<![CDATA[NBC Connecticut - ]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/feature/triple-crown http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC_Connecticut.png NBC Connecticut http://www.nbcconnecticut.com en-us Fri, 09 Oct 2015 16:05:29 -0400 Fri, 09 Oct 2015 16:05:29 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Triple Crown Glory: American Pharoah Makes History]]> Sat, 06 Jun 2015 20:22:12 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/476139066_master.jpg American Pharoah has become the first horse to clinch the elusive Triple Crown in 37 years with a stunning win in the Belmont Stakes. Here's how he got there.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Seven Ways to Fake Being a Racing Expert]]> Fri, 05 Jun 2015 12:39:29 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP233467296026.jpg

You're not a horse racing expert, but you can act like one for the Belmont Stakes.

For all the pomp and circumstance at the track at Pimlico, the real focus Saturday will be on the potential for something historic, as a narrowing field of elite young racehorses aims for the first Triple Crown victory in 37 years.

Don't know the first thing about horse racing? It doesn't matter. These seven tricks will help you get in on the spectacle as though you do.

1. Learn the lingo, and use it liberally.

You'll actually get to know something about racing later. For now, just pepper your comments with some jargon.

Before the race, check out race handicappers' predictions, check the tote board for the odds and watch the horses head from the paddock to their posts. Once the race begins, listen to the call, or the horses' running positions — but don't expect to have the foggiest idea what the caller is saying. (Don't worry, the race will only take a few minutes.)

A horse that's a closer runs his best later in a race, a stayer or router is good at running distances and a front-runner runs best at the head of the field. A horse is pinched back if it's held in close quarters, and if it's boxed in it's shut off or pocketed.

Horses' distances from each other in the stretch, or the last straight section of track, are measured by a head, e.g., the length of a horse's head. At the finish line, a photo finish is so close the finish-line camera has to figure out who won, and a dead heat is an exact tie. A horse finishes on the board if he's one of the first four to finish.

2. Know what's at stake, and tell everybody else.

You probably already know that only 11 horses have ever pulled off the feat of winning all three legs of the Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The last to manage it was Affirmed, back in 1978.

You might also know that since 1978, 12 have won the the first two legs only to flame out at Belmont. That was the case last year, when California Chrome fell short in the 1.5-mile, tough-to-handicap race that's often called the "Test of the Champion," with good reason.

There's plenty that can go wrong for a would-be Triple Crown winner: A great horse can get pocketed or pinched back, especially in the Derby's and the Preakness' crowded fields.

Or, in the Belmont, it can be overcome by better-rested rivals that ran in Louisville, then skipped the Preakness. Other horses have had their hopes dashed by jockey error at Belmont, where jockeys' tactics play a bigger role and riders may be tempted to accelerate too early in the comparatively long race.

3. Handicap the race yourself. (Remember that term?)

You can't feign some authority on horse racing without concocting a fervently held opinion on which horse will win.

Which horse has home-track advantage? What's its breeding like — geared for speed, or distance, or something else? What sort of races has it been running lately? Has it had any injuries? Who trains it?

Bob Baffert, the trainer for Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ American Pharoah, insists his colt can win the Belmont too, and clinch the Triple Crown. But he faces a handful of potential spoilers who could beat him at Belmont.

4. Bet on it.

Nothing screams "I know what I'm doing!" like advising your friends on how to spend their money, right? Right — well, as long as your friends aren't big gamblers. In that case, pay close attention.

Use Colin Bertram's primer to get a handle on what horses' odds mean and what they don't. Remember, a horse's odds reflect not how likely it is to win but how heavily other people are betting or expected to bet on it to win.

Once you've picked your favorites from the field of contenders and decided what kind of bet you want to make, examine the morning-line odds, which predict what people will probably bet on each horse. (The odds will change once betting actually has begun.)

The first number tells you how much profit your bet will get you should you win, and the second tells you how much you must bet to get it. If the horse you pick has 3-5 odds at the time of writing, that means you have to bet $5 in order to win $3 profit, so if you bet $10 and your horse wins, you'll get back $16.

5. Trot down Memory Lane.

Recall those halcyon days of horse racing — you know, when the only other sports worth their salt were baseball and boxing, and when your parents hadn't even met yet.

The mechanics of horse racing have changed plenty over the decades. Wealthy dynastic families ruled breeding, not commercial breeders, and as a result, horses were bred for stamina. Today, they're bred for speed.

But most fundamentally, horse racing doesn't have nearly the fan base it did in its heyday, back before pro football, pro basketball, casinos and, well, the internet horned in on its popularity. At racing's zenith, the track was the automatic mecca for gamblers.

6. Honor the greats.

Now you get to the really fun part of exercising your newfound authority: Breathlessly regaling your friends with tales of great races of yore as though you were there.

Bloviate about Secretariat's astounding 1973 Triple Crown, which he won by an unheard-of margin of 31 lengths. As the victor crossed the finish, the runner-up couldn't even fit on the television screen.

Wonder what would have happened if Man o' War, ranked the 20th century's best by Blood-Horse magazine and The Associated Press, had ever run for the Triple Crown. It wasn't around yet when Man o' War raced in the early 20th century, though he did sire some Triple Crown horses.

Reminisce about Kelso, who ran in the early '60s until he was 9 years old. Now all the Belmont contenders are 3-year-olds, and most horses are retired soon after that age to stud duty, which is far more lucrative than racing. (That was impossible for Kelso, who was a gelding, or castrated horse.)

Wax poetic about legendary filly Ruffian — even Secretariat's trainer said she might be better than his most famous horse — whose career was cut tragically short by a broken leg at Belmont in 1975. (You can still pay your respects at her grave at Belmont.)

7. Get ambitious.

If you really want to boost your expert cred, do your homework, and stake out a controversial stance or two. Read up, and weigh in, on hot-button topics like horse breeding habits, nasal strips and the sport's undeniable decline in recent decades, and what could reverse it.

Steve Coburn, the co-owner of last year's Triple Crown contender California Chrome, has grumbled that the growing numbers of Derby contenders that sit out the Preakness before returning for the Belmont have made Triple Crown wins all but impossible. He wants the rules tweaked so that only colts that run the Preakness can compete at Belmont.

He said last year that if his horse didn't win the Triple Crown — which it didn't — he doubted he'd ever see another winner. "There are people out there trying to upset the apple cart," he said. "They don't want a Triple Crown winner. They want a paycheck."

Indeed, the decades-long Triple Crown drought, and the sport's waning popularity, have encouraged talk of tinkering with the format and timing of the three key races, and not just among figures who have, quite literally, a horse in the race. Weigh in on what you think should be done, too.

But don't limit your expressions of your newfound expertise to such existential hand-wringing.

Try picking an underdog to root for Saturday. When you place your bet, try a superfecta, naming the top four horses in the order you expect them to place.

And whatever other stories you tell your friends, make sure to leave room for one still in the making: the first time you bluffed your way through the Triple Crown.

Just wait until the next big race to tell it. By then, you might actually be an expert.


This story has been updated from an earlier version.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[How American Pharoah Stacks Up Against Triple Crown Winners]]> Sun, 07 Jun 2015 17:36:25 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP951707057411.jpg

A Triple Crown victory is a rare triumph. 

Since Sir Barton managed the feat in 1919, only 11 other horses have ever won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in the same year, according to the race's website.

On Saturday, American Pharoah won the 1½-mile Belmont in 2:26:65 minutes, capping his wins at the Derby and the Preakness and ending a record 37-year drought without a Triple Crown champion.

But how would the new champion of American horse racing stack up against his predecessors in the Belmont? Here's a look at all 12 Triple Crown winners to see who would win a best-of-the-best matchup in the so-called "Test of the Champion" compiled from the Belmont Stakes website.

The Winner: Secretariat (2:24:00, 1973)

Secretariat not only took the Triple Crown after 25 years without a title winner, his 2:24 finish also set a Belmont record that to this day has never been broken. Secretariat utterly conquered the field, crossing the line 31 lengths ahead of runner-up Twice a Prince. Secretariat was honored as the Horse of the Year a year before his historic Triple Crown victory, which was a rarity for two-year-old horses. After the 1973 Triple Crown, Secretariat competed in nine more races, winning six, placing second twice, and coming third only once.

2) Affirmed (2:26:48, 1978)

Affirmed's final time for the Belmont Stakes was the third-fastest in history. The horse was best known for his rivalry with Alydar, who matched strides with the Triple Crown hopeful from the mile pole at the top of the stretch in a tense 1978 Belmont race. The Belmont Park crowd held its collective breath as Alydar and Affirmed dueled over the homestretch, battling for supremacy until Affirmed did just that for a Triple Crown win.

3) American Pharoah (2:26:65, 2015)

American Pharoah delivered a victory for Egyptian-born owner Ahmed Zayat, who bred the colt and put him up for sale before buying him back for $300,000. His name came courtesy of the family's online contest, in which a woman from Missouri submitted the winning moniker. The misspelling — normally it's "pharaoh" — went unnoticed until the name was already official.

4, tie) War Admiral (2:28:12, 1937)

Son of the renowned purebred Man o' War, the mighty War Admiral made it to the finish line three lengths ahead of second-place Sceneshifter —  but his win came at a cost. "The Admiral" had been rowdy at the race's start, repeatedly crashing through the gate and delaying the race for nine minutes. He sliced off a piece of his right front heel after he stumbled at the break, leaving behind a trail of blood as he ran.

4, tie) Count Fleet (2:28:12, 1943)

Count Fleet's owner John D. Hertz, founder of the rental car company, disliked his horse's rambunctious nature, but Hertz was unsuccessful in his attempts to sell the thoroughbred. Hertz's opinion of his horse changed, however, when he watched Count Fleet win the Triple Crown by 25 lengths — a record that stood for 30 years until Secretariat's run.

4, tie) Citation (2:28:12, 1948)

On the day of the 1948 Belmont Stakes, Citation was a 2-5 favorite. The crowd watched in surprise as the bay stumbled at the beginning of the race — but Citation fought back, surging into the lead on the turn. He hit the wire five lengths in the lead, tying his time with War Admiral and Count Fleet. Citation became the first racing millionaire with a bankroll of $1,085,760 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959.

7) Seattle Slew (2:29:36, 1977)

A breeding manager called Seattle Slew "ugly" when the colt was born because he had no white markings and big, floppy ears. The colt was rejected several times based on his appearance and unimpressive pedigree. Cast off, he was eventually bought by two young couples from Washington. Slew raced on a muddy track in the 1977 Belmont Stakes and proved his doubters wrong, becoming the first horse with an undefeated record to win the Triple Crown.

8) Omaha (2:30:36, 1935)

Omaha suffered a setback when the gates opened on a sloppy track in 1935. His jockey, Willie Saunders, was able to quickly calm down Omaha and get the racehorse back on track to become the third Triple Crown winner by a 1½-length margin.

9) Assault (2:30:48, 1946)

At first glance, Assault was not the pinnacle of a healthy, winning race horse: He suffered from kidney problems, had a misshapen hoof, weighed less than 1,000 pounds and was, overall, a petite contender in a field dominated by big horses. When the liver chestnut ran, however, it was described as flawless. While Lord Boswell was the favorite for that year's Belmont Stakes, Assault made it to the wire with three lengths to spare.

10) Whirlaway (2:31:00, 1941)

Whirlaway was no prize to his jockey, Eddie Arcaro, who called the chestnut "not the best, but the runningest". The chestnut's signature move was running off to the outside of the track to make wide turns. In fact, in 1940, Whirlaway hit an outer rail before winning the Saratoga Special. On the day of the Belmont Stakes, Arcaro let Whirlaway go to the front with a mile to go, allowing the team to win by a 1½ margin.

11) Gallant Fox (2:31:36, 1930) 

During practices, the affable horse loved to be with company and often set out with a team of horses — none of whom could never keep up with Gallant Fox. Jockey Earle Sande had come out of retirement to ride Gallant Fox, who gave Sande his third Derby victory and won the Belmont Stakes by three lengths. 

Also ran: Sir Barton (2:17:24*, 1919)

Sir Barton was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes before "Triple Crown" was even coined. He was a notoriously cranky colt who disliked humans and had soft feet which caused him to lose shoes during races. When Sir Barton won the Triple Crown in 1919, the length of the race was shorter by an eighth of a mile.

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<![CDATA[How Much Do You Know About the Triple Crown?]]> Fri, 05 Jun 2015 16:02:18 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/affirmed.jpg

American Pharoah will line up alongside some of the world's fastest race horses Saturday in the hopes of dashing to victory in the Belmont Stakes and ending a long drought of Triple Crown winners.

So what does it all mean? What's American Pharoah's story, and who's come before him? And what exactly is the Triple Crown, anyway?

Test your knowledge ahead of the big race with our handy quiz below — and if you need a crash course in Triple Crown lingo, read up on horse racing's marquee events here.

And you're off!

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Didn't do as well as you'd hoped? You might try reading up with these primers:

Think you're more knowledgeable about horse names? Quiz yourself here.

Photo Credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
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<![CDATA[Triple Crown Preview: American Pharoah Races Towards History]]> Fri, 05 Jun 2015 10:52:15 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/pharaoh-triple-preview_1200x675_457952835651.jpg American Pharaoh will be the 14th horse in almost 40 years with a chance to win horse racing's Triple Crown.]]> <![CDATA[Bettor's Guide to the Belmont Stakes]]> Sat, 06 Jun 2015 17:58:29 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Pharoah+Debut.jpg

Fancy putting down a wager on the Belmont Stakes, airing live on NBC Saturday, but don't want to look like a novice when you place your bet?

American Pharoah will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978 when he contests the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes Saturday at Belmont Park. A 3-5 favorite to win according to SBNation.com. Fourth place runner-up at the Kentucky Derby is Frosted, a leading challenger to Pharoah with  5-1 and Materiality, sixth at Kendtucky, at 6-1.

As well as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, American Pharoah has won both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby so far in 2015.

For all you inexperienced bettors out there, here's a quick guide to betting on the Belmont Stakes that'll have you sounding like a serious handicapper by the time American Pharoah approaches the starting gate.


Odds-on many racing newcomers may not know what the odds actually mean. Whenever there are two numbers (e.g., 3:5 for American Pharoah at time of writing) displayed on a tote board at a racetrack or on a list of wager options, the first number (3) denotes the minimum amount of profit the wager will pay. The second number (5) is the amount you need to wager to win the first amount.

Once the final finishing places of a race are official, the track will post the prices of the winning wagers. In the above example, the horse will pay $3. The track will then add the $3 profit and the $5 wager together to derive the payout: $3 + $5 = $8. Frosted at 5:1 would therefore pay $6 on a $1 bet.

If a horse is quoted with only a single digit, it is implied that the missing second number is a 1. In other words, a 7 on the tote board means 7:1. So if you made a $2 wager, a bet on a horse with 7:1 odds would pay $16. That's because 7:1 is the same as 14:2, so $14 + $2 = $16. (In betting on horse races, payouts are generally based on a $2 wager.)

Now that the odds makes sense, it’s time to decide the type of wager you want to make. Here are some of the most popular bets:

Win Your horse must finish first to collect.

Place Your horse must finish first or second to collect.

Show Your horse must finish first, second or third to collect.

Exacta You play two horses, and they must come in first and second in the exact order specified in order to collect.

Exacta Box You play two horses, as above, but here they must come in first and second in either order to collect.

Trifecta You play three horses, and to win, they must come in first, second and third in exact order to collect.

Trifecta Box You play three horses, and they must finish first, second and third in any order to collect.

Superfecta You play four horses, and they must come in first, second, third and fourth in exact order.

Superfecta Box You play four horses, and to win they must finish first, second, third and fourth in any order.


But novice bettors need to take into account more than just the odds for the Belmont Stakes. To further boost your chances of making a winning bet on June 6, you should also consider the following:

Distance: The Belmont Stakes is run over a distance of a mile and a half. Few three-year-olds will have had prior experience in such a long race. Some horses are ‘bred to distance’ and are usually a better candidate than one without a lineage of success at long races that put a premium on endurance.

Schedule: One of the most significant reasons that winning the Triple Crown is such a rare event is the grueling schedule of the three races. While the ideal layoff between races varies from horse to horse, most high level equine competitors race fewer than 10 times per year. In most cases, thoroughbreds seldom race without a break of three weeks to a month. For a Triple Crown aspirant, however, it’s necessary to win three very competitive races in a five-week span. In recent years there has been a trend away from horses running in all three legs unless they’re in contention for the Triple Crown. For this reason, it’s worth giving special consideration to 'rested' horses.

Weather/Track Condition: If there is a chance for bad weather and/or an off track it’s essential to consider that when handicapping the race. One good measure of a horse’s ability in this type of race can be found with a quick look at his past performances. If a young horse has any experience on a muddy or sloppy track that’s a good indication that his connections have confidence in his abilities in these circumstances.

Coverage of the Belmont Stakes will air live Saturday June 6 starting at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Belmont: 5 Movies to Put You in the Racing Mood]]> Thu, 04 Jun 2015 17:03:16 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Secretariat_poster.jpg

Hot off winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, American Pharoah carries the hopes and dreams of racing enthusiasts and regular Americans as he lines up for this weekend's Belmont Stakes and a shot at the elusive Triple Crown.

The Stakes (broadcast live from from 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC on Saturday June 6) is the third leg of the fabled Triple Crown, and a win for American Pharoah would make the horse the first competitor to take the crown since Affirmed won the honor in 1978.

Horse racing has spurred many big screen features over the last century, from the Marx Brother's "A Day at the Races" (1937) to "Boots Malone" (1953), "The Black Stallion" (1979) and "Dreamer" (2005).

Here, five movies about horses and horse racing sure to put you in the mood for Saturday's gallop to the winner's circle.

"Secretariat" (2010)

In 1973 the titular, record-breaking thoroughbred won the Triple Crown for the first time in 25 years and set race records in all three events – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. All three records still stand today. While this Disney movie celebrates the animal that became known as "America's Superhorse," it also focuses on his owner Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane), a housewife and mother who, with little training experience, takes over management of the family thoroughbred farm after her mother's death and her father (Scott Glenn) becomes ill. With the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), Tweedy fosters Secretariat into the winner's circle, the history books, and the hearts of Americans.

"Seabiscuit" (2003)

Based on the book "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" by Laura Hillenbrand ("Unbroken"), this biopic follows the undersized thoroughbred whose track victories propelled him to become a symbol of hope to Americans during the Great Depression. First brought to the big screen in 1949's "The Story of Seabiscuit," the tale was recreated by Universal Pictures in 2003 and focused on three men: jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), owner Charles S. Howard (Jeff Bridges) and trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper).

"National Velvet" (1944)

This Technicolor gem stars Mickey Rooney, Angela Lansbury, Donald Crisp and a young Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor plays Velvet Brown who wins a spirited gelding in a raffle in her small English town and decides to train him for the Grand National Steeplechase with the help of a former jockey (Rooney) who has a checkered past. The film was awarded two Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anne Revere) and Best Film Editing; made Taylor a household name, and spawned the 1978 sequel "International Velvet" starring Tatum O'Neal, Christopher Plummer and Anthony Hopkins.

"Phar Lap" (1983)

This movie chronicles the story of the much-loved Australian racehorse Phar Lap and the stable hand Tommy Woodcock (Tom Burlinson) who helps set the thoroughbred on a course to victory. Phar Lap raced to stardom in the 1930s, winning the Melbourne Cup and 22 other weight for age races. His final victory was at the Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico in track-record time. At the time of Phar Lap's death in 1932, he was the third highest stakes winner in the world.

"Let It Ride" (1989)

Richard Dreyfus stars in this comedy that focuses more on betting than the actual racing. As the aptly named Jay Trotter, Dreyfus is a down-on-his-luck cab driver who gets a hot racing tip and wins big. And then wins big again. And again. But will his winning streak last? In bringing to life a day at the track, including all the weird and wonderful hangers-on, Dreyfus leads a band of character actors that includes Teri Garr, David Johansen, Jennifer Tilly, Cynthia Nixon, Allen Garfield and Robbie Coltrane.

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
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<![CDATA[What We Learned From American Pharoah's Preakness Win]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 11:27:50 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/American-Pharoah-Preakness-15-May-2015.jpg

That was easy, wasn't it?

Two weeks after struggling but winning the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah ignored thunder, lightning, rain and the opposition and splashed his way to a seven-length victory in the Preakness on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.

And now, it's on to the Belmont Stakes on June 6 for a shot at the Triple Crown and racing immortality.

"He's just an amazing horse," trainer Bob Baffert glowed after winning his sixth Preakness. "Everyone talks about the greatness, and it's just starting to show now. To me, they have to prove it. Today, the way he did it, he just ran so fast. It was like poetry in motion."

Here are some things learned about American Pharoah from the Preakness:


Inside or outside, American Pharoah is one tough customer. Saddled with an unfavorable No. 1 post, the 3-year-old colt broke a bit slow, but was urged to the lead by jockey Victor Espinoza. In the eight-horse field, only Mr. Z gave chase but for just a little while. AP, as owner Ahmed Zayat sometimes calls him, motored along the rail and cruised home for his sixth straight win. In the Derby, he drew the No. 18 post, started from No. 16 after two horses were scratched, and won by a length despite not being on his A game. For the upcoming Belmont Stakes, at 1 1/2 miles the longest and most grueling of the three races, post position won't be an issue. By the way, the last horse to win the Preakness from the No. 1 post before Saturday was Tabasco Cat in 1994.


Rain or shine, track condition is not a problem. American Pharoah gave every indication he could deal with a torrential downpour two months ago in Arkansas. A champion as a 2-year-old, his debut this year came in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He won there, too, by 6 1/4 lengths. So once the skies opened on Saturday, there wasn't too much concern about how the sloppy track would affect his performance. "So much rain we had, and so much water, it's insane," winning jockey Victor Espinoza said. "American Pharoah was traveling super in there." How bad was it? "I saw a picture of the track with a river running on the rail, and I thought he's got to run through that?" Baffert said.


A two-week turnaround took nothing out of American Pharoah. Maybe it did, but it didn't look that way. His stride was a graceful as ever — much better than it was in the Derby — and as Baffert says, he "floats over the track wherever he goes." In the weeks leading up to the Belmont, though, Baffert knows that can change. After all, this will be the trainer's fourth attempt to give racing its first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. American Pharoah has won six of his seven lifetime starts, and looks as strong as ever. Then again, 2004 Derby winner Smarty Jones looked awesome, too, after his record 11 1/2-length win in the Preakness — but three weeks later in the Belmont, he was run down in the final yards by Birdstone. "I've seen horses that you don't see it until two weeks later (after the Preakness)," Baffert said. "That's when it starts showing up on these horses. I've been through it. About two weeks out, you'll start seeing if it's getting to them a little bit, and that's why it's so difficult (to win a Triple Crown).


So now we all know American Pharoah is fitted with ear plugs — or else his ears are stuffed with cotton — for his races, because he's sensitive to noise. Not a good thing for a horse going for a Triple Crown and performing before 100,000-plus fans. Nonetheless, the cotton worked again, and he was as attentive as he needed to be. He may have covered the 1 3-16 miles in the slow time of 1:58.46, but he finished ahead of everyone else and was not distracted. "I could tell they (the horses) didn't like it when they got pelted like that," Baffert said. "And I was worried about the cotton balls in his ears. How is he going to react? Maybe I should take them out." No need.


Can American Pharoah end a 37-year Triple Crown drought that began after Affirmed became the 11th horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978. Here's a sampling of opinions from three Triple Crown winning connections:

Penny Chenery (owner, Secretariat): "The question will be how quickly he recovers and doesn't lose too much weight. He seems to have a level head, though, and seems to be in command of his talents."

Steve Cauthen (jockey, Affirmed): "He looks like the real deal."

Ron Turcotte (jockey, Secretariat): "The sport needs a Triple Crown winner and he could very well be the one."


Now that American Pharoah has dusted off his rivals in the Derby and Preakness, who's left to take him on in the Belmont? Well, it sure looks like a bunch of Derby also-rans who skipped the Preakness are going to show up in a bid to play Triple Crown spoiler. Among them are a bunch trained by Todd Pletcher: Materiality (sixth in the Derby), Carpe Diem (10th) and Peter Pan Stakes winner Madefromlucky. Also probable are Frosted (fourth in the Derby), Keen Ice (seventh), Mubtaahij (eighth) and Frammento (11th). "I really don't think about the third leg yet," Baffert said. "It's going to be tough. I've always said this is the easiest of the three legs, and the next race is going to be ... everybody right now is sharpening their knives getting ready."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Racing in Their Bones: Behind Top Jockeys' Dynasties]]> Fri, 15 May 2015 15:42:46 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/american+pharoah+derby+race.JPG

Javier Castellano would never have been a jockey if his father had had his way.

Abel Castellano had ridden horses for almost 30 years in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and broken ribs and a shoulder along the way. He knew how tough the job was.

But his son Javier would awaken as a child and get out of bed when his father returned from the track. Javier fell in love with racing, and once he finished high school, he followed his father to the track.

"I always looked up to him, because he was a great jockey," said Javier, 37, the top thoroughbred jockey in wins and earnings heading into the Preakness Stakes this weekend.

“It’s very risky, but it’s a beautiful sport,” he said.

On Saturday in Baltimore, he will ride Divining Rod in the second leg of the Triple Crown. The race will take all his concentration, he said, and it's easier when his family understands the pressures he faces.

Many riders in this year's Triple Crown come from long lineages of jockeys, trainers and agents — mostly men, though occasionally women. In families with deep roots in racing, the jockeys grow up around stables, learn from their fathers and uncles and root for their siblings in their races.

Trevor McCarthy, 20, knew by the first grade that he wanted to be jockey like his father, Michael.

As a boy, Trevor would go with his father to the Delaware Park Racetrack in Wilmington, first riding the ponies that led the horses to the post, then the horses themselves. He credits his father with much of his success.

"He’s put a lot of effort into making me the rider I am," McCarthy said.

McCarthy — who will be on Bodhisattva on Saturday, his 21st birthday — said he always looked up to his father, a jockey turned trainer and jockey's agent who also gallops horses in the mornings.

“He loves it, he loves that I ride," he said. "Sometimes he gets a bit nervous watching, a bit nervous and concerned at times, but overall he loves it."

His mother, who competed in barrel races in high school in upstate New York, is just as proud, he said.

Competing against McCarthy, the Preakness' youngest rider, will be Gary Stevens, a racing veteran who at 52 will be the oldest jockey at Pimlico on Saturday and who like his young rival was raised among horses, their trainers and jockeys.

Stevens twice returned to racing after he had retired, and has acted in the 2003 movie “Seabiscuit” and worked as a racing analyst for NBC Sports and other outlets during his time away from the track. Two weeks ago, Stevens rode Firing Line in the Kentucky Derby, finishing second to American Pharoah. He has previously won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont stakes three times each.

Stevens was raised around horses in Boise, Idaho, the youngest of three boys. His brother Scott is also a jockey, and his brother Craig is a jockey agent and horse trainer. Their father is a horse trainer; their mother was a rodeo queen.

"She could ride, and she’s pretty,” he said.

Only Stevens' wife, Angie, does not ride.

All of the Stevens brothers played sports — football, baseball and wrestling — and they hunted and fished.

“We all wanted to play pro football, except for my middle brother Scott," Stevens said. "He always just wanted to be a jockey.”

He called all of his brothers in the days before the Preakness, and though they did talk about horses, no one brought up Saturday’s race.

"It’s kind of my peaceful time,” Stevens said. “It was more little brother calling his two big brothers, and just getting some free time off of not worrying about the Preakness. Sort of going back to my childhood with my brothers."

The bond of brotherhood also looms large for Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah to victory at the Kentucky Derby and hopes to do the same Saturday. His older brother was also a jockey.

Espinoza, now 42, grew up on a farm in Hidalgo, Mexico, playing soccer, baseball, basketball — every sport but golf. He rode horses, but he was afraid of them.

“I had no clue about racing,” he said. “My family, they never were interested in the races. We are farmers.”

But Espinoza followed his older brother Jose to Cancun, where the two brothers learned to train horses, and eventually moved to California to ride them.

Victor never chose to become a jockey, he said. He rode horses to survive, for what he thought would be a short time.

“For me, it's not just a fun thing,” he said. “It's a job that I have to do.”

It's also a job that has profoundly affected his brother, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was thrown from a horse crossing the finish line in Saratoga in 2013. Jose no longer rides, and his brother says his condition is improving.

Though Jose was in Baltimore last year to watch his brother ride California Chrome in the Preakness, he will not travel this year. But he will watch the race, Victor Espinoza said.

"I try not to bring it up at all," Victor said of his brother’s injury. "For me, I just want him to be 100 percent."

Castellano, who will ride Divining Rod on Saturday, is reminded daily of the risks, too. His wife Abby, the daughter of the national director of the Jockeys' Guild, grasps the sacrifices he must make, he said.

Castellano loves his sport but appreciates how dangerous it can be. He must watch his weight. He has little time off. He travels in the winter from his home in New York to race in Florida. The first year, his wife moved with him, and they enrolled the children in school in Florida for three months, but the disruption wasn't good for them, he said. So now they stay in New York, and he is separated from them.

"It's a funny business," he said. “You can be in the top right now, and then if I spill, you can die or you can be paralyzed.”

His daughters cared more about the hats at the Kentucky Derby than about riding, he said, but there is also his 2-year-old son.

Would he like his son to follow him to the racetrack?

"I don't want to talk about that," he said, laughing, though he admitted he would support his son if he wanted to be a jockey. How could he not? he asked.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Yea or Neigh? Guess the Real Racehorse Name]]> Sat, 16 May 2015 02:01:04 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Zandar.JPG

Picking a winning name for a racehorse takes creativity, style and an ability to navigate the various rules and standards tied to Thoroughbred registration. See if you can guess which of the following monikers belong to actual registered racehorses, and which are real people or fictional characters. 

Photo Credit: Mike Piazza/Zilla Racing Tables
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<![CDATA[RAW: Hear from the Unseen Track Workers Behind The Kentucky Derby]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 18:24:58 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/US-KY-DERBY-BACKSIDE-480p_1200x675_437818947524.jpg Mike Wells is one of the hundreds of unseen backside workers who feed and tend to the horses who live at Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby. While they toil in obscurity, they play a valuable role in the care of the horses.]]> <![CDATA[What's Behind the Kentucky Derby's Trademark Hats?]]> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 08:48:35 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/kd488034839.jpg

The Kentucky Derby may be the greatest two minutes in sports, but at Churchill Downs on Saturday, the competition parading in the stands could give the thoroughbreds a run for their money.

From towering hat designs festooned with ribbons to delicate fascinators, the modern taste for the Derby's trademark accessory has spawned contests at parties, and given business a boost for milliners.

Although the annual battle for the Derby's most eye-catching hat has taken on a life of its own in recent decades, the tradition of wearing one to the race traces back to day one, says Kentucky Derby Museum curator Chris Goodlett.

When Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of legendary explorer William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, founded the Kentucky Derby, he wanted to bring elegance and class to American horse racing, inspired by the grand races of London and Paris.

Defying social norms that excluded women from places men were gambling, he marketed his race to the fashionable upper crust. That meant women appeared front and center at the races, dressed in stylish clothes, shoes and — the centerpiece of the wardrobe — a dashing hat.

"The presence of ladies in the grandstand added great splendor to the racing scene," Goodlett said. "News articles in 1875 make reference to the dress of the ladies, with specific mention of hats."

Eventually, in the 1960s, women began wearing larger and more extravagant hats, the better to be seen in the stands on television. What began as an elite custom morphed into a grand show of symbolic reverence, as the Derby played host to some of the most diverse displays of head wear worldwide.

Today, the annual Run for the Roses can be the backbone of many milliners', or women's hatmakers, shops every year, with business booming in the April run-up to the big event. 

"When I first opened the boutique, I made one or two hats for the Derby," said milliner Linda Pagan, who owns The Hat Shop in New York and has been creating one-of-a-kind Derby hats for close to 20 years. "Now, it is the biggest month of our year."

The process of custom-making a hat is labor-intensive, and a Derby hat can take weeks to create. Many of Pagan’s clients start shopping for the perfect Derby hat as early as January, especially those who plan on wearing a grandiose wide-brim headpiece.

Celebrating the Derby in style doesn't have to mean an enormous hat, though. There's also the fascinator, a sort of cross between a miniature hat and a hair accessory, embellished with feathers, flowers, beads or lace and perched on the side of a woman's head, in a style that Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has made unmistakable.

Philip Treacy, the famed Irish milliner who designed 36 hats for the royal wedding (including the infamous "Teletubby" one) and almost single-handedly revived the fascinator, has pronounced the style dead, to his delight, but it still has its fans at races stateside. The Louisville Courier-Journal's fashion editor Christine Fellingham estimates that a third of Derby-goers now wear fascinators.

They're stylish, sure, but Pagan points out that they're also easy to wear, and transport.

"Once upon a time, airlines use to have special sections on-board for storing hat boxes," Pagan notes. Now, due to ever-tougher luggage restrictions, "wild horse" shoppers who wait until the last stretch to score a hat may have to settle for a humble cocktail hat or fascinator.

That modern-day practical consideration could keep fascinators a popular choice for the Derby's hat-donning ladies, just as wide-brimmed hats once were for Derby-goers hoping not to burn their fair skin in the blazing sun of the grandstands.

Whatever hat a Derby fan chooses — whether it's off the rack or custom-made, awe-inspiringly elegant or gruesomely garish — Pagan says there's a key to finding the perfect one: "Confidence."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[What's in a Name? For Derby Race Horses, Plenty]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 14:23:23 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/471528146.jpg

Thoroughbred owner Mike Piazza has developed a few rules for naming his horses before they hit the race tracks.

The Zilla Racing Stables founder prefers to keep his choices short and tries to think beyond the common practice of naming a horse after its parents. He says he's inspired by war, fire and "anything that represents strength."

But after buying a new 1-year-old colt recently, the New York stable owner took some time to mull his options.

“I don’t rush it, because I want a good name,” he said.

Much like naming a firstborn child or a family pet, picking a moniker for a racehorse is a decision that isn’t taken lightly.

In addition to personal preferences, owners must navigate the governing body's rules on everything from name length to decorum. And should the horse make it into one of the 20 starting gates at the Kentucky Derby — or, better yet, claim the elusive Triple Crown — its name could become the stuff of legend.

"Secretariat sounds great, but that’s because it’s Secretariat," said Alan Carter, a historian with the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. “Would a terrible horse being called Secretariat be considered a good name?" 

Naming a Derby Contender

The horses slated for competition in this year’s derby Saturday feature names that range from aspirational — like International Star — to practical. Ocho Ocho Ocho, for example, was reportedly named after the “888” number he wore at a 2014 breeders’ sale. Some, like Danzig Moon, rely on the traditional pedigree formula of drawing from the sire or dame.

And one frontrunner for the Garland of Roses owes his unique epithet to a spellcheck lapse. The transposed letters in American Pharoah (yes, "Pharoah," not "Pharaoh") resulted from how the name, chosen from fans' submissions online, was submitted to the Jockey Club for its official registration, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Dortmund, also a leading Derby contender, was named after one of its owner’s other passions. Kaleem Shah, a self-professed “avid European soccer fan,” had already named one horse after his favorite team, Germany's FC Bayern Munich. That horse, which won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2014, inspired Shah to continue the theme. 

“I was looking for an archrival from a historical perspective, and it was Dortmund, just like the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in basketball,” he told NBC.

Shah, who has owned hundreds of horses over the years, said he often looks to his and his family's interests for naming inspiration. The name Declassify, for example, is a reference to his own telecom and intelligence analysis company. Other horses have been named after stars from his son’s favorite sport, professional basketball.

“Whenever I come across a good name, I write it down for the future,” he said.

Reviewing the Rules

Regardless of how good its name is, every horse's name is subject to scrutiny before it can hit the track.

Registrars with the American Stud Book, a publication The Jockey Club has maintained since 1896, put submissions through several layers of checks to make sure names meet all existing rules and standards.

Many of the rules, like the 18-character limit and the prohibition on names made up entirely of initials or numbers, seek to maintain clarity for announcers and racing fans alike, according to Andrew Chesser, manager of registration services for The Jockey Club. A key requirement that no two currently registered horses carry the same name extends beyond spelling; the registrar uses proprietary software to flag submitted names whose pronunciations could be similar to names already in the book, Chesser said. 

“Two names that are too similar in prounciation could be confusing if those horses were to show up not just in the same race but in the same time period," he said. 

Other rules, including a ban on any name considered profane or offensive, are intended to protect the integrity of the sport. Naming a horse after a living person is only allowed with written permission — a rule that once prompted a letter from then-first lady Barbara Bush on official White House letterhead, giving her OK. As with sports jerseys, names of great race horses are retired for life.

Chesser and his colleagues use Google, the dictionary and even internet slang library UrbanDictionary.com to help with quality control checks. But even with those safeguards, naughty names, such as Bodacious Tatas, can slip through.

“It’s a lot more risqué now than it used to be," said Carter. “There are a couple out there I don’t even want to tell you, because they’re obviously so bad." 

Nodding to Pop Culture, Bucking Tradition

Chesser, who has worked with the Jockey Club for 10 years, said the changing lexicon can create challenges for catching double entendres or inappropriate references, especially given the influence pop culture has on horse naming. In the mid-90s, the hit show "Seinfeld" inspired names like "Man Hands," he said. More recently, "The Hunger Games," "Game of Thrones" and even singer Katy Perry's backup-dancer-gone-viral have popped up on his radar. 

"Right after the Super Bowl, I think there were some names submitted about the Left Shark," he said. 

A horse's successful streak can also inspire copycats. Chesser said names that included the word Chrome were "coming about left, right and center" after California Chrome contended for the Triple Crown in 2014.

And while naming a horse after the sire and dame continues to be a popular practice, one that can bring instant prestige or recognition once a horse starts to race, some owners avoid that practice to protect horses — and their owners — from living in their parents' shadow.

One of Piazza's most successful horses came to him as Don Juan Kitten, after famed father Kitten's Joy, before he renamed it Zandar.

“If Zandar ever becomes a superstar, he’ll be known as Zandar, but had we not changed his name, he would have just been another Kitten’s Joy," he said. "By changing that name, it gave him his chance to develop his own identity." 

As for the new colt, Piazza decided to go with Celtic Chaos, a nod to the colt's father, Dublin, and to some erratic behavior that resulted in a "a gash on his nose." 

“It sounds a little wild and fun," he said.  

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<![CDATA[Bob Baffert Has Two Race Horses in Derby]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 18:34:29 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/bob_baffert.jpg

Bob Baffert hopes he's celebrating in the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby. He just doesn't know which horse or owners would join him.

After all, the trainer has the two top favorites for Saturday's race.

American Pharoah, owned by Egyptian Ahmed Zayat, is the early 5-2 favorite for the 141st Derby off an eight-length victory in the Arkansas Derby.

Dortmund is the 3-1 second choice. He's owned by India-born Kaleem Shah, now a U.S. citizen whose pride for his adopted country is evident in the red, white and blue silks his chestnut colt wears.

"Coming in here we feel really strong," Baffert said. "If you get beat, the fall is pretty steep."

American Pharoah dominated his competition leading to the Derby, winning his last four races by a combined 22 1/4 lengths. Baffert calls him "brilliant," but he's yet to be tested in the kind of fractious conditions the Derby offers. He will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who won last year aboard California Chrome.

"If American Pharoah breaks a step slow, he's going to find himself in a situation that he has not faced before," said Mark Casse, who trains 30-1 shot Danzig Moon.

Dortmund stands an imposing 5 feet, 8 inches from the ground to near his shoulder blades and is a son of 2008 Derby winner Big Brown. He is undefeated in six races against tougher competition than his stablemate faced. Martin Garcia works out American Pharoah in the mornings but rides Dortmund in the race.

"This is an exciting, exciting field," Zayat said. "It's fun to have the best of the best running against each other."

A full field of 20 was reduced to 19 for 1 1/4-mile race after El Kabeir was scratched Saturday. His left front foot was bothering him Friday and the colt trained by John Terranova was sore coming out of his stall the next day. His absence means Calvin Borel, a three-time Derby winner, won't ride.

Todd Pletcher brings three horses to the race: Carpe Diem, the 8-1 third choice; Florida Derby winner Materiality; and Itsaknockout, fittingly running on the same day as the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas.

"We're ready," Pletcher said. "Let's go."

Materiality didn't run as s 2-year-old and no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without racing as a sophomore. His pedigree suggests he could overcome the jinx: his sire Afleet Alex won the Preakness and Belmont in 2005.

Blue Grass winner Carpe Diem cost $1.6 million and a win in the Derby (worth $1.4 million) would help his owners recoup most of their investment. John Velazquez clearly saw something in the colt because he chose to ride Carpe Diem instead of Materiality in the Derby. But he will have to overcome the No. 2 post; getting away from the starting gate quickly could minimize the chance of getting trapped inside.

This year's field is deep and talented, and absent Baffert's dynamic duo, there are other horses with solid credentials who in a different year would be more highly regarded.

Among them:

—Mubtaahij, an Ireland-bred trying to win the Derby by preparing outside the U.S. and then traveling halfway around the world to reach Louisville. He won the UAE Derby by eight lengths and his South African trainer Mike de Kock is highly regarded.

—Firing Line, a colt that twice had photo-finish defeats to Dortmund before winning the Sunland Derby by 14 lengths in track-record time.

—International Star, a versatile colt that swept the trio of Derby preps at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He has tactical speed to get good position, helpful in a crowded race. "He's razor sharp and rarin' to go," trainer Mike Maker said. "Show up at 5:45 tomorrow and he'll put all your questions to bed."

—Frosted, the Wood Memorial winner, is owned by a member of the ruling family of Dubai. Godolphin Racing is 0 for 7 in previous Derby tries, but this time Sheikh Mohammad had his horse prep in the U.S.

—Upstart beat Frosted in the Holy Bull and finished second behind Materiality in the Florida Derby.

Baffert jokes that it's been so long since the last of his three Derby victories in 2002 that he doesn't remember. He knows, though, what a horse must do if it is to wear the garland of red roses.

"You need to get a decent post, break well, get the trip," he said. "It's the toughest field I've been involved in since Silver Charm (in 1997)."

American Pharoah, Dortmund, Carpe Diem and Materiality have combined to win 17 of 19 races, including a 10-0 mark this year.

"The hype is over with," said Ken Ramsey, who owns International Star. "It's time for potential to develop into performance."

<![CDATA[Triple Crown Prep Begins]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 18:53:50 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/thumb-AP507292556401_5.jpg Triple Crown Prep Begins

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Betting on an Underdog? Try These 5 Derby Hopefuls]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 09:18:03 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/160*126/AP648411810136_0_Derby.jpg

Hoping to unearth a Kentucky Derby winner at a price?

We got your long shots right here.

We're talking the next Giacomo, who won at 50-1 and returned $102.60 for a $2 win bet 10 years ago. We're talking Mine That Bird, who won at the same odds in 2009 and paid $103.20. We're even talking Animal Kingdom in 2011, who won at 20-1 ($43.90), and I'll Have Another, who won the next year at 15-1 ($32.60).

Favorites Orb and California Chrome came through the past two years, and 5-2 top choice American Pharoah could make it three in a row Saturday.

The 20-horse field is said to be one of the toughest in years, but there are five horses at 50-1 odds, six at 30-1 and two at 20-1 — 65 percent of the field.

Here goes nothing — or maybe something big:

1. Frosted, 15-1: If trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is right, he's got his horse pitch perfect at the right time. So many issues all seemed to clear up when this gray colt won the Wood Memorial by two lengths under his new rider Joel Rosario — who won the 2013 Derby with Orb. Good post (No. 14), good trainer, good rider and very wealthy owners, Godolphin Racing. Not your ultimate long shot, but double-digit odds are always tempting.

2. Far Right, 30-1: We were loving El Kabeir in this spot, but tenderness near his left front foot discovered Friday morning knocks him out of consideration. So we're turning to Far Right, winner of the Smarty Jones and Southwest and a distant second to American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby. The upside is three-time Derby winner Mike Smith has the mount. He's among the most tenacious riders in the business, and knows his way around Churchill Downs, even from post No. 19. Smith's Derby win came aboard Giacomo in '05 and he'll be riding in his 21st Run for the Roses. Trainer Ron Moquett is a Derby rookie but has seemed even-keeled all week.

3. Itsaknockout, 30-1: Sold on the name. Plus, don't you have to go with at least one of trainer Todd Pletcher's horses? His top horse is 8-1 with a lousy post, the other is 12-1 with only three previous starts ... so here we are. Plus, who can resist the cross-promotion with the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight? Luis Saez aboard? Not great, but he's 3-for-4 with the bay colt if you include the victory in the Fountain of Youth after first-place finisher Upstart was DQ'd to second for interference in the stretch. He was a distant fourth in the Florida Derby, but that's why he's a long shot.

4. Mr. Z, 50-1: Why would Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas even enter this colt, who has only a maiden win to his credit? Well, as rival trainer Nick Zito likes to say, "If you don't run, you can't even lose." And with that logic, Lukas' long shot becomes intriguing. The colt seems to be his own worst enemy — he lugged outside in a race, veered out in another, and what may have been a last-gasp measure, has been fitted with blinkers to keep focused. While he has lost 11 in a row, he's finished in the top three in seven graded stake races, most recently third in the Arkansas Derby. And, two of Lukas' four Derby wins came with long shots — Charismatic (31-1) in 1999 and Thunder Gulch (24-1) in 1995.

5. Firing Line, 12-1: Caught! Technically not a true long shot — but we're hoping his odds increase once betting begins. If not, oh well. Cashing in at current odds won't be hard to take. The colt was beaten twice by a nose by Dortmund, then won the Sunland Derby by 14 1/4 lengths. Jockey Gary Stevens is looking for his fourth Derby win, and first since 1997 with Silver Charm.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[International Star Scratched From Derby]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 14:41:33 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP206080702346.jpg

International Star was scratched from the Kentucky Derby early Saturday, leaving 18 horses to run for the roses.

Owner Ken Ramsey said a problem was discovered in the colt's left front foot, likely an abscess. The veterinarian who checked out International Star didn't like the way he jogged inside the barn and once the blacksmith removed the colt's shoe, a warm spot on the inside of the foot was found, Ramsey said.

International Star topped the point leaderboard that determined the 20-horse field for the Derby, having swept the three major preps at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He is trained by Mike Maker and was to be ridden by Miguel Mena.

"It's a devastating blow to come this far," Ramsey said in a statement. "I thought I had a decent shot at winning the race."

Ramsey and his wife Sarah are among the sport's leading owners and breeders.

"There's nothing major wrong with the horse whatsoever," he said. "We think we'll probably have him ready to come back for the Preakness, but time will tell."

The second leg of the Triple Crown will be run May 16 in Baltimore.

Five of the Ramseys' horses set to run Saturday were scratched, including three in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Derby undercard. One of them was Stephanie's Kitten, trained by Chad Brown. The others were Scrumpdilicious (trained by Joe Sharp) and Coalport, also trained by Maker.

"That's an issue between me and Chad Brown," Ramsey said. "I won't get into that in the press but none of the three in the Woodford Reserve will be running in our colors today."

The Ramseys have three others set to run, including Thankyou Marylou in the Humana Distaff and Luck of the Kitten in the American Turf.

The No. 1 spot in the Derby starting gate will be left open and all the other horses will move over so there are no gaps in the gate.

International Star is the second Derby horse to be scratched. El Kabeir dropped out Friday because of a sore foot. Earlier in the week, the owners of Stanford decided not to run their colt.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Johnny Weir's Attention-Grabbing Derby Hat]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 10:09:50 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/JohnnyWeirHatDerby.jpg

Johnny Weir grabbed attention Friday with his massive Kentucky Derby hat that Al Roker said resembled a “direct TV dish.”

The former Olympian was discussing derby hat trends with his partner in crime, Tara Lipinski, and anchor Dylan Dreyer in a segment on “Today.” Lipinski sported a small, stylish fascinator headpiece, while Weir wore a large cap, a so-called “hatinator.”

“I had to build up a lot of weave in this to actually keep this hatinator on,” Weir said. “It’s stunning and it’s that statement piece you look for when you are having that derby moment.”

Weir and Lipinski will host NBC’s coverage of the derby this Saturday.

You can see more photos of their hats below.

Photo Credit: Today
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<![CDATA[Triple Crown: Baffert's Tough Losses]]> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 15:40:01 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/487627597.jpg

Before Bob Baffert won the Kentucky Derby for the first time, he lost.

Oh brother did he lose. Cavonnier, 1996, remember?

Sure, he's won the world's great horse race three times. Only three other trainers have won more in 140 runnings. And, the Hall of Famer is pumped for a fourth with the two favorites for Saturday's Derby, unbeaten Dortmund and the sweet-striding American Pharoah.

Seize the moment is Baffert's mantra. Don't think about those glorious wins by Silver Charm in '97, Real Quiet in '98 and War Emblem in '02. And for sure, don't even mention the losses. Three of them with favorites, one by a nose, and another with the horse he calls the best he's ever trained. Of course, that tune could change by Saturday night.

Some of Baffert's coulda, woulda, shulda Derbys.

1. Cavonnier, 1996: Showing up at Churchill Downs with his first Derby starters (Semoran was the other), Baffert begins what has turned into an annual spring break at Barn 33. He's not the main attraction — that would be favorite Unbridled's Song and his trainer Jim Ryerson. But those who chat with the white-haired, former quarter-horse trainer from Arizona come away smiling from one-liners and with a good story. The race? Cavonnier has the lead, then D. Wayne Lukas' Grindstone pulls alongside and there's a duel to the finish. Too close to call. Photo. Baffert thinks he wins. Then he isn't sure. Then the official results: Grindstone takes it by a nose in the closest of calls. Even after three failed Triple Crown attempts in the Belmont Stakes, the trainer still calls this "the toughest beat of my career."

2. Point Given, 2001: Not only does Baffert now have two Derby wins, he's saddling the 9-5 favorite in a bid for No. 3. Point Given enters the race off a win in the Santa Anita Derby. Starting from the outside post on a hot, humid day, Point Given doesn't appear to like the hard racing surface, has to run hard to stay in contention early, gets as close as second but fades to fifth as Monarchos powers home to victory. Point Given goes on to win the Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Travers and is voted Horse of the Year. Baffert has said if there ever was a horse that should have won the Triple Crown that didn't, it's Point Given.

3. Bodemeister, 2012: Five weeks after a heart attack in Dubai, the trainer is at Churchill Downs to watch his 4-1 favorite Bodemeister. The horse takes the lead early, opens up by three lengths and looks like a winner before 15-1 long shot I'll Have Another blows past him in the final sixteenth-of-a-mile and wins by 1 1/2 lengths.

It's the third time in four years owner Ahmed Zayat finishes second in the Derby. He also owned '09 and '11 runners-up, Pioneerof the Nile and Nehro. The owner sends out American Pharoah, El Kabeir and Mr. Z on Saturday.

4. Pioneerof the Nile, 2009: Enters with a four-race win streak. The 6-1 third-choice leaves from post 15 and moves into second, a half-length behind pace-setter Join in the Dance with a quarter-mile to go. But that's as close as he gets because 50-1 shot Mine That Bird is completing a remarkable run from 12th to first, leaving Pioneerof the Nile 6 3/4 lengths back in second. Baffert, like just about everyone else, has no idea what horse was zooming into the lead.

5. Lookin At Lucky, 2010: The chance to win is lost three days before the race, when the colt draws the inside post. Expected favorite Eskendereya had been withdrawn earlier in the week, and Lookin At Lucky is the lukewarm 6-1 top choice. However, the 2-year-old champion is roughed up at the start, gets bumped into the rail early on and it's over. Super Saver wins, Lookin At Lucky runs sixth.

"I quit watching him after the first bump," Baffert says after the race. "He was done."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["A Bit Experimental": 1st-Time Derby Trainer Faces Extra Challenges]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 18:23:01 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/ky-derby-467883162.jpg

One wildcard contender in Saturday's Kentucky Derby didn't have an easy journey to Churchill Downs. Mubtaahij's entry into the race touched off a 24-hour trek from Dubai to the U.S., with plenty of hurdles along the way for him and his trainer, Mike de Kock.

De Kock, one of South Africa's premier trainers, has won races on four continents, but Saturday will be the first time he'll have a horse race at Churchill Downs. If that weren't challenge enough, de Kock cannot give Mubtaahij his regular food, and it's the first time the colt is racing in the U.S.

“I don’t think there’s a massive amount of expectation,” de Kock, 51, told NBC of his 3-year-old thoroughbred, whose name means "elated" in Arabic.

Mubtaahij is considered a wildcard, but his trainer and experts say he deserves to be running in the field headed by champion American Pharoah and unbeaten Dortmund, along with strong contenders like Frosted, Carpe Diem, Materiality, International Star and Firing Line.

"This is definitely one of the toughest Kentucky Derbys that we’ve seen in quite some time, but Mubtaahij still deserves to be in the field," NBC Sports' racing analyst Randy Moss said. "The way he won the UAE Derby, the ease with which he won it, the acceleration that he showed made it pretty much a no-brainer that at least they ship him over and give him a try. I don’t think it’s an impossible task at all."

But running in the Derby's crowded field of 20 horses will be a new experience for Mubtaahij. The colt has only ever run in much smaller fields, so it's anyone's guess how he'll fare in Louisville, de Kock said.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do. I can’t even venture a prediction," de Kock said. "But he does have a very sound mind, and I’m relying on that."

Long Voyages With New Food

Mubtaahij, owned by the Dubai emir's cousin Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa bin Saeed Al Maktoum, arrived at Churchill Downs Monday night after an epic trans-Atlantic journey that began April 15. After a 24-hour trip from the United Arab Emirates to Amsterdam to Chicago, the horse spent the last few weeks quarantined and training for a few days at Arlington Park in Chicago.

"It's just a long time on the road," de Kock said. “He’s coming out of 37 degrees Celsius [about 98 degrees Fahrenheit] in Dubai into Chicago, where it was one or 2 degrees overnight."

And now that the colt is in Louisville, he has to adjust to a new diet; he can't eat his regular feed in the U.S., because it's not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). De Kock says the change in what he's been eating since he arrived stateside hasn't affected his mood or appetite, but there's no way to tell now how it may affect his run Saturday at the Derby.

Mubtaahij will also be the first horse in a decade to compete in the race without Lasix, the blood-thinning drug that all other Derby thoroughbreds are given to protect against exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. If he should win, he'd be the first Lasix-free Derby champ since Grindstone in 1996. De Kock says Mubtaahij doesn’t need the medication.

"I don’t see it as disadvantage, and it wouldn’t be an excuse, either,” de Kock said. “I feel that the horse doesn’t have a problem with bleeding, and I just don’t want to give the medication because everyone else is giving it."

The colt has also never raced on a track in the U.S., though he has run five times in the past five months, capturing the $2 million U.A.E. Derby on March 28 and earning a chance to compete across the Atlantic. He has four victories in five starts on dirt, after performing poorly in his first two career starts on turf.

Intense Pressure in Louisville

Still, the pace of the Kentucky Derby will be a challenge for Mubtaahij, according to Moss, because it and other major horse races in the U.S. are run at a faster pace than the races in Dubai this year, the U.A.E. Derby in particular. Jockeys at the Kentucky Derby get more aggressive in the first part of the race than they might ordinarily in a mile-and-a-quarter race.

"When you have a 20-horse field, there’s added pressure on the riders to get positioned and avoid being put in a situation where they run in a middle of a big crowd of horses, and you get bumped around," Moss explained." It definitely will be faster — much faster than what Mubtaahij has encountered in Dubai."

The speed and the large contender field aren't the only challenges. The level of noise at Churchill Downs on the day of the race can be overwhelming to any horse. They can get stressed and frazzled, becoming more quickly fatigued.

“There is no way to prepare a horse for it,” Moss said. “For the most part, race horses are trained in pretty bucolic settings, without a lot of stress. There aren’t very large crowds anymore even for a lot of the major races, so when they get to Churchill Downs and they hear 150,000 people on the Kentucky Derby day, it’s a completely foreign experience for the racehorses.”

De Kock joked that he’s probably picked the worst year to attempt to run in the Kentucky Derby, but he considers it a fact-finding mission.

“If this works really well, we hope to repeat it,” de Kock said. “It’s all quite a bit experimental, but we do know we have a lovely horse.” 

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