The first day of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park went off Friday without a hitch, as the 45-1 longshot Storm the Court won the biggest race of the day in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at a track that has been facing criticism over the deaths of 36 horses since last December.
“We’re all trying our best to make this the safest sport that we can,” trainer Peter Eurton said shortly after Storm the Court won on his home track, marking the colt’s second win in four starts.
Santa Anita is hosting the two-day event for a record 10th time. The Breeders’ Cup board of directors agreed in June not to move the event, despite the track’s closure for about three weeks in March following the death of 30 horses. Since then, six more have been euthanized.
Racing fans were met at one entrance to the track’s parking gates by protesters decrying the recent spate of horse deaths, while a group of horse racing supporters held up signs backing the sport outside another parking gate up the street.
Craig Fravel, who is leaving his job as president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup for a post with Santa Anita’s parent company, said earlier this week it would be “naive not to acknowledge that people are watching very carefully.” But he cited “amazing steps taken in the late spring” and said he believes “everything humanly possible” has been done to try to prevent horses from being injured in the Breeders’ Cup races.
Debbie Lamparter, the Breeders’ Cup’s veterinary team leader, added, “No horses racing anywhere have been more examined or observed than these horses. All of this is being done to ensure the best for the horse and to make sure that we have done our utmost for the safety of these horses.”
Eurton said he has welcomed increased veterinary oversight to ensure that horses who aren’t healthy don’t wind up running in an event that is facing stepped-up public scrutiny.
Storm the Court’s trainer said he felt he had a home court advantage over many of the runners who had traveled to Santa Anita because the colt trains at the track, where he had finished third in his last race. A $2 win bet on Storm the Court paid his backers a whopping $93.80.
Two other horses from California — the 25-1 Anneau d’Or and the 35-1 Wrecking Crew — finished second and third, respectively.
Other winners of Breeders’ Cup races Friday included:
— British Idiom, who was victorious in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies as the bettors’ 5-2 second-choice. She’s now undefeated in three starts for trainer Brad Cox and finished a neck ahead of the bettors’ 2-1 favorite, Donna Veloce, a locally trained filly who was making her second start after winning her first race at Santa Anita by more than nine lengths. Bast, another filly who trains at Santa Anita, crossed the finish line third.
— Four Wheel Drive, who won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint as the 3-2 favorite for trainer Wesley Ward. The 2-year-old colt — a son of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah — is now undefeated in three starts and is likely to be an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Chimney Rock and Another Miracle finished second and third, respectively.
— Structor, who won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at odds of just over 5-1 for trainer Chad Brown. Like Four Wheel Drive, he is also undefeated in three starts. Longshots Billy Batts and Gear Jockey, who went off at odds of 55-1 and over 67-1, finished second and third.
— Sharing, who won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at odds of 13-1 for trainer Graham Motion. The 2-year-old filly has won her last three starts, with her sole loss in a third-place finish in her first start. The bettors’ favorite, Daahyeh, was second, with Sweet Melania in third.
A crowd of just more than 41,000 was on hand for “Future Stars Friday.” More than $56.5 million was wagered on the day’s 10 races, setting a record for a Friday Breeders’ Cup event.
An even larger crowd is expected Saturday for nine more Breeders’ Cup races, including the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The Classic field includes the 5-year-old mare Elate, who will try to become just the second female to win one of the world’s most prestigious races. The legendary Zenyatta was the first in 2009 before a cheering crowd at Santa Anita.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic field also includes the 3-1 morning line favorite McKinzie, who finished a disappointing 12th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, and a quartet of 3-year-old colts — War of Will, Code of Honor, Math Wizard and Owendale — who have won races including the Preakness, Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Ohio Derby.
Higher Power, Mongolian Groom, Seeking the Soul, Vino Rosso and Elate’s stablemate, Yoshida, round out the field for the Classic.
Meanwhile, the 4-year-old filly Midnight Bisou — who is unbeaten in seven starts this year — is set to run in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She finished third last year to Monomoy Girl and Wow Cat, the latter of whom she will face again in this race.
Other Breeders’ Cup races set for Saturday are:
— The $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf, in which the 5-year-old Bricks and Mortar is the 9-5 morning line favorite following a racing campaign this year in which he is unbeaten in five starts. Bricks and Mortar has been ranked No. 1 on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly Top Thoroughbred Poll for more than six months.
— The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, in which Bricks and Mortar’s stablemate, Sistercharlie, will seek a second consecutive Breeders’ Cup win. Sistercharlie, the 8-5 morning line favorite, is undefeated in three starts this year.
— The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, in which Stormy Liberal will attempt to win the race for the third year in a row. The 7-year-old gelding has not made it into the winners’ circle this year, with a pair of second-place finishes and three third-place finishes in six starts this year. The 9-2 morning line favorite is the 6-year-old Eddie Haskell, who has finished first, second or third in all eight of his races this year.
— The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, with the 3-year-old filly Covfefe set as the 2-1 morning line favorite following a campaign that included four wins and a third-place finish.
— The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, in which the highly regarded 3-year-old colt Omaha Beach is the 8-5 morning line favorite after missing out on a Triple Crown campaign and returning after a nearly six-month layoff to win the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. The field also includes a 4-year-old, Blue Chipper, who traveled from South Korea, where he has won seven of his eight starts.
— The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which the 9-5 morning line favorite Mitole will match up against rival Imperial Hint for the second time this year. Imperial Hint bested Mitole in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga in July, but Mitole has otherwise been unbeaten this year. The field also includes Catalina Cruiser, who is undefeated in three starts this year, along with Matera Sky, who has raced predominantly in Japan and is making his first start in the United States.
— The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which the Irish-bred Circus Maximus will make his first start outside Europe as the 3-1 morning line favorite.
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