<![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 Tue, 05 May 2015 03:12:36 -0400 Tue, 05 May 2015 03:12:36 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![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[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[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[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[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[Yea or Neigh? Guess the Real Racehorse Name]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 14:36:48 -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[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["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.” 



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[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[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[Don't Skimp on Mint: How to Throw a Derby Party ]]> Wed, 29 Apr 2015 12:51:18 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/181162826_MintJulep.jpg

Can't make it to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby this year? You can still join in the fun by throwing your own Derby party, with the help of hats, bourbon and a lot of mint.

Here are some tips — courtesy of a veteran hostess and a professional party planner — on tapping into the Derby's Southern tradition to thrill guests at your own Derby bash.

Mint juleps are just the beginning.

Southern-inspired fare can help give your soiree an authentic Kentucky Derby feel. Louisiana crawfish and beet salad, sweet potato hash and bourbon-glazed short ribs are just a few of the recipes shared on the Derby's official website.

And of course, mint juleps are a must-serve drink. Marion Rogers, 96, who hosted Kentucky Derby parties for 30 years in her St. James, New York, home, served each of her parties' roughly two dozen guests mint julep in one of the official Kentucky Derby glasses she had collected over the years.

Party planners Seri Kertzner and Michelle Bachman, who together style parties in New York and the Hamptons with Little Miss Party Planner, suggest doubling down on the mint theme by serving crudites out of mint julep cups.

Dress up your home, and your head.

The mint need not end with the juleps. You might as well use them as your decor, too, to save on costs, suggests Kertzner.

“Instead of buying flowers, decorate your home with mint. It will look pretty and smell pretty,” she said.

But maybe the most important decor for any Derby party takes place on everybody's heads, with the Derby's trademark whimsical hats.

That could make an outdoor party especially welcome, at least while you're not gathered inside to watch the race itself on TV. If you go that route, try bringing a portable radio outside so people can listen to the race, in a throwback to Derby races of yore.

“Ladies can put their hats to good use while enjoying the sun and warm air,” Kerzner said.

Get competitive, and loud.

You can bring some of the competition set to happen on the track in Louisville into your own home with Derby-inspired party games. Give your guests a reason to watch the race with your own betting pool — no knowledge of horse racing required!

Ask each guest to bring a small entry fee and to draw a slip of paper with a horse and its odds of winning. Whoever has the the horse that takes the prize gets to take home all the money in the bag. At Marion's parties, where guests would bring $2 each, the winnings would be about $40.

If your guests prefer style over the sport, tell them to come dressed to impress, and host a "best hat" contest. The tradition of wearing fashion-forward hats to the Derby is thought to bring good luck, according to race organizers.

Flowers, feathers and bows are staples of the often oversize headpieces, which can range from classy to wild. Kerzner suggests picking up figurine horses from a craft store and spray-painting them gold, then using them as trophies in categories like best or biggest hat.

And whether your guests are cheering for horses or for hats, be prepared for them to make some noise. It's tradition that everyone stands to sing "My Old Kentucky Home" as the horses make their way to the track. Once the race begins, expect spirited cheering to break out.

"People would hollar and scream during the race," Marion Rogers' daughter, also named Marion, recalled of her mother's decades of parties, "but at least one person could hear who won."



Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[How to Make a Mint Julep, Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 12:08:07 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/how-to-make-mint-julep-final.jpg

Each year, over the course of one spring weekend in May, nearly 120,000 mint juleps are sipped, slurped and supped at the Churchill Downs Racetrack in Kentucky. It’s been that way for nearly a century, since the julep became the event's official drink, thanks to the influence of Colonel Matt J. Winn, according to the Churchill Downs website

Winn, who grew up watching the derby from a seat in his father’s grocery wagon, became the track’s vice president in 1902. When he took that role, Churchill Downs had been facing some financial troubles. Winn is credited with coming up with a number of now-famous derby traditions, including the garlands of flowers worn around winners’ necks, playing the song "My Old Kentucky Home," and the mint julep glasses, which Winn designed.

Watch the video above to learn how to make the drink at home.

]]>
<![CDATA[Top Moments in the Race to the Triple Crown]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 19:32:15 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/471999032_AmericanPharoahRoses.jpg The competitive race for the Triple Crown begins with the Kentucky Derby

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Gear Up For the Big Day at the Spiral Stakes]]> Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:33:31 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/215*120/Screen+Shot+2015-04-22+at+2.43.01+PM.png Meet the horses, jockeys and owners at the Spiral Stakes as we gear up for the Kentucky Derby. ]]> <![CDATA[Eat Like The Louisville Locals Do]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 11:54:16 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/214*120/Screen+Shot+2015-04-22+at+2.49.06+PM.png Chef Edward Lee gives us a tour of some authentic Kentucky Derby food and drink. We visit Wagner's Pharmacy, Muth's Candy and Milkwood Restaurant.]]> <![CDATA[Bettor's Guide to the Kentucky Derby]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 11:31:43 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP718172799342.jpg

Fancy putting down a wager on the Kentucky Derby but don't want to look like a novice when you place your bet?

American Pharoah remains the current favorite to win the Run for the Roses on May 2 (watch it live on NBC from 4 p.m.) with odds of 2:1, with Dortmund (9:2) and Carpe Diem (7:1) also heavily favored. Last year's winner, California Chrome, entered the race as the favorite at 5:2.

American Pharoah has won both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby so far in 2015, with Dortmund having picked up victories in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, the San Felipe Stakes, and the Santa Anita Derby. Carpe Diem is coming off wins in the Tampa Bay Derby and the Toyota Blue Grass.

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

DECODING THE LINGO

Odds-on many racing newcomers may not know what the odds actually mean. Whenever there are two numbers (e.g., 2:1 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 (2) denotes the minimum amount of profit the wager will pay. The second number (1) 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 $2. The track will then add the $2 profit and the $1 wager together to derive the payout: $2 + $1 = $3. Dortmund at 9:2 would therefore pay $11 on a $2 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.

 

SPECIAL CONDITIONS

But novice bettors need to take into account more than just the odds for the Kentucky Derby. To further boost your chances of making a winning bet on May 2, you should also consider the following:

Distance: The Kentucky Derby is run over a distance of a mile and a quarter. Some horses are bred for distance and are usually better candidates than one without a lineage of success at long races that place a premium on endurance.

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. To measure a horse’s ability in this type of race, take a quick look at his past performances, and see if he has any experience on a muddy or sloppy track.

Coverage of the 141st Kentucky Derby will air live Saturday May 2 starting at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Meet a Special Yearling at Winstar Farms]]> Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:27:20 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/214*120/Screen+Shot+2015-04-22+at+2.22.27+PM.png Audrina returns to Winstar Farms to meet the yearling she helped deliver just last year. ]]> <![CDATA[Train to Be a Jockey With the Pros]]> Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:22:57 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/215*120/Screen+Shot+2015-04-22+at+2.07.16+PM.png We're at the North American Racing Academy to learn how to be a professional jockey. ]]> <![CDATA[Seven Ways to Fake Being a Racing Expert]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 11:39:43 -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 Kentucky Derby.

Amid all the hats, the mint juleps and the gambling, the real focus May 2 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, 11 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?

The field for the Kentucky Derby is still shaping up. But more than a week out from the race, American Pharoah looks like a probable favorite, and Dortmund remains undefeated.

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[Crazy Hats of the Kentucky Derby]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 18:18:52 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/471965668.jpg The hats of the Kentucky Derby nearly cast a shadow over the horse race itself. Here are a few of the craziest hats in the derby tradition.

Photo Credit: WireImage]]>
<![CDATA[Meet the Kentucky Derby's Top 10 Contenders]]> Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:35:23 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP234819879417.jpg

Step right up, American Pharoah. Final rehearsal's a few days away, and it's time to see whether you or your dance partner, Dortmund, will be the Kentucky Derby favorite.

Dortmund proved there's little doubt he's No. 1 again on the AP's latest Run to the Roses Top 10 Kentucky Derby list following a commanding 4 1/4 -length win in the Santa Anita Derby over the weekend. The imposing colt comes into the May 2 Derby with a 6 for 6 record, the same as Seattle Slew (1977) and Smarty Jones (2004) before their Derby wins.

American Pharoah, meanwhile, remains No. 3 and is all set for the Arkansas Derby following a six-furlong workout in 1:11.60 at his home base at Santa Anita Park on Sunday. He comes into the final major Derby prep with four wins in five starts, including a 6 1/4-length romp in the Rebel in the rain at Oaklawn Park.

Both 3-year-old colts are trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, who added a third Derby starter after One Lucky Dane ran second to Dortmund in the Santa Anita Derby.

Carpe Diem, trained by Todd Pletcher, retains the No. 2 spot after his impressive three-length win in the Blue Grass at Keeneland Race Course on Saturday. Sunland Derby winner Firing Line, who tested Dortmund twice before losing each time by a head, is No. 4.

Frosted soared into the rankings at No. 5 with a two-length win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday while El Kabeir ran third and dropped out. He's still Derby bound.

The owner of American Pharoah says his 2-year-old champion is the real deal and is looking for a comfortable win in Arkansas.

"We're hoping that he would win it easy, with not too much effort taken out of him," Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Stables, which also owns El Kabeir, said Tuesday. "We're totally high on this horse."

The Arkansas Derby carries Derby-qualifying points of 100-40-20-10, and is a last chance for several Derby hopefuls. Among them is Far Right, No. 8 this week, but with a borderline 22 qualifying points.

Louisiana Derby winner International Star leads with 171 points; Dortmund is second with 170; and Carpe Diem third with 164. Bolo, third in the Santa Anita Derby, is 20th with 30 points.

The other Derby prep is the Lexington Stakes, with points scaled down to 10-4-2-1.

___

Here's our Top 10:

1. Dortmund (Bob Baffert, trainer; Martin Garcia, jockey): Can't see how unbeaten colt is not Derby favorite after win in Santa Anita Derby. ... His 6 for 6 record matches marks of Seattle Slew and Smarty Jones before their Derby wins in 1977, 2004. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs (May 2). ... Final Derby future odds (pool 4): 6-1.

2. Carpe Diem (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Capped stellar Derby prep campaign with three-length win in Blue Grass at Keeneland. ... Comes into Derby with 4 for 5 mark, only loss a second-place finish in BC Juvenile. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 10-1.

3. American Pharoah (Baffert, Victor Espinoza): Expected heavy favorite for Arkansas Derby. ... 2-year-old champion romped in Rebel in 3-year-old debut. ... Worked 6 furlongs in 1:11.60 at Santa Anita on Sunday. ... Next start: Arkansas Derby (Saturday). ... Odds: 5-1.

4. Firing Line (Simon Callaghan, Gary Stevens): Finally, a workout for Sunland Derby winner (March 22). ... Went 4 furlongs in 48.00 at Santa Anita on April 3. ... Trainer says long layoff won't both horse. ... Two-time runner-up to Dortmund, losing both by a head. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 13-1.

5. Frosted (Kiaran McLaughlin, Joel Rosario): Finally struck Derby pay dirt with Wood Memorial win. ... Needed those 100 points to qualify for Run to the Roses. ... Hadn't won (0 for 3) since breaking maiden more than five months ago. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 40-1.

6. Materiality (Pletcher, Velazquez): Florida Derby winner heads to Churchill Downs with a 3 for 3 record. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 12-1.

7. International Star (Mike Maker, Miguel Mena): May not be among Derby favorites, but the resume is a good one: Swept Lecomte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 17-1.

8. Far Right (Ron Moquett, Mike Smith): With 22 points, horse needs to finish in money in Arkansas Derby to gain spot for Kentucky Derby. ... Comes into race with wins in Smarty Jones and Southwest. ... Next start: Arkansas Derby (Saturday). ... Odds: 39-1.

9. Mubtaahij (Mike De Kock, Christophe Soumillon): Biggest question is whether long trip from Dubai to Kentucky will affect UAE Derby winner. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 8-1.

10. Upstart (Rick Violette, Jr., Jose Ortiz): Remains in rankings despite runner-up finish in Florida Derby, and DQ to second after finishing first in Fountain of Youth. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 18-1.

___

Keep an eye on: Bolo, Danzig Moon, El Kabeir, Ocho Ocho Ocho, One Lucky Dane.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[The Road to the Triple Crown]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 12:04:16 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP103653958848.jpg Take a look at photos from the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and preparations for the Belmont Stakes, the last of the Triple Crown races.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[A Bettor's Guide to the Belmont Stakes]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 11:35:44 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-AP979793179228_3.jpg

California Chrome's rags-to-riches quest to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years Saturday at the Belmont Stakes is giving more and more Americans racing fever, and the itch to put down a wager.

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

DECODING THE LINGO

Odds-on many racing newcomers may not know what the odds actually mean. Whenever there are two numbers (e.g., 3:5 for California Chrome 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.

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.

 

SPECIAL CONDITIONS

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 this Saturday, you should also consider the following, according to the Belmont Stakes:

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

Schedule: The grueling schedule of the three Triple Crown races is one of the most significant reasons that it's so rare for a horse to win the Triple Crown. 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 breaks of three weeks to a month. Triple Crown aspirants, however, must win three very competitive races — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes — in just a five-week span. Many horses sit out one or both of the first two races to rest, unless they’re in contention for the Triple Crown. It’s worth giving special consideration to rested horses at Belmont.

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. To measure a horse’s ability in this type of race, take a quick look at his past performances, and see if he has any experience on a muddy or sloppy track.

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



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[2014 Belmont Stakes: 10 Things to Know]]> Fri, 06 Jun 2014 12:29:26 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/494615487.jpg

California Chrome’s quest to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 36 years has energized the sport and is sure to draw millions of viewers who have been inspired by the colt’s humble beginnings.

In the years since the last Triple Crown winner, the 12 horses that won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, stammered before they reached the finish line or even the starting gate at New York’s Belmont Park.

As California Chrome tries to make history on June 7 at the Belmont Stakes, a high-powered field will try to dash his chance at the crown. According to Richard Migliore, a retired jockey who’s an analyst for the New York Racing Association, the 146th Belmont Stakes could be “the greatest day for horse racing in North America” if California Chrome captures the crown. It could also set the stage for a first-ever Triple Crown-winner to compete in the Breeder's Cup this fall.

“We have a horse that can win the Triple Crown,” said Migliore. “If you think about it in this context: every year there’s a Stanley Cup winner, every year there’s a Super Bowl championship winner, but the Triple Crown win happens only once in a while. It’s exciting even if you’re a casual fan to witness history. Within our industry, this is one of the classic races that everyone aspires to compete in. The purse is huge too. You can put all of that together and it’s a special event.”

Here are ten things to know about the Belmont Stakes

Belmont Stakes is the oldest and the most grueling of the Triple Crown races:

The mile-and-a-half Belmont Park is the world’s largest dirt track making it the most taxing of the Triple Crown races. It demands more stamina than the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby or the 1 3/6-mile Preakness Stakes that come before it. The distance is a main reason why so few horses manage to win all three races.

“Its immense size can trick jockeys into launching premature moves,” said NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss. “On conventional one-mile ovals, riders will typically ask mounts for maximum effort somewhere around the midway point of the final turn – but at that stage of the Belmont Stakes, the finish is still a full half-mile away and the jockeys must remain patient.”

Migliore pointed out that previous experience racing at Belmont Park– something California Chrome has not done – is a big advantage.

“Out of the 11 Triple Crown winners, all competed at Belmont Park before the final Triple Crown race,” Migliore said. Obviously California Chrome needs to win, but he never ran at Belmont before.”

Top Belmont contenders:

Ten to eleven horses will run in this year’s Belmont Stakes (the entry deadline is 72 hours before the race) and experts say that four horses have emerged as California Chrome’s top opponents: Wicked Strong, Tonalist, Commanding Curve and Ride on Curlin.

Tonalist is a new horse and he hasn’t competed in any of the Triple Crown races, according to Migliore who has observed the contenders at Belmont Park. “He’s the horse that everyone should fear because he’s bread to get a mile and half, he has a body type to get a mile and a half.”

Wicked Strong, said Moss, was one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby and came in fourth. He is a New York-based horse that has a home-track advantage.

Commanding Curve, meanwhile, was a runner up in the Derby and his strong finish showed that “the mile and a half should give him an even better chance” at winning the Belmont, according to Migliore.

Ride on Curlin came in second in the Preakness and is also considered a threat, Moss said.

California Chrome’s strengths:

California Chrome has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown because he is adaptable and maneuverable and is capable of developing speed really fast. Jockey Victor Espinoza rides the colt as if he was driving a race car, Moss said, and he can tell the horse when to accelerate and when he should settle back down.

“When he’s ready to make the final push to the wire, he’s got this huge burst of acceleration and he just opens up away from the competition,” Moss said, adding that his burst of speed “demoralizes the competition, usually at or nearing the top of the stretch.”

Another of California Chrome’s strengths is that he is willing to do what the jockey is asking him to do. “You can’t say that about all race horses, they can get pretty opinionated,” Moss said. “But California Chrome has acquiesced to what Victor Espinoza wants him to do even if he wanted to do something else.”

California Chrome's Achilles’ heel?

The California-bred colt is coming off a six-race winning streak, but he has several weaknesses that could impede his historic run. The colt doesn’t like when dirt gets in his face. Several times in his early career, he ended up behind horses with kickback hitting his face, and “he very demonstrably hated it,” said Moss.

“The last two times California Chrome had to deal with dirt in his face, he finished 6th in both races – his last two defeats," Moss explained. It’s part of the reason why Espinoza makes such obvious effort to “steer California Chrome as quickly as possible to the outside, and away from the flying dirt,” Moss added.

Chrome has also been known to have started slowly out of the gate in several races in his career because he rocks forward and back, “his head cocked far to the left instead of looking straight ahead,” Moss said. “Even so, in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, he sprang from the gate like a cheetah.”

"Fresh” horses:

Many horses that have ran in the Kentucky Derby, skip the Preakness Stakes and get extra rest before the Belmont Stakes. According to Moss, only one of the last 12 Belmont winners ran in both the Derby and Preakness. Of the challengers to California Chrome in this year’s Belmont, all but one, Ride on Curlin, have the advantage of a less-demanding racing schedule, Moss said. For several horses, like Tonalist, Belmont Stakes is the first race of the Triple Crown.

Past Triple Crown winners:

Patrice Wolfson who owned the most recent Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, with her late husband Louis and 92-year-old Penny Chenery, who owned 1973 champion Secretariat, are both planning to attend Belmont Stakes, according to The Associated Press.

"If this horse can win the Triple Crown, I want to be there," Chenery told the AP about California Chrome.

The jockeys who rode atop the last three Triple Crown winners will be watching the race from the stands, too: Steve Cauthen (Affirmed), Jean Cruget (Seattle Slew) and Ron Turcotte (Secretariat).

Victor Espinoza's second chance:

Victor Espinoza fell one race short of the Triple Crown 12 years ago, but he now has a chance at redemption aboard California Chrome. Espinoza, 42, was riding on War Emblem at the 2002 Belmont Stakes but his horse stumbled to his knees at the start and never made up for lost time.

"In a million years I didn't think I was going to have a second chance," Espinoza told The Associated Press. "I was very close once. Life goes on. But after a decade, here we go. I'm here again."

Other Belmont races on June 7?

In addition to $1.5 million Belmont Stakes there will be other nationally-prominent races, featuring many of the country’s best racehorses: $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap, $1 million Manhattan Stakes, $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes, $750,000 Acorn Stakes and $750,000 Just a Game Stakes. A total of 10 stakes races will be run on Belmont day, worth a total of $7.7 million in purse value.

Will the weather cooperate?

Rain before or during the race will not only put a damper on the festivities at Belmont Park, it can potentially ruin California Chrome's chances.

“He’s never ran a race on anything rather than a dry racing surface,” Moss said. “A lot of these horses have experience with a wet racetrack but California Chrome has never had to run on a muddy racetrack.”

Are there any other races after Belmont?

The three-year-old horses competing in the Triple Crown don't simply retire. Trainers normally give horses some rest and then they might race them in Saratoga or in the Breeder's Cup in the fall, Moss said. There are also plenty of horse racing events after horses turn four and older. Palace Malice, which won the Belmont last year, is running in this year's Metropolitan Handicap.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Chrome's Jockey "Super Ready" for Belmont Race]]> Sat, 07 Jun 2014 13:36:58 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-AP520478017993_0.jpg California Chrome is 1 1/2 miles away from ending the longest drought in racing history — 36 years without a Triple Crown winner. Bruce Beck reports.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Victory and Defeat: Triple Crown Attempts]]> Sun, 08 Jun 2014 09:15:33 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/450243204.jpg See all the emotional reaction from past Triple Crown attempts, both the wins and the losses.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hall of Fame Horse Trainer Shares Triple Crown Insight]]> Fri, 06 Jun 2014 07:57:45 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/horses-grand-prairie.jpg As California Chrome approaches the race that could give him a Triple Crown win, a North Texas trainer shares his feedback on what could happen on Saturday. Jack Van Berg almost had his Triple Crown win back in 1987 with one of his horses named Alysheba. They won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but failed to dominate the Belmont Stakes. He said it doesn't matter how prepared you and your horse could be, luck has to be on your side in order to win.

Photo Credit: Christine Lee, NBC 5 Grand Prairie Reporter]]>
<![CDATA[California Chrome's Golden Moment]]> Fri, 06 Jun 2014 12:30:21 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP886560060665.jpg

Long before California Chrome set his white foot in Elmont, New York, to prepare for the Belmont Stakes, the chestnut colt spent his early years training in California, where a shot at the Triple Crown seemed like a distant dream.

But now, California Chrome is the Triple Crown front-runner, and his six-race winning streak is boosting his home state’s reputation for breeding champions.

“It provides so much more enthusiasm and optimism right now,” said Doug Burge, president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. “People are looking at this horse and saying ‘We can do that.’”

Few California-bred horses can stake a claim to winning any one of the Triple Crown races – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. That’s because only eight percent of the national foal crop comes from California, Burge said. That’s about 1,800 foals born in California every year compared to Kentucky’s 20,000. While Kentucky breeds horses that race internationally, most of California’s horses run in local races.

Only four “Cal-bred” horses -- Chrome included -- can boast a Derby win, and so far no California horse has won the Triple Crown. This means California Chrome’s recent victories and his owners’ deep roots in the state are giving local fans and breeders a lot to cheer for.

“All they have done over the years is dream of a horse like this,” said Steve Haskin, senior correspondent at The Blood-Horse magazine.

California Chrome’s upbringing is a story steeped in California’s horse racing landscape. It started in Central California's San Joaquin Valley, where he was foaled in the horse-breeding division of Harris Ranch, the state’s largest beef producer. Chrome’s father Lucky Pulpit and two sisters are still there.

His mother Love the Chase was a rather unfortunate racing filly purchased by Steve Coburn, a portly man who appears in a cowboy hat in just about every photo op, and Perry Martin, who owns Martin Testing Laboratories in Sacramento. They each bought five percent of Love the Chase and watched her lose most of the six races she ran.

But the two fell in love with her anyway and purchased her outright for a paltry sum of $8,000, a transaction that prompted someone to say that only a fool would buy Love the Chase. Coburn and Martin formed a company and aptly named it Dumb Ass Partners, or DAP.

“It’s a fairytale-type story that comes from modest pedigrees,” Burge said.

DAP retired Love the Chase in 2009 and bred her with the equally unimpressive Lucky Pulpit, and together they sired California Chrome, who was born in 2011 with four white stockings and a white stripe down his face, features that horse aficionados call “chrome.”

DAP enlisted the help of trainer Art Sherman, whose working-class family has been training horses in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, most of which were spent at Bay Meadows Racetrack and Golden Gate Fields.

Chrome’s blue-collar connections amid a playing field of horses with blue-blooded owners has prompted the media to dub the thoroughbred “the people’s horse.”

“The media has latched on to him and his story,” Haskin said. “His owners are working people and not business tycoons and millionaires.”

But Haskin said that California Chrome is every bit as well-bred as any Kentucky horse. “Don’t confuse humble beginnings with pedigree,” he said.

The colt’s record is proof to naysayers that DAP has a winner on their hands. As a 2-year-old, California Chrome raced in Los Angeles' Hollywood Park, San Diego's Del Mar Racetrack and Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, where he won some races and finished sixth in others.

But then the Chrome team switched jockeys to Victor Espinoza, who has been competing on California’s racetracks since 1993 and previously won the Kentucky Derby in 2002 riding on War Emblem.

The two have been unstoppable together with a six-race winning streak, including the Golden State Juvenile Stakes, California Cup Derby, the San Felipe Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby.

The pair then dazzled fans at this month's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Chrome has raked in over $3.4 million in earnings.

It’s a Cinderella story that has “captured people’s imaginations,” Burge said. And California Chrome’s ascent has been a boon for the state’s $34 billion horse racing industry, he added.

“What we’ve seen this year is better stallions retiring in California rather than going elsewhere,” he said. This trend provides a better stock of horses for breeders.

Chrome’s story has also been good for the horse racing industry as a whole, Haskin said.

“With all the negatives that racing has had in the past few years, everything about California Chrome’s story is positive,” he said. “And he’s got that white stripe and chestnut color that makes people remember the horse from their childhood.”



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Triple Crown Killers: Top Belmont Stakes Contenders]]> Sat, 31 May 2014 12:32:04 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/CA-chrome-thumb.jpg Take a look at the horses that have the potential to beat Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome. These strong competitors will face off in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 7 at Belmont Park.

Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS]]>