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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

The Road to the 2011 Kentucky Derby grows wider and faster Saturday at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fl., as Live Oak Plantation’s To Honor and Serve makes his 3-year-old debut as the solid favorite in the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes, a Grade II event, at 1 1/8 miles, with John Velazquez aboard for trainer Bill Mott.

They teamed up to win the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct by two lengths last time out on November 27 in a performance that stamped him in the minds of many as the second best of his crop behind undefeated Eclipse champion Uncle Mo.

To Honor and Serve faces seven rivals in the 65th edition of the Fountain of Youth, a race with a long history of producing Triple Crown race contenders, and the most formidable threats to the favorite appear to Soldat with jockey Alan Garcia aboard and Gourmet Dinner to be ridden for the first time by Ramon Dominguez.

Soldat made his reputation last season on turf winning the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga and finishing second in the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park and second by a length in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs on November 6 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
A $180,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by War Front, Soldat was given his chance to jump on the Derby trail in a nine-furlong Gulfstream allowance race on January 21 and splashed home a 10 ¾ lengths winner on a sloppy track. Soldat did well finishing second in two main track sprints at Belmont and Saratoga to begin his career.

Gourmet Dinner finished a good third behind Dialed In in the one-mile Holy Bull Stakes here on January 30 for trainer Steve Standridge. The race marked his first start since a troubled fourth-place try in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in mid-December.

A son of Montbrook, Gourmet Dinner had won three of four starts at Calder to begin his career before capturing the $1 million Delta Jackpot by 2 ½ lengths at Delta Downs on November 20 prior to the trip to California. Dominguez gets aboard for the first time after Sebastian Madrid had the mount in all of his previous seven starts.

The complete field for the Fountain of Youth Stakes, in post position order, is: Soldat (jockey: Alan Garcia); Gourmet Dinner (Ramon Dominguez); El Grayling (Rajiv Maragh); Casper’s Touch (Alex Solis); Bowman’s Causeway (Julian Leparoux); Racing Aptitude (Jose Lezcano); To Honor and Serve (John Velazquez); and Shackleford (Javier Castellano).

The NBC Sports Group will televise all three legs of horse racing’s prestigious Triple Crown, renewing the rights to the Preakness Stakes and reacquiring rights to the Belmont Stakes. As previously announced, NBC and Churchill Downs, Inc., renewed rights to the Kentucky Derby. This marks the first time that all three races will be on one network since NBC aired them in 2005. The agreements were announced in a NBC Press Release on Tuesday by Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Sports Group; Tom Chuckas, President and Chief Operating Officer, Maryland Jockey Club; and C. Steven Duncker, NYRA Chairman. The respective agreements give NBC exclusive rights to the Preakness and Belmont through 2015.

The agreements include coverage of the Black Eyed Susan Stakes and other Preakness-day and Belmont-day programming on VERSUS. Additionally, expanded Derby week programming including the Kentucky Oaks and Derby day programming will air on VERSUS. In all, the NBC Sports Group will broadcast more than 25 hours of Triple Crown coverage (detailed schedule to be released at a later date). Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

“Everyone at NBC Sports Group is delighted that the Triple Crown has been reassembled. We are now uniquely positioned to significantly expand the reach of these iconic events with extensive coverage on VERSUS,” said Ebersol.”As we previously announced, we are continuing our long-standing partnership with the Kentucky Derby. To add this extension with the Preakness while reacquiring the Belmont gives our new NBC Sports Group the three most important events in thoroughbred racing. And we want to thank Churchill Downs Incorporated and CEO Bob Evans for his leadership in paving the way for the Triple Crown to return to NBC.”

The Breeders’ Cup and the Japan Racing Association announced this week that the Takarazuka Kinen, a Group I stakes race run on June 26 at Hanshin Racecourse, has joined the international Breeders’ Cup Challenge, a global series of stakes races whose winners earn automatic starting positions into the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held November 4-5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The winner of the 52nd running of The Takarazuka Kinen, which will be run at 1 3/8 miles on the turf for 3-year-olds and up, will automatically qualify for a berth in the $3 million Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf, which will be run at 1 ½ miles on the turf. The Breeders’ Cup World Championships consists of 14 races conducted over two days with total purses of $26 million.

As part of the enhanced benefits program for Breeders’ Cup Challenge winners introduced this year, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees of $90,000 and a travel allowance of $20,000 to the winner of the Takarazuka Kinen to start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The Takarazuka Kinen winner must be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup by the Championships’ pre-entry deadline of Oct. 24 to receive the rewards. As a further expansion of the JRA and Breeders’ Cup partnership, this year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner will be given an automatic berth in the Japan Cup (GI) on Nov. 27 at Tokyo Racecourse, and will be eligible for up to a $1 million bonus in addition to its prize money based upon a top three finish in the Japan Cup.

“We are very pleased that the Takarazuka Kinen has become the first ever Japanese race to be a part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, and we are delighted to join with so many other outstanding races from around the world in the program,” said Dr. Kenji Tsuchikawa, President and CEO of the Japan Racing Association. “Over the years, the Takarazuka Kinen has been won by many outstanding horses, and we would be very excited if this year’s winner participated in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.” In addition to Japan, Breeders’ Cup Challenge races this year will be held in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, England, Ireland, France, Argentina and Australia. The complete 2011 Challenge schedule will be announced in March.

Two of the most highly anticipated Thoroughbred matings have recently taken place. The 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra was bred to 2007 and 2008 Horse ofthe Year Curlin last Monday, while 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta was bred yesterday to champion Bernardini. Curlin and Rachel Alexandra are both owned by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings; Zenyatta is co-owned by the husband and wife team of Ann and Jerry Moss. Both mares reside at the Farish family’s Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Ky.