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Climb takes Bejarano to a Classic
BALTIMORE - Rafael Bejarano has come a long, long way from the impoverished streets of Peru. Not only does Bejarano have a huge lead in wins among all North American jockeys this year, but he will ride in his first Triple Crown race Saturday, when he climbs aboard longshot Sir Shackleton in the 129th running of the Preakness at Pimlico.
Bejarano, who began his U.S. riding career in obscurity about two years ago at River Downs in Cincinnati, has become one of the hottest jockeys on the Kentucky circuit, where he was easily the leading rider last summer at Ellis Park and broke several records last winter at Turfway Park. Through Wednesday, Bejarano, 21, trailed only perennial kingpin Pat Day atop the jockey standings at the Churchill Downs spring meet.
"I am very excited to ride in the Preakness," Bejarano said through an interpreter. "The trainers and owners have been very good to me. I feel lucky to already be riding in such a great race."
Going into this week, Bejarano had an eye-popping 176 wins, 61 more than his closest pursuer in the North American standings, Ramon Dominguez. Bejarano and his agent, Steve Elzey, say they are determined to finish the year on top.
Bejarano attended the same Lima jockey school that produced Jorge Chavez and Edgar Prado, two established stars who ride primarily in New York. Because of his success in the United States, Bejarano has been able to send money home to Peru, where his family has been able to escape its financial struggles.
If he is somehow able to guide Sir Shackleton to an upset over Smarty Jones and the rest of the Preakness field, Bejarano will have attained heights that just a few years ago would have been unimaginable.
Bejarano and Stewart Elliott, who rides Smarty Jones, are the only two jockeys who will be riding in the Preakness for the first time Saturday.
Elliott fined $1,000
Kentucky Derby-winning rider Stewart Elliott was fined $1,000 Thursday for submitting an inaccurate application to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority for a jockey's license. Last week, Elliott admitted to the Churchill Downs stewards that he failed to note on his application that he had pleaded guilty to a felony battery charge in New Jersey in 2001.
Mickey Sample, acting state steward for the KHRA, and two associate stewards at Churchill Downs issued the ruling. The penalty will have no effect on the outcome of the 2004 Derby, which was won by Smarty Jones with Elliott aboard. Elliott will ride Smarty Jones in the Preakness on Saturday.
He was subsequently required by the KHRA to send documentation of the incident and an amended license application, obligations he fulfilled. He also signed a statement waiving his right to a hearing, thereby accepting the penalty the stewards assessed. After paying the fine, he will be eligible to ride in Kentucky in 2004.
Baffert's Preakness streak broken
Conspicuous because of his absence from the Preakness is trainer Bob Baffert, who has won four of the last seven runnings, with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Point Given (2001), and War Emblem (2002). Baffert has had a Preakness runner every year since 1996, when Cavonnier ran fourth.
Baffert still will be here Saturday, to run Preachinatthebar in the Sir Barton and Senor Swinger in the Dixie.
Riders to wear ads in Preakness
Jockey advertising will be back in the Preakness Stakes, two weeks after jockeys wore advertisements for the first time during the running of the Kentucky Derby.
Jerry Bailey, the rider of Eddington, and Shane Sellers, the rider of The Cliff's Edge, will once again be sponsored Saturday by clothing company Wrangler, according to Kelly Wietsma, the president of Equisponse, which arranges advertisements for many top jockeys. In addition, Jose Santos, who does not have a ride in the Preakness, will wear advertisements for a Kentucky-brewed liqueur, Hpnotiq, during races on Preakness Day.
Wietsma said Thursday morning that negotiations were also under way with two companies for additional advertisements. Stewart Elliott, the rider of favored Smarty Jones, was expected to sign a deal Thursday with a "major, international, publicly traded company" that would also include rights to the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, Wietsma said.
Mike Smith, the rider of Lion Heart, will also likely wear advertisements for the weight loss company Trim Spa, although negotiations were continuing for a long-term deal Thursday afternoon, Wietsma said.
Maryland allows jockeys to wear advertising on their riding breeches and neckwear as long as the owners and trainers of the horses approve. On Tuesday, the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico, issued house rules that described the approved size and shape of advertisements and cautioned jockeys not to wear ads that conflicted with racing's image or Pimlico's existing sponsors.
The rules also require jockeys to file paperwork describing the ads 48 hours before the race, along with written approvals of owners and trainers. Wietsma said most jockeys would not make the deadline, but added that Pimlico officials have agreed to waive the restrictions this year because the house rules were issued so close to race time.
"They put the house rule in effect 48 hours before we were supposed to have our paperwork in, and I've got jockeys in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Kentucky," Wietsma said. "How am I supposed to round up all the approvals that way? Fortunately, Lou Raffetto [the MJC's chief operating officer] said he would work with us."
Ten jockeys in the Kentucky Derby's 18-horse field wore advertisements this year. The Derby is racing's highest-rated television broadcast.
Wietsma said she commissioned a study of the Derby broadcast that showed that sponsors received $550,000 worth of airtime during the show, based on commercial ad rates. Much of that amount was provided by an on-air interview of Shane Sellers in the jockeys' room, when Sellers appeared wearing a hat adorned with Wrangler's logo.
Several sponsors have made changes based on their Derby experience, Wietsma said. For example, Hpnotiq has changed the color of its logo from turquoise to black in order for the lettering to show up more clearly during the broadcast.
Still no deal between Magna, online bet shops
As of Thursday morning, it did not appear as if online wagering companies would be able to strike a deal with Magna Entertainment, Pimlico's majority owner, to offer the Preakness Stakes to their customers.
Magna withdrew its signals from the most popular Internet account-wagering companies late last year, including Youbet.com, Television Games Network, and the sites operated by AmericaTab. Several of the companies have reached out to Magna in an attempt to get the restriction lifted for the Preakness, but Magna has not responded.
The companies have posted notices advising their customers that the Preakness will not be available, and several have started promotions that reward customers for betting tracks other than Pimlico.
Other than the Internet companies, nearly every other outlet in the country will offer the entire 13-race Pimlico card, which last year attracted $60 million in bets.
Two guaranteed pick fours on card
Pimlico's card Saturday will include two guaranteed pick four wagers. A $750,000-guaranteed pick four will start with race 9 and end with the Preakness Stakes, and a $200,000-guaranteed pick four will link races four through seven.
Win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagers will be available on all races. Rolling daily doubles and rolling pick threes will appear throughout the card, although the first pick three will not start until the second race.
Takeout on win, place, and show bets at Pimlico is 18 percent. Takeout on two-horse bets - daily doubles and exactas - is 21 percent. Takeout on wagers with three or more horses is 25.75 percent.
The two guaranteed pick fours will have a reduced takeout of 14 percent, one of the best betting opportunities on the card.
Track takes security precautions
For the third year in a row, fans in the grandstand and clubhouse at Pimlico will not be able to bring in coolers because of security concerns. All food and beverages to be consumed in the grandstand or clubhouse will have to be brought into the facility in clear plastic bags.
No such restrictions will apply to the infield, although coolers, backpacks, and thermoses will be searched, Pimlico said this week. Liquor of any kind will be prohibited, however, as well as the somewhat popular keg balls of beer.
- additional reporting by Byron King and Matt Hegarty