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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bad News for derby

It’s Kentucky Derby time again, and Nick Zito is looking toward the winner’s circle as always. Not for himself, though. For the sport.

These are dark days for thoroughbred racing.

Hardly any of the news leading up to Saturday’s Run for the Roses has been good. And with no clear-cut favorite, the upcoming Triple Crown series has an unsettled feeling to it.

Zito can’t win this time because he has no starter in the field, but he hopes whoever does "goes into the winner’s circle and preaches the good of the sport.”

"I would like to see something nice happen — and something nice might happen,” he says.

Thoroughbred racing fans would probably like that, too, particularly since most of the sport’s recent headlines have been more heartwrenching than heartwarming:

→ Owner-breeder Ernie Paragallo was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals for neglecting 177 thoroughbreds on his farm in upstate New York.

→ Jeff Mullins, who trains early Derby favorite I Want Revenge, was fined and suspended for illegally injecting another of his horses in a security barn in New York.

→ The co-owners of two-time horse of the year Curlin were convicted of scamming millions of dollars from clients who won settlements in the fen-phen diet drug scandal. Each faces more than 100 years in prison.

→ Magna Entertainment Corp., the largest racetrack owner in the U.S., filed for bankruptcy in March.

It’s against this backdrop that the 135th Derby will be raced, with an expected field of 20 colts bucking to wear the roses at Churchill Downs.

Though the more than 30 prep races since January failed to produce an overwhelming favorite for the 1 1/4-mile Derby, there are a handful of standouts.

Bob Baffert, three-time Derby winner, will saddle Pioneerof the Nile, who is unbeaten in four starts under Baffert. The white-haired trainer is seeking his first trip to the Derby winner’s circle since 2002.

"You need a lot of luck and you have to be doing great that week,” he said. "You may have the best horse, but if he doesn’t break well or something happens, that’s what makes the Derby so intriguing.”

by the associated press

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