’s going to keep getting better,” said Dale Romans, trainer of Keen Ice. “But (America Pharoah) is the best horse I’ve ever personally run against. I told Mr. Zayat the first time I saw him work, he might be the best horse I’ve ever seen.

“I’m going to stick to that, but I’m going to keep chasing him.”

As per his usual fashion, Baffert was non committal on where American Pharoah could start next saying that he’s heeding what his champion charge tells him above all others.

“We have to get him home (to Del Mar) and see how he bounces out of this,” Baffert said. “There are a lot of options out there but…every time I lead him out there I want to feel good about it. Right now, we just feel like we have something really special and we owe it to him.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Travers to get purse boost contingent on American Pharoah

Edited release:

The New York Racing Association will raise the total purse for the 146th running of the Grade I Travers Stakes to $1.6 million from $1.25 million, contingent upon Triple Crown winner American Pharoah starting in the 1 1/4-miles race on Saturday, August 29.


The announcement was made Saturday by NYRA Board of Directors Vice Chairman Michael Del Giudice and NYRA Chief Executive Officer and President Christopher Kay, with this action completed in collaboration with Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, Martin Panza, and New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association (NYTHA) President Richard Violette, Jr.


Should American Pharoah start in the Travers, the guaranteed winner’s award will rise to $850,000 from the current guarantee of $675,000. The sliding scale of awards also will rise for the second- through eighth-place finishers, with $270,000 awarded to second place, $150,000 to third place, $100,000 to fourth place, $75,000 to fifth place, $60,000 to sixth place, $50,000 to seventh place and $45,000 to eighth place.


“New York loves a champion, and there is no more fitting place for American Pharoah to continue his march into sporting immortality than competing before the greatest, most knowledgeable and most passionate racing fans anywhere in the world – right  here at historic Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, August 29,” said Kay. “Vice Chairman Del Giudice and I want to both thank NYTHA President Violette for his collaboration and support throughout this process.”


Nominations for the running of the 2015 Travers close on Saturday, August 15.  Subscriptions are $1,250 each. To pass the entry box is $9,000 and an additional $9,750 is required to start in the Mid-Summer Derby.


“American Pharoah’s connections have always been up front with us, and emphasized that they will always put the interests of the horse first and foremost,” said Panza. “We look forward to watching American Pharoah run tomorrow, and hope that everyone competing in the Haskell has a safe trip.”


Grade I winner Real Solution sold to Calumet Farm

Edited release:

Ramsey Farm announced Thursday that multiple Grade I winner Real Solution has been sold to Calumet Farm where he will take up stud residence.

The son of Kitten’s Joy stood his first year at stud at Ramsey Farm for an advertised fee of $12,500. His fee for 2016 has not yet been announced.

Bred and campaigned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Real Solution started his career in Italy where he won his first three starts. The bay horse then headed stateside in 2013 to join the barn of trainer Chad Brown where he won the Grade I Arlington Million via disqualification that year in his third North American start.

Real Solution dropped his next four starts after that Arlington Million triumph before rebounding with a victory in 2014 edition of the Grade I Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park. He finished seventh in the 2014 renewal of the Arlington Million and was retired after running sixth in the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in September 2014.

Real Solution retired with a record of five wins from 15 starts and earnings of $1,374,175. He joins that Calumet Farm roster that includes 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow, champion Point Given, English Channel, Red Rocks, Musketier, Raison d’Etat, Snapy Halo and Ready’s Image.


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