04/29/2014 2:09PM

Maragh hoping for better Triple Crown experience this time around

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Barbara D Livingston
Wicked Strong will be Rajiv Maragh's first Kentucky Derby mount since Mucho Macho Man in 2011.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Approaching the top of the stretch in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, jockey Rajiv Maragh thought he had a chance to win the race on Mucho Macho Man. Turning for home, however, Mucho Macho Man could not match strides with Animal Kingdom and ended up finishing third.

The remainder of that year’s Triple Crown did not go well for Maragh. He finished eighth on Mucho Macho Man in the Preakness and was subsequently removed from the horse for the Belmont Stakes.

In the Belmont, Maragh rode longshot Isn’t He Perfect. Coming out of the starting gate, Maragh allowed Isn’t He Perfect to come over on Mucho Macho Man, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, who in turn came over on Animal Kingdom, squeezing him back at the start.

Isn’t He Perfect finished last. Mucho Macho Man was seventh, one spot behind Animal Kingdom, who came out of the race with an injury.

For the incident at the start, the New York stewards suspended Maragh seven days for careless riding. Maragh did not appeal the decision.

“I think being suspended is a penalty to make you realize if you make a mistake and what to do better and make yourself better,” Maragh said recently, reflecting on the incident. “Even though you’re trying hard to do the best you can, it’s really a game of inches. You got to be really careful – try your best, try your hardest every time – but also there’s a line you have to make sure you don’t cross. I really tried to work on being more careful but keep doing my job.”

On Saturday, Maragh’s job will be trying to get Wicked Strong to the wire first in the 140th Kentucky Derby. Wicked Strong figures to be the second or third choice in the wagering behind California Chrome.

Though Maragh spent the winter riding at Aqueduct in New York while Wicked Strong was in south Florida, Maragh was aboard the colt when he dominated the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5. Prior to that, Maragh had ridden Wicked Strong to a third-place finish in the Remsen.

“He has a great style for the Derby. He seems like a horse that can overcome some adversity. He can fit into any kind of race flow,” Maragh said. “If they go slow, he can be closer. If they go fast, he can be behind. He gives you a lot of options, which you need in the Derby with 20 horses. He doesn’t seem to have any problem being in and amongst horses. There’s a lot in his favor.”

This will be Maragh’s fourth Derby mount, having most recently finished 12th aboard Alpha in 2012. A native of Jamaica, Maragh said the Derby is the race he most covets.

“I’ve been in this country about 14 years,” Maragh said. “If you’re a jockey and if you don’t want to win the Derby, then you’re in the wrong sport. It’s definitely the No. 1 race in the world in my opinion, for the prestige and everything. The whole racing world is watching. It’s a great opportunity.”

◗ As usual, the Kentucky Oaks will be the first leg for both the Oaks-Derby double ($1 minimum) and Oaks-Woodford-Derby pick three (50-cent minimum).

◗ A 50-cent pick four, 50-cent pick five, and $2 pick six will conclude with both the Oaks and Derby. There will be three pick fours on Oaks Day (12 races) and four pick-fours on Derby Day (13 races).

◗ A $1 super high five will be offered on both the Oaks and Derby and on the last race each day. There is a carryover provision.

◗ The minimum wager for superfectas on both days is $1, as opposed to the dime supers that are offered all other days.

◗ As a means of enticing larger fields on its biggest days – and spurring greater handle, theoretically – Churchill once again is “supercharging” the purses for undercard races on Friday and Saturday. For example, a first-level allowance normally worth $52,000 will offer a purse of $65,000, and some maiden special weight events go from $50,000 to $60,000.

◗ New Churchill race caller Larry Collmus will be attending to other duties that will keep him out of the announcer’s booth on occasion this week. The voice that fans will hear during those times is that of Bill Downes, who otherwise calls races at the newly named Indiana Grand in suburban Indianapolis.

– additional reporting by Marty McGee