<![CDATA[NBC Connecticut - ]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/feature/triple-crown http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC_Connecticut.png NBC Connecticut http://www.nbcconnecticut.com en-us Thu, 24 Apr 2014 23:40:06 -0400 Thu, 24 Apr 2014 23:40:06 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Outrageous Kentucky Derby Hats]]> Sat, 04 May 2013 18:21:55 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-168014126_10.jpg See the biggest, craziest and most outrageous hats at the 139th Kentucky Derby.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Announcer Relishes Role as Voice of Kentucky Derby]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:39:09 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-AP639473485249.jpg

From his perch with a panoramic view of the world's most famous racetrack, the new voice of Churchill Downs will sit out one of the most anticipated moments of the tradition-soaked Kentucky Derby.

Larry Collmus will try to tune out "My Old Kentucky Home" while the crowd of 160,000-plus sings along and the thoroughbreds take to the Churchill Downs track. The veteran announcer says it gives him chills, and he wants to avoid being overtaken by emotion.

"I don't want that feeling that I used to get, because it's a distraction," he said. "The last thing I need is that leading up to the race.

"So I'll introduce 'My Old Kentucky Home,' but I won't listen to it."

Collmus, 47, has called the past three Derbys for millions of people watching on NBC Sports, but this will be the first time his voice will be heard by the thousands at the track for the 140th Kentucky Derby on May 3. The previous track announcer stepped aside last year.

Collmus has three decades of experience and his crisp cadence is familiar to many horse racing fans. He will continue as the race caller for the network on its telecasts of the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup.

He is just the third announcer to call the Derby for both the track crowd and millions watching on TV.

"He will take his place on the brief, but very distinguished and accomplished, roster of announcers that have served as the voice of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks," the race at Churchill for 3-year-old fillies the day before the Derby, said Churchill Downs track President Kevin Flanery.

In his first Derby call for NBC, Collmus excitedly declared that the horse Animal Kingdom was "roaring down the center of the track" en route to victory in 2011.

"It is the most exciting and nerve-wracking two minutes you could ever imagine," he said.

Collmus honed his announcing skills far from the media glare. He started as an assistant announcer on the racing circuit in his native Maryland. By age 20, he was hired as track announcer at Birmingham Turf Club in Alabama, where he called doubleheader race cards on Saturdays — 10 races in the afternoon and 10 more at night.

During his stint at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts, snow sometimes had to be shoveled off the walkway to the announcer's booth, he said. He went on to call races for 20 years at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and still serves as track announcer during the winter meet at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

At Churchill, he will be a fixture long after the Derby, calling races during the spring, September and fall meets.

But his first stint here was a short one.

Collmus spent a week calling races in 2008, among a handful of announcers who took turns in what was widely seen as tryouts. The job ultimately went to Mark Johnson, a British announcer.

Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher said the split between Johnson and the track was an amicable one.

Like any track announcer, Collmus hopes he's calling the race when the Triple Crown drought finally ends. Affirmed was the last horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978.

"The day that that finally happens, to be the guy who gets to call it would be the most incredible thing," he said.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Weir and Lipinski Join NBC Derby Team]]> Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:42:46 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/weir-lipinski+thumb1.jpg

They're back!

Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski are teaming up again, this time to cover next week's Kentucky Oaks (May 2) and Kentucky Derby (May 3) as fashion correspondents for NBC and NBCSN.

The two figure skating champions were breakout stars of NBC's Sochi Olympics coverage as much for their fashion choices and sartorial critiques as for their insider knowledge of the sport.

"Johnny and Tara have an infectious energy that will bring a fun and fresh perspective to our Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks telecasts," said Rob Hyland, Coordinating Producer for NBC Sports Group. "They will be in their element amid the big-event atmosphere and pageantry of Churchill Downs."

Weir and Lipinski have become sought-after fashion pundits following their on-air Olympic appearances and subsequent stint as Oscar red carpet commentators for "Access Hollywood."

During his time behind the mic at the Olympics, Weir's personal fashion choices were a hit with viewers and social media followers. Furs, handbags and often outré headgear were the norm for the Twitter and Instagram star.

Weir tweeted his excitement over the new appointment: 

The sporting champs already have connections to the equestrian world with Lipinksi riding horses as a youngster and Weir competing in jumping events before turning his focus to figure skating. Weir told the Associated Press he attended the 2010 Kentucky Derby as a fan and bet on the winning horse. He chose a fur-covered sombrero as his headgear for the day. 

"We've always loved loud fashion and sort of bonded over it," Lipinski said to the AP. "The whole Olympics experience was a bit of a surprise. We came in and were focused on doing a good job as rookies. But we're young and we like to have fun. The fashion was specifically for us every day and it was like, 'Oh, people are watching. This is fun.'"

NBC's 2013 Derby telecast was seen by 16.2 million viewers. Women comprised 51% of that audience ranking as the highest percentage of female viewership for any major sporting event in 2013. It was the second most-watched Derby in 25 years.

Tune in to watch Weir and Lipinsky at the Kentucky Oaks on Friday May 2 (3-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and the Kentucky Derby on Saturday May 3 (12-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-7 on NBC).

 

 



Photo Credit: WireImage]]>
<![CDATA[2013 Kentucky Derby: Orb Wins on "Perfect Trip"]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:34:45 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/orb-wins.jpg

Odds-on favorite Orb won the 139th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, lingering in the back of the pack for much of the race before dashing through the mud to take the lead down the final stretch.

The winning colt, ridden by Joel Rosario, entered the Derby as the morning-line favorite, fell in early betting and then returned at the last minute at 5-1. With the win, he becomes an automatic early favorite for the Preakness, and a potential contender for the Triple Crown, which culminates with the Belmont Stakes.

Orb finished the 1 1/4 mile race in 2:02.89, followed by Golden Soul, a long shot, and Revolutionary, Orb's top rival, who entered the race at 6-1.

"Oh my God, this is awesome, you know. This is like a dream to me," Rosario said after claiming his first Derby victory. "He was so far behind, and I just let him be calm and let him be relaxed, and he was able to do it all. He was very relaxed, which was exactly what I wanted.

"It was the perfect trip."

Orb was the first morning-line favorite to win the Derby since Big Brown in 2008, and only the seventh since 1974.

The race began at a torrid pace despite sloppy conditions created by a daylong rain. Palace Malice led for most of the race but faded on the final turn. Normandy Invasion took a brief lead down the stretch, but Orb surged ahead as he made his move from the back of the pack.

Orb's trainer, Claude R. "Shug" McGaughey III, won his first Derby in 34 years in the business.

"I'm thrilled to death for (the owners), thrilled to death for the people who put so much time into this horse, and, of course, I'm thrilled to death for me," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Orb is owned by Stuart Janney and Dinny Phipps.

The total purse for the Derby was more than $2 million, $1.4 million of it for Orb.

Saturday's steady rain in Louisville turned the Churchill Downs dirt track into a muddy glob, and the stands into a sea of colorful ponchos—and, of course, hats.

Revolutionary had been bettors' favorite for much of the day, but in the moments before the race a seven-figure surge of wagers pushed Orb to 5-1.

Verrazano, who'd been touted as a top contender for weeks, finished 14th. Another highly admired horse, Goldencents — whose jockey, Kevin Krigger, was trying to become the first black to win the Derby in over a century — came in 17th.

A second jockey running for history was Rosie Napravnik, who lost her chance to be the first woman to win the Derby. She ended up in 5th aboard Mylute. Even still, that finish was the best ever by a female jockey.

Josh Kleinbaum and Patrick Hickey Jr. contributed reporting.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[2013 Preakness: Oxbow Denies Orb in Upset]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:33:45 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-AP473202924331.jpg

History will have to wait at least one more year.

Orb, the Kentucky Derby champion who many hoped would become the first Triple Crown winner in 35 years, finished fourth in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, as 15-1 longshot Oxbow pulled off a surprise wire-to-wire win at Pimlico.

"It's so special," said Oxbow jockey Gary Stevens, who came out of retirement this year at age 50. "We were kind of flying under the radar after the Derby. Didn't get a lot of respect."

Oxbow trainer D. Wayne Lukas seemed to take pleasure from dashing Orb's Triple Crown hopes.

"I get paid to spoil dreams," Lukas said.

Orb's fate may have been sealed days before the race, when he drew the No. 1 post position along the rail -- only two horses have won the Preakness from that position over the last 63 years. Sure enough, Orb got boxed in against the rail by a pack of horses early in the race, and could never find room to break free.

Meanwhile, Oxbow pulled ahead of the pack and never relinquished the lead.

"When I hit the half-mile pole, I just said, 'Are you kidding me, is this happening?'" said Stevens, who worked for NBC as a racing analyst during his seven-year retirement.

Oxbow finished the 1 3/16th-mile race in 1:57.54. Itsmyluckyday finished second, Mylute finished third and Orb, the 3-5 favorite, finished fourth.

But nobody ever gave Oxbow a serious threat.

It's a landmark win for Lukas: Oxbow's Preakness victory marks the trainer's 14th Triple Crown win, the most ever. He's won the Preakness six times, and the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont four times each. He passed James Fitzsimmons, who has won 13 Triple Crown races.

Jockey Gary Stevens has now notched three wins apiece at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont over his career.

Oxbow's win means the Triple Crown drought continues.

In the lead-up to the Preakness, Orb seemed like a prime candidate to end that drought, and bettors made him a heavy favorite. His breathtaking late push in the Kentucky Derby had people believing: He emerged from the back of the pack down the stretch, blew past a large group of horses and pulled away from the pack for a dominant win. Combined with a pedigree to make race fans drool -- his blood lines includes two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew (1977) and Secretariat (1973) -- many thought the three-year-old colt would take a place among the horse-racing elite.

Instead, he'll become another in a long line of almosts and what-ifs. Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown, and none since Affirmed in 1978.

Orb wasn't the only one trying to make history on Saturday who came up short in Baltimore.

Rosie Napravnik, the jockey riding Mylute, hoped to become the first female jockey to win the race. Instead Mylute finished in third place.

Kevin Krigger, the jockey riding Goldencents, hoped to become the first African-American jockey to win the race since 1898. He too came up short as Goldencents finished in fifth place.

 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[2013 Belmont: Long Shot Palace Malice Wins]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:35:32 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/belmont+21.jpg

Palace Malice, the pace-setter at the Kentucky Derby, sprinted to a decisive win at the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes, dashing Orb's last Triple Crown chance for redemption.

Veteran jockey Mike Smith told NBC Sports that his long shot colt, who ran without blinkers, was "just enjoying the trip, sucking all the air in" on a fast track that had dried up after a day and night of pounding rain.

Orb, the Derby winner who entered the race the overwhelming favorite with 2-1 odds (despite his fourth-place flop at Pimlico), placed third; Oxbow, the Preakness champ placed second.

Out of the gate, Frac Daddy and Freedom Child set the pace on the mile-and-a-half course, but Oxbow managed to pull ahead by the half-mile mark. Orb, who left spectators jaw-dropped when he exploded to a victory at Churchill Downs, was able to pull ahead from the middle of the pack on the final furlong, but never managed to catch Oxbow and Palace Malice.

Palace Malice, owned by Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stable, won by 3 1/4 lengths in a slow 2:30.70. The colt finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby, skipped the Preakness, and entered the Belmont Stakes with 13-1 odds. His victory over 13 other horses gave Todd Pletcher his second Belmont win.

"We always felt like he had a big one in him," Pletcher told NBC Sports. "We were just waiting for it to finally develop."

The renowned trainer had a record five horses entered in the race. His other horses included Revolutionary, who landed in fifth; Overanalyze in seventh; Midnight Taboo second-to-last; and Unlimited Budget—the only filly in the field, paired with star jockey Rosie Napravnik—in sixth.

Though Unlimited Budget missed her chance to become just the fourth filly to win the Belmont Stakes, her jockey made history by becoming the first female to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown in the same year.  She rode Mylute, who did not compete at Belmont, to fifth and third place finishes at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, respectively, making her the highest-placing female rider in the history of both races.

Fourteen horses were going for a chunk of the $1 million purse. It was the largest field for the race since 1996.

Breaking sports news video. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL highlights and more.

Full Results:
1. Palace Malice
2. Oxbow
3. Orb
4. Incognito
5. Revolutionary
6. Unlimited Budget
7. Overanalyze
8. Vyjack
9. Golden Soul
10. Will Take Charge
11.Giant Finish
12. Midnight Taboo
13. Freedom Child
14. Frac Daddy



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Scenes from Belmont Stakes]]> Sat, 08 Jun 2013 22:06:12 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/trophy+20.jpg Palace Malice sprinted to a decisive win at the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown. Click to see scenes from the day.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Orb, Oxbow Face Off in Triple Crown Finale]]> Sat, 08 Jun 2013 17:01:22 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP586252576958.jpg

The winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes face off Saturday at the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes, the final and most arduous leg of the Triple Crown.

The the skies above Elmont, N.Y. have cleared up after a day and night of pounding rain and Belmont Park track conditions have been upgraded to "good." Any lingering dampness on the mile-and-a-half course should not be a problem for Orb, who proved unaffected by the mud in Louisville. He enters the race the morning-line favorite with 3-1 odds and one last chance to redeem himself after a fourth-place flop at Pimlico.

Watch NBC Sports’ coverage now online and on TV starting at 5 p.m. ET

Orb will break from post No. 5, an improvement from the inside post he drew last race, which kept him boxed in against the rail.

Oxbow, the Preakness winner with 5-1 odds, will be running from the seventh post. A win for Oxbow would give trainer D. Wayne Lucas his 15th Triple Crown win, surpassing his record 14 set at Pimlico. The colt is the third choice favorite behind Revolutionary, the third-place winner at the Kentucky Derby and one of five horses trainer Todd Pletcher is entering in the race.

Other Pletcher horses include Overanalyze (11th in Derby), longshot Midnight Taboo, Palace Malice (12th in Derby) and Unlimited Budget—the only filly in the field, to be paired, perhaps aptly, with star jockey Rosie Napravnik, the first woman to ride all three legs of the Triple Crown.

Napravnik rode Mylute, who is not competing at Belmont, to fifth and third place finishes at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, respectively. The impressive performances made her the highest-placing female rider in the history of both races.

Unlimited Budget (8-1) would be the fourth filly to win the longest and toughest Triple Crown race nicknamed the Test of Champions. The last to do it was another Pletcher-trained horse: Rags to Riches in 2007.

Fourteen horse are expected to vie for a chunk of the $1 million purse at New York's Belmont Park. It's the largest field for the race since 1996 and could be any horse's for the taking. In the last 15 years, the New York Racing Association points out, all but two Belmont Stakes victories went to horses that had not won either the Preakness or the Kentucky Derby. (Those horses were Afleet Alex in 2005 and Point Given in 2001.)

Midnight Taboo (30-1), Franc Daddy (30-1), Incognito (20-1) and Freedom Child (8-1)—a fellow son of Orb's sire, Malibu Moon—are entering the Triple Crown for the first time.

Post time is 6:36 p.m. ET. NBC airs coverage of the race beginning at 5 p.m ET.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Belmont Stakes Security Gets Tougher]]> Fri, 07 Jun 2013 08:17:03 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Belmont+Oxbow.jpg

Saturday’s Belmont Stakes on Long Island will have tighter security than in years past, making it the latest major sporting event with stricter policies following the Boston Marathon bombings.

The new rules, which take a lead from those implemented for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, affect fans even before they get near the track.

Tailgating will not be allowed on park grounds, and fans may be searched outside the admission gates.

Authorities say they will use electric wands at all the gates to search for prohibited items.

"We’re gonna do everything we can to maintain the fun level, along with keeping the safety level just as high," said Rodnell Workman, a vice president with the New York Racing Association.

A slew of new items are banned from the race this year including backpacks, coolers, laser pointers, umbrellas, thermoses, camcorders, purses longer than 12 inches in diameter, duffel bags, cameras with detachable lenses or lenses longer than 6 inches, pepper spray or other weapons, tripods and wagons or hand trucks.

As in previous years, alcoholic beverages, fireworks, glass, grills and tents will also be banned.

Race fans seem to be taking the increased security measures in stride.

"We cannot allow the terrorism to ruin our lives and enjoyment," said Robert Acker, who was visiting the track on Thursday.



Photo Credit: AP Images]]>
<![CDATA[By the Numbers: Belmont Stakes]]> Mon, 03 Jun 2013 21:16:10 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Belmont_8.jpg

The Belmont Stakes, to be run Saturday for the 145th time, is the oldest, longest and the most grueling of the Triple Crown races. The mile-and-a-half sprint at New York’s Belmont Park requires more stamina than either the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby or the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes, which produced different winners this year, eliminating any chance of a sweep. Despite the Triple Crown drought—going on 35 years—there are still plenty of reasons to tune in.

Orb, the winner of the Kentucky Derby, and Oxbow, winner of the Preakness Stakes, are both expected to start, giving each the chance to notch a second Triple Crown victory. There are also plenty of new contenders in the field. As many as seven may make their Triple Crown debut Saturday and any one of them could sprint past Orb, Oxbow and the rest of the pack for the biggest chunk of the race’s $1 million purse.

Here's a bit more, by the numbers, about what to expect for the Belmont Stakes—and what sets the sometimes-overshadowed race apart from the others:

THE RACE
1.5: Length, in miles, of the race. It is the longest of any Triple Crown race and has proven too demanding for some of the most promising competitors, earning it the nickname the “Test of Champions.” Of the 29 Triple Crown contenders that have entered the race, only 11 managed to notch the requisite win at Belmont Park to claim the title. Affirmed was the last to do so, in 1978.

2:24: Length of time, in minutes, it took Secretariat to finish the Belmont Stakes in 1973. The iconic thoroughbred won by 31 lengths to crush the standing record at Belmont after breaking records at the Derby and Preakness. (The Preakness record was disputed and not officially confirmed until 2012, when new technology settled the 39-year-old controversy.)

1,000,000: Dollars that will be divvied up among Belmont's top finisher Saturday. $600,000 will go to the champion, $200,000 to the runner up, $110,000 to the third place winner, $60,000 to the fourth place winner and $30,000 to the fifth place winner.

14: Number of horses expected to start in Saturday’s race. Nearly half of them may be entering the Triple Crown for the first time. Always in a Tiz, Incognito, Code West, Freedom Child, Midnight Taboo, and Unlimited Budget would be new to the field. Giant Finish, Golden Soul, Orb, Overanalyze, Oxbow, Palace Malice, Revolutionary and Will Take Charge have all competed in either the Kentucky Derby and/or the Preakness Stakes.

5: Number of Todd Pletcher-trained horses that could start at the race. They include: Palace Malice, who placed 12th in the Derby, Revolutionary (3rd in the Derby and considered one of the top contenders on the field), Overanalyze (11th at the Derby), Midnight Taboo and filly Unlimited Budget.

144: Number of years the race has been run. Saturday will be the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes. It is the oldest of the Triple Crown races, with eight years on the Kentucky Derby and six years on the Preakness Stakes.

BELMONT PARK
85,000-90,000: Attendance capacity of Belmont Park. Somehow 120,139 spectators, however, were able to cram into the stadium to watch Smarty Jones go for a Triple Crown win in 2004. The horse fell short with a second-place finish behind Birdstone. It was the largest crowd to ever pack into the stadium.

$200: Price for box seats at Belmont. These seats are sold out, but second-hand sites are still offering them at a premium. On Tuesday the price for a box seat ticket on StubHub ranged from $1,199 to $3,990. (General admission tickets were going for $4 a piece.)

HISTORICAL FUN FACTS
10: Number of states to produce Belmont winners. They are: Kentucky, Virginia, New Jersey, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, Texas and Montana.

9: Number of horses bred outside the U.S. who have won the Belmont Stakes. All have been from either England, Canada or Ireland.

22: Number of fillies, out of 1,069 thoroughbreds, that have competed in the Belmont Stakes. Of the 22 females, three have won: Ruthless in 1867; Tanya in 1905 and Rags to Riches in 2007. Unlimited Budget is the only filly expected in this year's field.

2: Number of geldings (neutered horses, which were barred from competing in the race between 1918 and 1957) to have won the race. Ruler On Ice won in 2011; Crème Fraiche in 1985. No geldings are running in the Belmont this year.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Belmont: The Toughest Stop of Horse Racing's Triple Crown]]> Tue, 04 Jun 2013 13:07:49 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/belmont_race_P2.jpg

John Velazquez won’t call himself an expert on Belmont Park’s grueling racetrack, but with more than 1,600 first-place finishes there—the most of any active jockey—he clearly knows its demands.

Belmont's 1 1-2 mile dirt track is the longest of its kind in the United States, and the last stop in the Triple Crown series after the 1 1-4 mile Kentucky Derby and the 1 3-16 mile Preakness Stakes. Velazquez, who won the Belmont Stakes in 2007 and 2012, has seen countless jockeys get too aggressive on the backstretch, only to have their horses fade in the final sprint.

“A lot of people get really confused,” Velazquez said. “People who come to New York and have never ridden a mile and a half have to do their homework and be aware.”

That is why the Belmont Stakes—to be held June 8—is considered the most demanding of the Triple Crown races, and a main reason why so few horses have managed to win all three.

“Thirteen of the last 15 Belmonts have been won by a horse who didn’t win either of the other Triple Crown races,” said Ed Bowen, a racing historian and journalist. “That’s a great illustration of how tough it is. That’s why they call it the ‘Test of the Champion.’ There’s nothing comparable in this country.”

Velazquez, 41, who has raced at Belmont throughout his entire Hall of Fame career, exhibited his mastery of the track at last year’s running. Velazquez held his horse, Union Rags, in the middle of the pack, then squeezed through an opening along the inside rail and out-dashed Paynter for a photo-finish victory.

“Experience counts for a lot,” Velazquez said as he recalled that 2012 race recently. “Having been here so so many years helped me.”

He stressed that there are always a myriad of other factors that play into a winning race. But at Belmont, the unusual length makes those variables more difficult to analyze.

“The length is difficult not only for your horse,” Velazquez said. “You have to do your homework on the other horses as well—which horses can handle the distance, who’ll lead, who’ll be in the pack, who’ll hang back.”

Velazquez will be back at the track on June 8, where he'll ride Todd Pletcher-trained Overanalyze in the Belmont Stakes.

Many of his competitors will be riding at Belmont for the first time in the 2013 season. But he’s not taking his prior success for granted. He never does.

“I’ve been very fortunate, but I do my homework,” Velazquez said.

And the work is always harder at Belmont.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Belmont Stakes Contenders Hit the Track]]> Tue, 28 May 2013 16:55:46 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/166516411.jpg

More than a half-dozen Belmont Stakes contenders have posted workouts at Belmont Park less than two weeks before the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Palace Malice was among the most impressive with a five-furlong work in 1:00.24 on Monday. Trainer Todd Pletcher says his 12th-place Kentucky Derby finisher "worked unbelievably well."

Pletcher could have as many as five 3-year-olds for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont on June 8. The others, all of whom had workouts Monday, are Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Midnight Taboo and the filly Unlimited Budget.

Freedom Child had his first workout since winning the Peter Pan earlier this month, covering five furlongs in 59.87.

A field of about 14 is shaping up for the Belmont, with Derby winner Orb and Preakness winner Oxbow among the group.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Scenes from Preakness Stakes]]> Sat, 08 Jun 2013 17:41:29 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/oxbow-wins-2-169012495.jpg Celebrities and race fans alike arrived for the 138th Preakness Stakes race. Click to see scenes from the day - and from the Kentucky Derby.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[All Eyes on Orb at 138th Preakness Stakes]]> Sat, 18 May 2013 16:39:14 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-168044956_10.jpg

All eyes will be on Orb Saturday afternoon when the Kentucky Derby champion takes his post at the Preakness Stakes, aiming to win the second leg of the elusive Triple Crown.

The colt's resounding victory at the Derby, marked by a surge of power in the final stretch, has fueled hopes for the first Triple Crown triumph since 1978, when Affirmed won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Orb, the even-money favorite at Pimlico, will either dash those hopes or move one step closer to the coveted crown.

For fans hoping to see the first Triple Crown in decades, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. In the Derby, on May 4, Orb handily beat five of the eight horses he will take on in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes. Since then, his performance in training has earned stellar reviews.

Hall of Fame trainer Claude R. "Shug" McGaughey called Orb's workout at Belmont earlier this week "breathtaking," "spectacular" and even better than his performance leading up to the Derby, according to the Associated Press. The colt ran four furlongs in 47.18 seconds and five furlongs in 59.54.

But the widespread optimism was dampened just days later when Orb drew the rail, or No. 1 post—a position that has launched only two Preakness victors since 1950. Running from that position, other horses could crowd Orb against the rail, making it difficult for Orb to find room to maneuver to the head of the pack.

"Obviously, if I was going to pick it out, I wouldn't have picked the 1," McGaughey told the AP when the positions were drawn. "But with only nine horse in there to run a mile and three-sixteenths, with a rider like Joel (Rosario), he's going to figure out what to do. He'll have him in the right spot."

The shorter race could also favor some of the horses that faded at the end of the mile-and-a-quarter Derby. Goldencents—partially owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino— was one of the favorites heading into the Kentucky Derby, but finished 17th in a field of 19 horses. That performance hasn't deterred bettors from putting their money on the colt in the Preakness. Heading into the race he's among the four favorites, with 8-1 morning line odds.

Mylute, who has 5-1 odds after placing fifth in the Kentucky Derby, is another Preakness favorite. The horse will be ridden by rising star Rosie Napravnik, who will be the third female jockey ever to compete in the Preakness Stakes. She heads into the weekend with more wins than any other jockey posting for the race, besides Joel Rosario, who will be riding Orb.

Departing, who skipped the Derby, could also pose a threat to the even-money favorite. The horse arrives at Pimlico with four wins this year, including a big victory two weeks ago at the Illinois Derby, where he managed to pull ahead of the pack and finish by 3 1/4 lengths.

Govenor Charlie, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, and Titletown Five, co-owned by Packers Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, will also make their Triple Crown debuts in the second leg of the contest.

Govenor Charlie, who descends from the 1998 Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, has 12-1 odds, while Titletown Five is a much longer shot. Despite his 30-1 odds, Titletown Five's trainer D. Wayne Lukas still has a decent chance to taste victory. The Hall of Fame trainer has two other horses in the race— Oxbow and Will Take Charge.

The $1 million race begins at 6:20 p.m. and will be streamed live on NBC Live Extra beginning at 4:30 p.m.

If Orb wins, he'll race for the Triple Crown at Belmont on June 8. Twenty-two horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but only 11 have won all three. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orb to Have Inside View of Preakness]]> Fri, 17 May 2013 10:01:04 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-168045051_10.jpg

For a while there, it looked as if the Preakness was shaping up to be a runaway victory for Kentucky Derby winner Orb.

Then came the post-position draw. Suddenly things got very interesting.

Orb's pursuit of the Triple Crown received an unexpected jolt Wednesday when trainer Shug McGaughey's horse drew the rail for Saturday's race. McGaughey tried to brush off the development as a mere inconvenience, but he couldn't entirely mask his disappointment over starting inside eight other horses in the smallest Preakness field since 2007.

"Obviously, if I was going to pick it out, I wouldn't have picked the 1," McGaughey said. "But with only nine horses in there to run a mile and three-sixteenths, with a rider like Joel (Rosario), he's going to figure out what to do. He'll have him in the right spot."

That's the plan. Yet, if Orb doesn't get in front early, he risks becoming pinned on the rail or pushed to the back of the field. The inside post is even worse in the Derby, where this year there were 19 horses in the field.

"If it had come out the 1 in the Derby, you'd almost have felt like you needed to go home," McGaughey said. "But I don't feel that way here."

Still, history suggests Orb's advantage in this race has dwindled, even though he was made the even-money favorite in the morning line. Only twice since 1950 has a horse won from the No. 1 post — Bally Ache in 1960 and Tabasco Cat in 1994.

So the rest of the field has a little bit more hope than it did before Orb got stuck on the rail.

"Out of the nine numbers, the 1 is probably the one you want the least," said Al Stall Jr., the trainer of Departing.

Mylute, who will start from the No. 5 post as the second-favorite at 5-1, trailed Orb for much of the race in Kentucky. This race could develop quite differently with Orb inside.

"We need to make up three or four lengths, and that may be one of the factors that helps us," said Todd Quast, general manager of GoldMark Farm, co-owner of the Derby's fifth-place finisher.

Soon after the draw ended, Mylute jockey Rosie Napravnik said on Twitter, "Perfect draw! super excited!

Quast said, "We're ecstatic about it. With this horse, it doesn't matter as much, but it sure is nice being inside, a little bit toward the middle, and then having Orb inside us and Departing inside us, the two big threats. It's great to be outside of them."

Departing, a bay gelding, won the Grade III Illinois Derby on April 20 and skipped the Kentucky Derby because Stall did not think the horse was ready. The trainer thinks it might be an advantage at the Preakness.

"In this day and age, the modern thoroughbred seems to like a little time in-between races. I don't know why," Stall said. "So we're fortunate enough to have 28 days between the Illinois Derby and now. It gave us time to improve and he really has improved. You can see it on a day-to-day basis when you train him."

Stall is among those who believe the rail won't be a hindrance to Orb.

"The post doesn't really matter in this type of race, this type of track with a nine-horse field," he said. "It's just a good party to come to."

Orb won the Derby by 2½ lengths and has won five straight races, so he's certainly worth of being the favorite in spite of his starting position.

"I don't know that the rail's all that bad," said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has three horses in the race: Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Titletown Five. "Orb is still the one to beat."

The field, from the rail, with odds in parenthesis: Orb (1-1), Goldencents (8-1), Titletown Five (30-1), Departing (6-1), Mylute (5-1), Oxbow (15-1), Will Take Charge (12-1), Govenor Charlie (12-1) and Itsmyluckyday (10-1).

Lukas was delighted with the post positions drawn by his trio of entrants.

"I love mine. I thought it was real good," he said. "Oxbow for a change got inside a little bit. He'll be forwardly placed. We shouldn't have any trouble. I'm going to have to come up with a different excuse when we get beat."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Preakness Beefs Up Security After Boston]]> Wed, 15 May 2013 19:29:23 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/smarty-jones.jpg

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings last month, a number of security policies will be in effect at Saturday's Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, raceway officials said.

Security agents will be wanding all attendees, with all camera bags, purses and containers entering Pimlico Race Course grounds to be searched upon entry.

Backpacks, duffel bags, coolers and or thermoses will be prohibited.

For the fifth year in a row, attendees are prohibited from bringing their own alcoholic beverages to the infield. Faced with dangerous drunkenness in the past, Pimlico now controls all alcohol sales.

Those in the grandstands will be allowed to bring beverages in clear plastic containers, no larger than 18" by 18". Food must also be in clear containers or clear plastic bags no larger than 12" by 12".

Other items banned from the grandstand, clubhouse and infield include:

  • Laser lights or pointers, cameras with lenses more than 6" long, cameras over 35mm, camcorders, tripods, tents, balloons or balls, fireworks, mace or pepper spray, grills,
    umbrellas, weapons, wagons, non-folding or folding metal chairs, ladders, scaffolding or other raised devices

Items allowed on the grandstand, clubhouse or infield include:

  • Beach blankets (infield only), suntan lotion, beach tote bags, cell phones, tablets, cameras, binoculars, purses and lightweight aluminum or plastic lawn chairs (infield only)

The Preakness Stakes — the second leg of the Triple Crown — will be held May 18 at 4:30 p.m.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orb Trainer: Derby Worth the Wait]]> Wed, 15 May 2013 10:30:07 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/shug-orb.jpg

Shug McGaughey worked as a trainer for more than 30 years before finally saddling his first Kentucky Derby winner.

It was worth the wait.

Speaking at Pimlico Race Course, where he will seek to win the Preakness with Orb, the 62-year-old McGaughey said, "I always said I wish I won the Derby when I was young so I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore. I'm not sure that's true now. If I had won in '89 with Easy Goer, I don't know if I'd appreciate it as much as I did this past Saturday."

McGaughey and his horse have attracted much attention this week, for good reason. Coming off his solid win at Churchill Downs on May 4, Orb is in position to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

With a victory, McGaughey can add a Preakness win to his suddenly blossoming resume. The last time he was a participant in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, Easy Goer lost to Sunday Silence by a nose in 1989.

"As soon as I got here, it all came back to me — where I needed to be, where I was going," he said. "I feel like I'm back on familiar ground, and I'm tickled to death to be here."

McGaughey sent Orb to Baltimore from New York by van on Monday and was delighted to see his horse make a quick adjustment to his new surroundings.

"He had a lot of energy. I walked him a few turns and had to give him up," McGaughey said Tuesday. "So far, so good. I worried a little bit (Monday) coming down here. But I'm glad we got in here while it's still good and quiet and got settled in. He had a good night and a nice morning. Everything is good."

__

BAFFERT NEARS DECISION: It appears as if Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will enter Govenor Charlie in the Preakness.

After the horse ran well over six furlongs on Monday at Churchill Downs, Baffert said Tuesday, "He came of his work really, really well. We are prepared to go."

Baffert is at home in California this week and has been receiving reports from Kentucky on the colt from his longtime assistant, Jimmy Barnes.

Govenor Charlie did not run in the Kentucky Derby because of a minor foot bruise that caused him to miss training time in April. The injury no longer appears to be an issue.

Baffert has until Wednesday morning to make a decision, but he said, "Unless he shows me something, it's pretty likely he'll be on that plane."

___

FIRST SINCE 1898?: The last time an African-American jockey won the Preakness was in 1898, when Willie Simms reached the finish line aboard Sly Fox.

Kevin Krigger has a chance to be the next, on Goldencents this Saturday.

"The media actually is paying more attention to it than I am because I really don't have time to worry about that," Krigger said. "I'm focused here on getting Goldencents in the Preakness winner's circle."

Krigger will be the first African-American to ride in the Preakness since Wayne Barnett, who finished eighth on Sparrowvon in 1985.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orb Impresses with Workout at Belmont]]> Mon, 13 May 2013 14:26:55 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-168044956_10.jpg

Orb is ready.

The Kentucky Derby winner put in his final workout before the Preakness, breezing four furlongs in 47.18 seconds, galloping out five furlongs in 59.54 and delighting trainer Shug McGaughey.

"I thought it was breathtaking," McGaughey said Monday morning.

With exercise rider Jennifer Patterson aboard, Orb seemed to move effortlessly around the track on a clear, sunny day. In fact, McGaughey called it more impressive than the colt's workout before he won the Derby by 2½ lengths on May 4.

"For him to go off nice and relaxed in 24 and change and come home on his own the way he did, and gallop out the way he did, and drop his head and walk home, it sent cold chills up my back," the Hall of Fame trainer said.

After cooling down and receiving a sponge bath, Orb was loaded onto a van headed to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. A win in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on Saturday would set up a Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes on June 8. The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.

McGaughey wasn't concerned with the fast fractions, which come nine days after running 1¼ miles in the Derby.

"I think it's a tribute to the way he came out of the Derby, and to come back and be able to have a work like that and do it the way he did it — I couldn't be more thrilled," he said. "Right now I'm on cloud nine. The way he was striding today, the way he held his leads through the lane, I thought it was spectacular."

Orb, owned by the Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III, takes a five-race winning streak in the Preakness, where he will face what look to be nine challengers. Among them are Derby runners Mylute (fifth), Oxbow (sixth), Will Take Charge (eighth), Itsmyluckyday (15th) and Goldencents (17th). Also set for the race is Departing, winner of the Illinois Derby.

"I think it's formidable," McGaughey said. "I know that Oxbow made a good run in the Derby. I never really kind of sat down and watched it and pinned it down. The other horse (Will Take Charge) got in some trouble. You've got to respect Departing coming in there off his race in the Illinois Derby and being relatively fresh. My main concern is just trying to get Orb over there the best way we possibly can and if he runs his race I think they'll know he's in there."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Life After Racing: From Stud to Slaughter]]> Tue, 14 May 2013 22:51:00 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/smarty-jones.jpg

For a horse like Orb, the sculpted colt that won the Kentucky Derby last week, the future holds plenty of promise. Besides earning the celebrity that comes with a high-profile victory, Orb is likely to attract the attention of breeders who would keep him healthy and occupied for the next 20 years.

But the vast majority of horses competing on North American racetracks—more than 61,000 horses last year—will spend their careers running in lower-level races, far from the public eye. Most will never see the sort of breeding bids that draw their more successful counterparts into early retirement, so they'll race for as long as they can. When their bodies wear and winnings diminish, they'll finally leave the track and head toward a future that's often uncertain and sometimes abridged.

Here are some of the places, from the stud farm to the slaughterhouse, a retired racehorse may land:

STUD FARM:
As mentioned, top-tiered horses can usually count on a future breeding career.

"There is so much more money to be made in the stud if you're successful than you could ever dream of making compared to racing," says David Switzer, the executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. The same is true for fillies, he said. "If you have a nice female that has won major stakes races and earned some money, it could be beneficial to retire the mare and breed her toward the stallions."

In some cases, the payout an owner receives from a breeder can top the horse's career earnings.

Last year, for example, Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, who earned about $2.7 million in his career, sold for $10 million to a Japanese breeder. It was an exceptional price, but quite a typical finish to a talented racehorse's career.

Once a horse begins its breeding career, it continues to generate earnings.

Smarty Jones, the winner of the Derby and Preakness in 2004, has sired 418 foals in seven years, the last of which was born last month in Buckingham, Penn. Of those, 381 are racing age, and 192 have won races—for a total of just over $20 million in winnings. His stud fee is $7,500 per session.

Elite geldings, neutered horses, are not as lucrative once they retire. In many cases, therefore, they race longer and retire older than their fertile counterparts.

Consider the fate of the horses that ran in the 2010 Preakness Stakes: Those horses are now 6 years old, which means that by this point, most of them would have retired. Of the dozen that started in that race, seven are currently in breeding careers. One was euthanized after an injury; two geldings raced as recently as last year; one horse could not be accounted for, and one outlier, a colt named Schoolyard Dreams, continues to compete.

NEW JOB
Many industry groups encourage owners to have their horses transition to a new career when their sprinting days are over. While racehorses tend to retire by the time they're 6 or 7, horses trained in dressage, therapy or jumping can continue to work—and have value—well into their teens.

Dot Morgan, the executive director of New Vocations, which runs the largest racehorse adoption program in the country, says that thoroughbreds are particularly versitile animals.

"They can be taught to cut cows, barrel race, but what they're usually used for if they're sound and pain free, is to jump," Morgan said. "They love to jump...Horses that are coming to us that have never seen a jump before, instead of being spooked, they head right for them."

The agency, one of dozens throughout the country that accepts, retrains and finds new homes for unwanted horses, has found new purposes and owners for nearly 5,000 ex-racehorses. Most, she points out, did not arrive at one of the agency's facilities at the end of a glamorous racing career.

"These are your mares and geldings racing on the B-tracks ... and the ones that aren't owned by the well-heeled owners that can afford to retire them to their farms," she said. But every now and then a thoroughbred with impressive credentials will turn up in need of some help.

In 2012, WinStar Farms, the former owner of a Kentucky Derby alumn, got word that the horse was competing in low-end claiming races in Arizona and California. Advice, who placed 13th in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, was a gelding and therefore unable to be sold to a breeder after the Derby. Instead, Advice was sold to a new owner who raced him for three more years. After learning the horse's fate, the former owner claimed the horse back and sent it over to New Vocations. There, Advice wound up training as a hunter/jumper, and was eventually adopted by somebody in Michigan, where the horse now lives.

SLAUGHTER
While domestic "kill markets" dried up when the last U.S. slaughterhouses closed in 2007, the lure of overseas slaughter money—not to mention the financial burden of maintaining a horse that's no longer profitable—still sends tens of thousands of horses to their death in foreign facilities each year. According to data compiled by the ASPCA, more than 166,000 American horses were sent to Canada and Mexico for slaughter last year.

"It is well-documented that many racehorses end up at slaughter auctions within a week of their last race, despite the fact that many tracks aross the country have policies opposing this practice," said Nancy Perry, the senior vice president of ASPCA governmental relations.

Grim as that is, many more horses were shipped off to slaughter when U.S. facilities were still producing horsemeat for human consumption. In 1990, when numbers peaked, more than 410,000 American horses met their end in a slaughterhouse. 

RESCUE/RETIREMENT FACILITIES
Even second careers have their limits. Horses can live into their late 20s and even those that are able to smoothly transition into second careers will not be able to keep them forever. By the time they enter their late teens, it's unlikely that they'll continue to be used in equestrian events like hunting and jumping and may no longer be useful to breeders. Even younger horses can become sick or injured and need to permanantely retire.

The Unwanted Horse Coalition, an alliance of organizations dedicated to eliminating the problem of unwanted and abandoned horses, does not have an exact figure to measure the scope of the problem. But the group notes the annual slaughter numbers and says that there are not enough placement opportunities, volunteers or funding for all the unwanted horses in the country.

The Coalition lists a number or farms, facilities and organizations that accept and care for abandoned horses. And for the occasion when no better option is available, it lists an estimated price for euthanasia:  $66, not including disposal (burial, rendering or incineration). Those fees, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s National Fee and Market Study released in 2001, can range from $75 to $250 for rendering and up to $2,000 for incineration.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Preakness Stakes By the Numbers]]> Fri, 10 May 2013 16:39:45 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-pimlico.jpg

When Orb steps into the starting gates of the 138th Preakness Stakes at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course on May 18, the 3-year-old colt will try to become the 34th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Orb, who won the Kentucky Derby on May 4, is an early favorite for the Preakness, but the favorite wins only about half the time. He'll be running against many of the horses he beat at Churchill Downs, as well as a few well-rested thoroughbreds who skipped the Derby.

Among the competition are Mylute, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who will be the third female jockey at the Preakness, and Goldencents, whose jockey, Kevin Krigger, wants to be the first African-American to win the race in more than a century.

Here's a quick look at the challenges ahead of Orb, and the rich history behind the race known as the "the middle jewel." 

Oct. 25, 1870: The date Pimlico Race Course opened. It is the second oldest track in the country, behind Saratoga.

May 23, 1873: The date of the first Preakness.

$2,050: The size of the winning purse at the first Preakness.

$1 million: The Preakness' current purse.

1 3/16 miles: Length of the Preakness track, 1/16th of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby.

14: Number of positions available in the 2013 Preakness.

3: Number of horses scheduled for the 2013 Preakness trained by D. Wayne Lukas (Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Titletown Five).

70: Number of odd-on favorites to win the Preakness.

33: Number of horses who have one both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the first two races in the Triple Crown (only 11 have won the title).

$1 million: The assessed value (done in 1983) of the Woodland Trophy, presented each year to the Preakness winner. No one takes the 29-pound trophy with them, however; winners receive a $30,000 replica instead.

6: The number of drops of Angostura Bitters that goes into a Black-Eyed Susan, the official Preakness cocktail.

18 inches by 90 inches: The size of the blanket, made of Black-Eyed Susan daisies, draped on the shoulders of the Preakness winner. The race occurs before the official race flower typicaly blooms, so the blanket's creators use black lacquer to improve its appearance.

121,309: The number of people who attended the 2012 Preakness, a record.

1 minute, 53 seconds: The record Preakness time, set by Secretariat in 1973.

6: Best Preakness finish by a female jockey (Patricia Cooksey on Tajawa in 1985).

1898: The last time an African-American jockey won the Preakness.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Preakness Stakes: 10 Things to Know]]> Fri, 10 May 2013 16:10:28 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/goldencentsP1.jpg

Here are 10 things to know about the 138th Preakness Stakes to be run on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. A maximum of 14 3-year-old colts can run in the 1 3/16-mile race, and the star attraction will be Kentucky Derby winner Orb. The bay colt needs a win to keep alive a bid for the Triple Crown.

1. MIX OF OLD AND NEW: The Preakness will feature a mix of horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby and others who are joining the Triple Crown trail for the first time. The likely returnees and their Derby finishes: Orb (1), Normandy Invasion (4), Mylute (5), Oxbow (6), Will Take Charge (8th), Goldencents (17), Itsmyluckyday (14), and Vyjack (18). The likely newcomers: Departing, Govenor Charlie, Titletown Five and Street Spice.

2. DOMINANT CALUMET: Calumet Farm, the Lexington, Ky., outfit renowned for its list of champions, has been dominant in the Preakness. Seven of its horses have won the race, making Calumet the owner with the most victories. Two of its Preakness winners, Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948, went on to sweep the Triple Crown. Calumet will have its first Preakness starter since Alydar in 1978, with Oxbow set to run this year.

3. LUKAS TAKES AIM: D. Wayne Lukas leads all trainers in Preakness starters (37) and he's tied for second-most wins with five. The 77-year-old conditioner is expected to saddle three more this year: Oxbow, Titletown Five and Will Take Charge. Lukas co-owns Titletown Five along with NFL Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, and three others. Oxbow was sixth in the Kentucky Derby and Will Take Charge eighth; Titletown Five skipped the race.

4. BAFFERT'S BACK: Bob Baffert makes his 2013 debut on the Triple Crown trail in the Preakness with Govenor Charlie. The Hall of Fame trainer skipped the Kentucky Derby, deciding none of his horses would be competitive enough to finish among the top three. The colt figures to be a double-digit long shot; however, Baffert has won the race five times. He finished second last year with Bodemeister.

5. KRIGGER GOES FOR HISTORY: Kevin Krigger missed becoming the first black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby when Goldencents finished 17th. They'll team up again in the Preakness, with Krigger trying to become the first black rider to win since Willie Simms in 1898. George Anderson was the first black rider to win in 1889. No black jockey has been in the race since 1985.

6. POPULAR POST: The most Preakness winners (15) have started from post position 6; Smarty Jones was the last winner from there in 2004. The colt's 11 1/2-length victory was the largest in race history.

7. FLORAL FAKE OUT: The Preakness winner gets a garland of black-eyed Susans draped on his neck, but the official state flower of Maryland doesn't come into bloom until late June or July. Instead, yellow flowers daubed with black lacquer to resemble black-eyed Susans are substituted.

8. SWITCHING IT UP: The order of the Triple Crown races were shuffled over the years until the current lineup of Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont was settled on in 1931. Eleven times the Preakness was run before the Derby, and in 1917 and 1922, both races were run on the same day. In 1890, the Preakness and Belmont were run on the same card at Morris Park in New York. Eleven times the Belmont was run before the Preakness.

9. TRADITIONS: The U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club leads the crowd in singing "Maryland, My Maryland" as the horses are called to the post. As soon as the Preakness winner is declared official, a painter climbs a ladder to the top of a replica of the old clubhouse cupola. The colors of the winning owner's silks are painted on the jockey and horse weather vane atop the infield cupola.

10. TRIPLE CROWN: If Orb should win the Preakness, speculation and excitement will begin building for the Belmont Stakes on June 8 over whether the colt can complete a rare sweep of the Triple Crown series. No horse has done so since Affirmed in 1978.



Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS]]>
<![CDATA[History Awaits in the Kentucky Derby]]> Sat, 04 May 2013 16:25:51 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/kentucky-derby-horse.jpg

One jockey hopes to be the first African-American since 1902 to ride to victory at the Kentucky Derby.

Another wants to be the first female to win it.

A favorite colt could break a century-old "curse."

And an acclaimed trainer has stacked the lineup with five thoroughbreds, making it possible for a first-ever sweep of America's most prestigious horse race.

Any of those outcomes would make this year's Derby, to be run Saturday evening, a historic one. But the Derby can just as quickly give birth to new legends. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown, so the winner, no matter who it is, will automatically become a contender for horse racing's biggest prize, which hasn't been captured in 35 years.

"It's a career maker," retired jockey and television analyst Richard Migliore said. "The Triple Crown's other two races, the Preakness and the Belmont, are extremely important in their own right, but the Derby blazes the path. After the Derby, there's always the hope for a Triple Crown."

Watch live on NBCSports.com (Note: You will need to login with your cable username/password).

The competition at this year's Derby is so tight that the official oddsmaker at Churchill Downs, Mike Battaglia, waited until the last minute to decide which of the 3-year-olds to name as the morning-line favorite.

In the end, Battaglia chose Orb, a colt on a four-race winning streak, including the Florida Derby, as the favorite before the race was opened to betting Friday morning. He'll be ridden by Joel Rosario.

Orb's trainer, Shug McGaughey, said he was happy to be the early favorite, but said there was a possibility that betting activity could change that image.

Battaglia's close second was Verrazano, who for many weeks was considered the Derby's top contender. Verrazano is one of trainer Todd Pletcher's five horses in the Derby and will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who won the 2011 Derby atop Animal Kingdom. Verrazano's handlers have taken an unorthodox approach, running him only as a 3-year-old. No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without racing first as a 2-year-old. Since then, "Apollo's curse" has been blamed for other horses' inability to duplicate the feat. Moreover, only two horses have won the Derby with as few races as Verrazano has run. That may be part of the reason why the buzz over him has faded in recent days.

Behind Verrazano in the early odds-making was Goldencents. The bay colt is part-owned by Rick Pitino, coach of the national-champion Louisville men's basketball team, and is trained by Doug O'Neill, who handled last years Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another. He'll be ridden by Kevin Krigger, 27, who has a good shot at becoming the first African-American in more than a century to win the Derby.

Another jockey who will be closely watched is 25-year-old Rosie Napravnik, who'll be aboard Mylute in her quest to become the first female jockey to win the Derby. Napravnik is the winningest female jockey in racing's history, and was the top jockey this year at Fair Grounds Race Court in New Orleans.

Other horses considered top contenders include Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, Overanalyze, Itsmyluckyday, Java's War and Vyjack.

The total purse for the Derby, assuming all 20 horses start, will be more than $2.1 million, with $1.4 million for the winner.

The 6:24 p.m. race will be broadcast on NBC, with coverage starting at 4 p.m. ET. A livestream will be available on nbcsports.com (Note: You must log in with your cable company's username and password to access the live video).

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kentucky Derby Field is Jam-Packed]]> Wed, 01 May 2013 15:44:30 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP13042711212.jpg

Twenty-one horses have been entered for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, one more than the maximum field of 20.

The entry box closed Wednesday morning, with the draw to determine post positions set for later in the afternoon. The field is limited to the top 20 horses based on points earned in designated prep races.

Leading the way is undefeated Verrazano, winner of the Wood Memorial and Tampa Bay Derby. He's one of a record-tying five colts trained by Todd Pletcher.

Pletcher also will saddle Overanalyze, Revolutionary, Palace Malice, and Charming Kitten.

Oxbow and Will Take Charge will be the record 46th and 47th Derby starters for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Derby winner.

Doug O'Neill, who trained last year's winner I'll Have Another, has Goldencents. The colt is partly owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The 21st horse on the points list is Fear the Kitten, an also eligible who would need a defection by early Friday morning to get into the 1 ¼-mile race.

Other entries are Florida Derby winner Orb, Blue Grass winner Java's War, UAE Derby winner Lines of Battle from Ireland, Gotham winner Vyjack, and Florida Derby runner-up Itsmyluckyday.

The rest of the entries are Spiral Stakes winner Black Onyx, Wood runner-up Normandy Invasion, Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac Daddy, Louisiana Derby runner-up Mylute, Falling Sky, Golden Soul and Giant Finish.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Dressing for the Kentucky Derby]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 09:45:48 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Dressing+for+the+Derby.jpg See how one New Yorker is planning her outfit for the Kentucky Derby with the help of Linda Pagan, owner of The Hat Shop.]]> <![CDATA[2013's Triple Crown Top Contenders ]]> Mon, 13 May 2013 12:35:34 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/orb-2.jpg With May 4 slated as the day for the 139th Kentucky Derby, the Triple Crown countdown clock is winding down. Click to see horse racing's best.

Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS]]>
<![CDATA[The World's Top Horses Race for a Shot at the Elusive Triple Crown]]> Thu, 02 May 2013 21:58:12 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Orb_horse.jpg

For the last few weeks, in a hectic stretch of qualifying races akin to college basketball’s March Madness, the world's top thoroughbreds have battled to join an elite field that will run for the Triple Crown.

First stop on the trail is the Kentucky Derby on May 4. Then it’s on to the Preakness on May 18, and the Belmont Stakes on June 8.

No horse has won all three races since Affirmed in 1978, the longest such drought in history. Last year, I’ll Have Another came close, winning the Derby and Preakness before getting scratched from the Belmont with an injury.

Now speculation has begun about the 2013 crop of 3-year-olds: Do any have what it takes to capture horse racing’s ultimate prize?

The horse that has attracted the most buzz so far is Verrazano, named for the bridge that links Staten Island and Brooklyn. His trainer and owners kept him out of competition until January, an unorthodox strategy that has rarely produced a champion. But the colt has triumphed in all four of his races, including a triumph at the Wood Memorial on April 6 and an earlier win by more than 16 lengths at the Tampa Derby. His keepers say he’s capable of more extraordinary performances.

“The horses that look really special right now that could be superstars tend to be the undefeated horses,” said Steve Haskin, a senior correspondent at The Blood-Horse magazine.

That’s one of the reasons why Verrazano tops many lists. But there’s also something racing enthusiasts call “the Apollo curse,” named after the last horse to win the Derby despite never having raced as a 2-year old. That was in 1882, and Apollo's name has since been invoked as a warning against taking a similar risk.

Haskin pointed out another historical obstacle facing Verrazano. “Only two horses have won the Kentucky Derby with as few as four starts in the last 93 years,” he said. But those two horses, Animal Kingdom in 2011, and Big Brown in 2008, raced recently.

Another favorite is Orb, who as of mid-April was tied with Verrazano in a newly devised points system that will determine the Kentucky Derby lineup. Orb beat another Derby contender, Itsmyluckyday, in the Florida Derby. Behind Orb in the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings is Goldencents, part-owned by Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino and trained by Doug O'Neill, who also handled I'll Have Another.

Also in the mix are Revolutionary, who shares a trainer, Todd Pletcher, with Verrazano, and who won the Louisiana Derby last week.

Pletcher could have as many as five horses running in the Derby. That list also includes Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Charming Kitten.

Other early favorites include Java's War, Oxbow and Vyjack, who was treated for respiratory problems in the weeks before the Derby.

But early is the key word in this discussion. Just because a horse has done well at this point in the season does not guarantee success in the Triple Crown races. And there are always horses who wait until late to establish themselves as serious contenders.

Case in point: I’ll Have Another. At this time a year ago, few casual racing fans had heard of him. He first caused a stir at the Santa Anita Derby a month before the 2012 Kentucky Derby. He ended up a near-legend.

“In many respects this is the most exciting time,” Eric Wing, a spokesman for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said. “From Jan. 1 on, it’s a big soap opera, with twists and new developments, ‘This horse looks good,’ and then, ‘Oh not so good,’ and then another horse emerges from nowhere.”

In other words, any one of them could end up a Triple Crown champion.



Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS]]>
<![CDATA[From Purchase to Post: The Price of Raising a Racehorse]]> Thu, 02 May 2013 11:24:39 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/horse-race-P5.jpg

In 2011 J. Paul Reddam purchased his champion thoroughbred racehorse, I'll Have Another, for $35,000— a moderate sum in the world of elite horseracing. FIfteen months later, he sold the colt to a Japanese breeder for $10 million.

The transaction was made weeks after the horse won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, earning Reddam a good chunk of the races' combined $3 million in prize money. Reddam had also topped his earnings with a seven-figure win on a six-figure bet, multiplying his initial investment many times over.

“There are obviously people who do hit the proverbial home run,” said Dan Metzger, the President of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. “It’s not rare, but they’re not the happens-every-day” sort of wins.

While luck plays a prominent role in horse racing, money doesn’t hurt either, and owners often invest hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on buying and training horses they hope to develop into lucrative contenders. But even those who opt for more moderately priced horses and try to keep costs to a minimum face a long list of fees that are difficult to skirt.

Training bills alone at a mid- to high-level racetrack can run between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. That’s on top of a whole host of other expenses, from vet bills to racing fees, which are simply part of the game.

To cut costs, owners can join a syndicate and share expenses and risk (as well as winnings) with a larger group. But those who want to go it alone should be prepared for a big financial commitment. Here's a sampling of what that commitment might include.

PURCHASE PRICE:
Last year, the average price for a two-year-old horse purchased at auction was higher than that of a new Cadillac XTS or Mercedes Benz E-Class Coupe — $58,112, according to Jockey Club data. Weanlings, which are betwee a few months and one year old and therefore harder to evaluate, went for an average of $40,708, while one-year-old yearlings sold for an average of $54,208.

Most serious buyers also employ the help of a bloodstock agent, who acts as a sort of talent scout and charges about five percent of the purchase price. Vets are also often employed, at varying rates, to give a prospective horse a thorough evaluation, examining everything from x-rays to blood samples, before any money changes hands.

TRAINING:
Training is the principal expense of a racehorse owner. Most trainers charge by the day, which adds up to a staggering price. At smaller tracks, the rate can be as low as $75 a day ($2,250 a month) while larger tracks can cost owners more than $120 a day, or $3,600 a month. Some tracks are all-inclusive, meaning the cost of the trainer, boarding, transport and general maintenance are all included. But that’s not always the case.

VETERINARIAN
A vet is a crucial member of a horse owner’s team. Vet fees vary quite a bit and can range from less than $300 a month to well over $700 a month, according to Ownerview.com.

FARRIER:
Like any sprinter, a racehorse needs the right footwear. This means having a good farrier on hand to provide regular maintenance to a horse's hooves. Shoeing and hoof-trimming cost about $80 to $120 and need to be done every two to four weeks. Horses that require special treatment for damaged hooves will cost more.

INSURANCE:   
Since horses can often be a sizable investment, most owners opt for some type of insurance. The most common is full mortality, which provides a payout to the owner equivalent to the horse’s market value in the event it is killed, lost or has to be put down. Plans will run an owner roughly 5 percent of the cost of the horse for one year’s coverage. That means that the owner of a $40,000 horse will pay about $2,000 a year. Some owners opt for additional insurance, like general liability and protection from fire, lightning and transportation accidents. In some states, owners are also required to cover workers' compensation costs for their jockeys.

LICENSING:
Before owners can enter their horse in a race, they must make sure the horse is registered. Registration fees can range from less than $30 to over $200, depending on the state.

NOMINATION:

Entering a high-stakes race can be pricey and begins with a nomination fee, which goes to the total purse (prize money) doled out to the winners. This year the nomination fee for Triple Crown entry ranges from $600, for those who were able to make their nomination by Jan. 27, to $200,000 for latecomers who enter after March 23.

ENTRY AND STARTING FEES:
Owners are also on the hook for entry and starting fees, which are added to the purse money distributed to the winners of the race. This year, entry and starting fees for each of the Triple Crown races range from $10,000 to $25,000.

JOCKEY FEES:

Once an owner has paid to nominate, enter and start his horse in a race, he faces one final expense: the mount fee, or sum paid to the jockey per race. These fees can be low, but are bumped up for more competitive races. For the Kentucky Derby, for example, this year’s mount fee is $500.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kentucky Derby Tests New Playoff System]]> Tue, 30 Apr 2013 23:03:26 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/212*120/143932051.jpg

Ask a casual horse racing fan what “graded stakes earnings” are, and you’re likely to get a shrug.

That’s what officials at Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby, found when they polled fans around the country last year. More than 80 percent said they had no idea how a horse qualified for the sport’s biggest race.

The officials were already unhappy with the existing system, which often allowed marginal horses to join the race just because they’d won a lot of cash. Some were gaining berths based on races they’d run many months earlier, or with help from tracks backed by new casino money.

Sometimes the 20-horse field would include as many as a half-dozen entrants who many insiders believed didn’t belong.

“We realized we didn’t have much control over who was getting into our field,” Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers said.

So the track scrapped the graded stakes system and started a new one that resembles a traditional playoff schedule. This year’s Kentucky Derby is the first to operate with that program, which awards points to winners of an increasingly challenging series of races.

Supporters say the system is fairer because it awards horses that distinguish themselves in the weeks leading up to the Derby.

“There are no horses back-dooring it into the race,” said journalist Steve Haskin. “Here, it’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’”

The new system awards points to 36 races that start in late September and continue until the week before the May 4 Derby. The last few races, considered the most elite and competitive, offer the most points.

That makes it easier and more fun for fans to follow, and requires more strategy of owners and trainers, officials say.

“It will separate the pretenders from the contenders,” said Eric Wing, spokesman for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

One of the casualties of the new system was Shanghai Bobby. He has more than $1.7 million in earnings, the most of any in the field, most of it earned last year. Under the graded stakes system, he would have been guaranteed a spot in the Derby. But a fifth place finish in the Florida Derby on March 30 forced his owners to pull him from contention.

“If the old system was in place, he would have had the starting gate waiting for him in Louisville,” Wing said. “Whereas this year, he’s out in the cold.”

As of late April, there were more than 20 horses on the leaderboard with enough points for a shot at the Derby. Some of those horses may be pulled by their trainers for various concern. Tie-breaking rules could turn on earnings.

That left several horses on the bubble, with just a few days before the race.

And that’s the point: making sure that only the best horses run.

“We think this has the chance to be the most competitive top-to-bottom field in quite some time,” Rogers said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Horse of the Century: Man o' War vs. Secretariat]]> Thu, 18 Apr 2013 15:43:15 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/war-sec1.jpg

For more than 50 years Man o' War owned the unofficial title of Horse of the Century.

"Then Secretariat happened," says Dorothy Ours, author of "Man o' War - A Legend Like Lightning" and a former historian at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. "And the debate started, well this might be the best horse since Man o' War--maybe he's better than Man o' War."

Forty years after that spring of 1973, when Secretariat ran roughshod over the competition, the debate rages on.

Man 'o War won 20 of 21 races, including the 1920 Preakness and Belmont Stakes. He likely would've won the Triple Crown, but his owner didn’t care for the Kentucky Derby's distance or time of year, and so Man 'o War skipped the Derby. It seems odd now, but in 1920 the Triple Crown wasn't really significant, and the Derby was not yet the Crown jewel.

Reading accounts of Man o' War's one loss, in the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes, it seems even that race was a testament to his greatness. The defeat came in the era before the use of starting gates. Man o' War suffered a terrible start and fell back almost four lengths at the outset, but still managed to close most of the gap. The aptly named Upset won by a half-length.

"There was scarcely a witness to this race who did not believe after it was all over that Man o' War would have walked home with anything like a fair chance," according to The Times.

Secretariat won all three Triple Crown races in record times that still stand today. But his overall record is somewhat ordinary -- he won 16 of 21 races, finished second three times, third once and fourth once. Those five loses are the biggest knock against his candidacy.

"Every time Secretariat seemed immortal, he would lose," said racing historian Ed Bowen with a laugh.

Even in death, Secretariat was unparalleled, as an autopsy revealed that he had a heart two and a half times the size of a normal horse.

In trying to determine who was "The Horse of the Century," the casual racing fan might reasonably point to Secretariat's Triple Crown records as proof of his superiority. It's not, according to Bowen.

"Time is a very, very tricky way to judge a horse," said Bowen. "The final time of a race is a function of many things, including track conditions, the pace, and how fast the horse is taking off early on."

According to Bowen, a review of the time records at tracks across America would include dozens of no-name horses. Just this year, the American record at a mile and a half on grass has fallen twice with nary a notice in the mainstream press, Bowen said.

Ours notes a variety of X factors that could contribute to the differences in the times posted by Man o' War and Secretariat. Improvements in drainage technology and the practice of hosing down the dirt have made racetracks faster; Man o' War ran on shoes made of steel versus Secretariat's lightweight aluminum; and the Man o' War typically carried extra weight to give his opponents a chance of winning.

In 1999, both Blood Horse magazine and the Associated Press convened panels of experts to vote on who was the best thoroughbred of the past 100 years, and Man o' War came out on top in both polls. But the Blood Horse poll was somewhat controversial, as one voter listed Secretariat 14th on his ballot. ESPN, meanwhile, listed Secretariat as the 35th greatest athlete of the 20th century, with Man o' War sitting at 84.

So maybe it's a coin toss for Horse of the Century? Not quite. Lost in the debate of Man o' War vs. Secretariat is 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, the sport's first million-dollar winner, and one of only three horses ever to win 16 consecutive major stakes races.

After starting his career with 28 wins in 30 races, Citation's owners set their sights on the million-dollar mark, running him well past his prime. He went 4-8-2 over his last 15 races, taking much of the shine of a brilliant career.

Citation made it to a million, but lost quite a bit of his luster among the general public. But real race fans remember him fondly -- Bowen adds that people who saw Citation said he was better than Man o' War, they "felt there never could have been a better horse."

"If I were in a situation where I had to vote in one of those polls, I would vote for Man o' War, but not with some great convection," said Bowen. "And depending on who I'm having lunch with, I might go Citation second, and other days I might go Secretariat second."

It's likely that horse racing fans, like most people, favor those whom they saw with their own eyes when discussing the greatest of all time -- your father might swear that Mickey Mantle was the greatest Yankee ever, his father will say it was Babe Ruth and you know it's Jeter.

If the pattern holds, this race is Secretariat's to win, but it's not over yet.

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<![CDATA[Triple Crown by the Numbers]]> Thu, 18 Apr 2013 15:48:35 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-horses.jpg

The Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867, the Preakness Stakes in 1873, and the Kentucky Derby in 1875, but it would be decades before the Triple Crown would become the Holy Grail of horse racing. Here's a look at some of the numbers that have been recorded in the 94 years since Sir Barton won the first Triple Crown. 

Money

$1.425 million: Prize money for winning the Kentucky Derby

$1 million: Prize money for winning the Preakness Stakes

$600,000: Prize money for winning the Belmont Stakes

Triple Crown History

1978: Year Affirmed becomes last horse to win the Triple Crown

1919: Year Sir Barton becomes first horse to win the Triple Crown

11: Horses who have won the Triple Crown

21: Horses who've missed out on the Triple Crown with a loss in the final race

Records

1:59: Secretariat's record-setting time at the 1973 Kentucky Derby
 
2:15.2: Slowest winning time in Derby history, run by Stone Street in 1908

1:53: Secretariat's record-setting time at the 1973 Preakness

2:17.5: Slowest wining time in Preakness history, run by Buddhist in 1889

2:24: Secretariat's record-setting time at the 1973 Belmont

2:34: Slowest wining time in Belmont history, run by High Echelon in 1970

6:16: Total time it took Secretariat to win the 1973 Triple Crown

17: Record for most wins by a jockey in Triple Crown races, held by Eddie Arcaro

The Basics

3: Age of horses in Triple Crown races

10: Length of the Derby, in furlongs

9.5: Length of the Preakness, in furlongs

12: Length of the Belmont, in furlongs

1/8: Length of a furlong, in miles

660: Length of a furlong, in feet

121: Weight carried by fillies in Triple Crown races, in pounds

126: Weight carried by Geldings and Colts in Triple Crown races, in pounds

Odds

91.45-1: Longest odds ever to win the Derby, by Donerail in 1913

23-1: Longest odds ever to win the Preakness, by Master Derby in 1975

70-1: Longest odds ever to win the Belmont, by Sarava in 2002

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The History of Kentucky Derby Hats]]> Thu, 02 May 2013 11:27:37 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Dressing+for+the+Derby.jpg

The story of Kentucky Derby hats — the wide-brimmed, straw fashion statements that ride into Churchill Downs each year atop the heads of well-heeled spectators — is a story of American enterprise.

Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the founder of the Kentucky Derby, probably did not envision his success in terms of feathered hats and fascinators. But transforming the racetrack from a place of ill-repute to place of high-society—and therefore high fashion—is precisely what he had in mind.

“Gambling and drinking went hand in hand, so [the pre-Kentucky Derby racetrack] was not a place for women and certainly not a place for children,” said Wendy Treinen, a spokeswoman from the Kentucky Derby Museum.

Inspired by trips to London’s Epsom Derby and Paris’ Grand Prix — posh events that attracted an elegant crowd — Clark sought in the 1870s to transform American racetracks from places associated with immorality and vice to venues that might attract a wealthier, more noble set. With the help of his wife, he went on a campaign throughout Louisville, Ky. to convince his target clientele that the new race track was in fact a place for the upper-class.

“He loaded up a wagon full of high society women and they were going door-to-door telling their friends, ‘We’re going to have a picnic at the racetrack,’” Treinen said. “He really tried to break down this [stigma].”

At the time, the media speculated that if the track could be transformed into a place of fashion, all the investment that went into the world-class venue would pay off. And it did.

More than 10,000 spectators attended the first Kentucky Derby on a sunny spring Monday in 1875. The New York Times reported that, “the grand stand was thronged by a brilliant assemblage of ladies and gentlemen” and the center field was crammed with carriages. While it would be two more years before the first international celebrity would attend the race (Polish actress Helena Modjeska), it was viewed as a major success and paved the way for even grander affairs that quickly became as much about the fashion as they were about the racing.

“Women coordinated their hats, dresses, bags, their shoes and their parasols,” said Ellen Goldstein, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “To go to a horse racing event was really a regal affair. It was just as important as going to a cocktail party, or a ball.

“You had the middle class and lower class people who could not afford to go to a couture milliner buying off the rack. But the upper echelon, the high society would definitely be ordering in advance from Paris and from Rome and from Milan, and really looking for something that was the best of the best.”

Like today, the media took great interest in who attended the race and what they were wearing. National newspapers published dizzying lists of the notable spectators and their guests, devoting as much ink to the fashion and pageantry as they did to the race itself.

In 1925, a race marked by a disastrous downpour, the Washington Post reporter covering the Derby wrote extensively about the damage to women’s clothing before ever acknowledging the winner of the race (a black stallion named Flying Ebony).

“Leghorn hats, pink Milan hats, large white felt hats and just hats drooped; flimsy dresses clung closely to their humiliated wearers and fancy shoes soaked up more water than there was room inside them comfortable,” the reporter wrote. “When the rain finally did cease, it was all too late—thousands of dollars worth of beautiful clothing had been ruined and thousands of equally beautiful women were miserably unconformable.”

While fashion always played a central role in the Derby, the flamboyant titanic hats that have become routine photog fodder at each year’s races didn’t make their debut until the 1960s, when social fashion norms loosened up and the ubiquity of television gave women an added incentive to stand out in the crowd.

“The hats became larger, more avant-garde,” Treinen said. "Formalities dropped away, the hats had more prints, they were brighter.”

While the devotion to Derby headwear dropped off a bit in the 70s and 80s, it picked up again in the 90s, and in the last decade saw a significant surge, thanks largely to the royal wedding in 2011—an event that showcased a parade of elaborate hats and fascinators and put exclusive milliners like Philip Treacy and David Shilling on the mainstream map.

Linda Pagan, owner of The Hat Shop, a New York boutique that has made hats for the Derby for the last 18 years, says that the race has become one of the most important events for her business.

“About six to seven years ago we started to notice that April was becoming our big month, and last year April was our biggest month ever,” Pagan said, noting that those who wait until the month before the May race to order custom-made hats are actually cutting it dangerously close. “Serious race women start thinking about their outfits in February.”

The custom hat-making process is labor intensive and, as for any other type of luxury, pricey. At Pagan’s store, custom Kentucky Derby hats cost between $300 and $500 with some going for as much as $2,000.

“It takes a minimum of three weeks. Someone has to take a bundle of straw and stitch it,” Pagan said.

The emerging trend Pagan has seen, is for hats to be a bit smaller, though the traditional big brims are still the most popular choice and in demand for a string of posh races.

“There’s the Melbourne Cup, and then the spring is sort of the big season. There’s the Dubai Cup, and then you have Preakness and Belmont,” Pagan said. “Anywhere there are horses, there are hats.”

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