After an otherwise injury-free set of races featuring many of the world top’s thoroughbreds at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park, the two-day series ended Saturday with a win by Vino Rosso in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and questions swirling about the fate of one of his competitors, Mongolian Groom, who suffered what was described as a serious injury which required him being taken off the track in a horse ambulance.
The weekend’s events at the Arcadia racetrack — which was hosting the event for a record 10th time — had been under close scrutiny following the deaths of 36 horses there since last December, with officials saying that “every possible precaution” had been taken to try to ensure that no horses were injured.
Mongolian Groom did not finish the 1 1/4-mile race. A green screen was placed around him to obscure the view of a crowd of nearly 68,000 people, and he was rushed off the track in a horse ambulance, with the Paulick Report subsequently reporting on Twitter that the 4-year-old gelding has fractures in the lower portion of his cannon bone and upper portion of his pastern.
At a news conference, Vino Rosso’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he was hopeful the injury to his 4-year-old colt’s rival is “something that he can have a surgery for.”
“It’s something that I think we were all very concerned about coming in, you know we were anxious for not only running in huge races like these, but also hoping that everything would go smoothly and safely. I think everyone took every precautionary measure they could,” Pletcher told reporters, while noting that he wanted to learn more about what had happened.
The Breeders’ Cup’s board of directors had agreed not to move what is one of the world’s most prestigious series of races even after the deaths of 30 horses forced the closure of Santa Anita for about three weeks in March. Six more horses subsequently died.
Laura Taylor, who traveled from Santana Valley, Arizona, for the Breeders’ Cup, said it didn’t matter to her which horses won. She said she just wanted all of the horses and jockeys to came back safely.
“Everybody come back safe, everybody come back safe,” she implored, while among a crowd of hundreds of people waiting for the track gates at Santa Anita to open more than two hours before the day’s races began.
Earlier this week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, called the weekend “a critical test for the future of horse racing in California and in the United States” and said it may be time to re-examine the sport’s future if it couldn’t be conducted in a “safe and humane manner.”
Amid increasing scrutiny over the safety of horses at Santa Anita, the head of the Breeders’ Cup’s veterinary team pledged that “no horses racing anywhere have been more examined or observed than these horses.” In the hours leading up to the races, four Breeders’ Cup entrants — Mile contenders Suedois and Bolo, Filly & Mare Turf contender Fleeting and Sprint contender Imperial Hint — were scratched early Saturday from the races following veterinary inspections.
But a full field of 11 remained in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the racing weekend drew to a close.
Vino Rosso — a 4-year-old colt who went off as the bettors’ third choice at 9-2 — finished 4 1/4 lengths ahead of McKinzie, the bettors’ 5-2 favorite and a Santa Anita-based horse. Another Santa Anita-based horse, Higher Power, came in third.
The 5-year-old mare, Elate — who was trying to match the Breeders’ Cup win of Zenyatta a decade ago at Santa Anita — finished fourth. Math Wizard, Seeking the Soul, Code of Honor, Yoshida, War of Will and Owendale completed the field.
In the stretch, Mongolian Groom suffered an injury to his “left hind” and didn’t make it to the finish line.
The 4-year-old gelding — who has earned just more than $579,000 while racing primarily on the Southern California circuit — had won three of his 16 starts, including the Grade 1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita Sept. 28, when he beat the eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up McKinzie.
News of Mongolian Groom’s injury brought a bittersweet ending to the racing weekend.
Other Breeders’ Cup winners were:
— Belvoir Bay, a 6-year-old mare who was victorious in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at odds of 14-1. It was her first win since the Wishing Well at Santa Anita Feb. 16 for local trainer Peter Miller, who called it ‘”a dream come true, really.” She survived a December 2017 fire at San Luis Rey Downs in San Diego County in which 46 horses perished, along with a January 2016 storm that destroyed her barn.
Co-owner Gary Barber noted that the aftermath of the deadly fire was “harrowing,” as Belvoir Bay was missing for a couple of days.
“And, fortunately, she was safe, and someone had her, but she was all mixed up. She went to the clinic for two, three weeks and we really nursed her back,” Barber said.
Om, who is also based at Santa Anita, finished second in the Turf Sprint at odds of 15-1, with Shekky Shebaz finishing third at odds of 5-1. Another of the horses Miller trains, two-time defending Turf Sprint champion Stormy Liberal, finished in eighth as part of a 2019 campaign in which the 7-year-old gelding is winless in seven starts.
— the 3-year-old Irish filly, Iridessa, who won the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf for trainer Joseph O’Brien at odds of 13-1 for her third win in eight starts this year.
Vasilika — whose former trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was banned from racing at Santa Anita following the deaths of four horses he trained — was just a neck back in second, at odds of 9-2 in what was just her second loss in 13 starts at Santa Anita. Defending champion and the 4-5 morning line favorite, Sistercharlie, finished third in her first time out of the winners’ circle in four races this year.
— Bricks and Mortar, who took his winning streak to seven — and solidified his chances at being named Horse of the Year — with his victory in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf as the even-money favorite for trainer Chad Brown. United, the 50-1 longshot, finished a head back in second after a stretch duel with Bricks and Mortar, and the Irish-bred Anthony Van Dyck finished third, at odds of 5-1 in his first U.S. start.
— Blue Prize, who won the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff at odds of 8-1 in her third consecutive win for trainer Ignacio Correas IV. Even-money favorite, Midnight Bisou, who had won seven races in a row and returned to the track where she won her first race just over two years ago, was 1 1/2 lengths back in second, with Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress in third, at odds of 10-1.
— Uni, a 5-year-old mare who won the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile by 1 1/2 lengths, at odds of 7-2 for trainer Chad Brown, over the 4-year-old filly Got Stormy, who was sent off as the slight 3-1 favorite. The two beat 10 of their male counterparts, as Without Parole finished third.
— Covfefe, who won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint as the 3-2 favorite for trainer Brad Cox. The 3-year-old filly — whose name was reserved shortly after President Donald Trump’s early morning apparent-typo Tweet referring to “covfefe” — has won five of her six starts this year. Bellafina was second at odds of 9-2, with 22-1 shot Dawn the Destroyer coming in third.
— Mitole, who crossed the line first in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at odds of 9-5, following a nearly perfect 2019 campaign with just one loss in seven starts for trainer Steve Asmussen. The bettors’ 3-2 favorite, Shancelot, finished 1 1 /4 lengths back in second, with the 6-year-old racing veteran Whitmore finishing third in his 30th career start.
— Spun to Run, who went off at odds of 9-1, got the biggest victory of his career in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile for trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero over the even-money favorite Omaha Beach in a match-up that pitted two 3-year-old colts who did not race in any of this year’s Triple Crown races. Blue Chipper, a 4-year-old gelding making his first start outside South Korea, where he had won seven of his eight starts, finished third at odds of 16-1.
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