American Pharoah wins final race, claiming Breeders’ Cup Classic and Grand Slam

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Triple Crown champion American Pharoah took charge out of the gate, winning the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by 6 1/2 lengths Saturday in his final race before retirement.

The 3-year-old colt ran 1 1/4 miles in a track-record 2:00.07 as the sentimental 3-5 favorite among the crowd of 50,155 at Keeneland. Fans stood 20-deep all along the rail, cheering and snapping cellphone photos of the superstar horse and jockey Victor Espinoza.

Except American Pharoah didn’t hear them. He wears ear plugs to muffle any sounds that might startle him.

“This was for Pharoah,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “We wanted him to go out the champion he is.”

He paid $3.40, $3 and $2.40.

Effinex, a 33-1 shot, returned $14.20 and $6.60. Honor Code was another 4 1/2 lengths back in third and paid $3.40 to show.

American Pharoah took on seven rivals after Smooth Roller and champion mare Beholder dropped out. Beholder had the speed and the class to potentially make the race a contest, but a lung ailment sidelined her on Thursday.

It probably didn’t matter how many faced American Pharoah on a cloudy, cool day in the cradle of American horse country.

He smashed the old track record of 2:05.36 by more than five seconds.

It was a feel-good moment for a sport that has been battered and bruised – all the troubles of declining attendance and drug controversies were wiped away in two magical minutes.

“It’s a horse racing fairy tale and I just happen to be in it,” Baffert said.

After easing across the finish line, Espinoza took the colt far up the first turn before slowly walking past the grandstand to the winner’s circle, accompanied by raucous cheers all the way. The champion even had his own military escort walk him back to his barn.

The fans knew they had just witnessed history, the final chapter in a story that may never be repeated.

American Pharoah put an exclamation point on a brilliant career in which he lost just twice – in his debut and again in the Travers on Aug. 29.

Keen Ice, who vanquished him at Saratoga, finished fourth in the Classic. Tonalist, the 2014 Belmont winner, was fifth, followed by Hard Aces, Frosted and Ireland-bred Gleneagles.

Frosted unexpectedly pressed American Pharoah on the lead in the Travers, leaving him vulnerable to the rally by Keen Ice.

This time, no one could keep up with the champ.

“It’s a lot of pressure to train a horse like this because I didn’t want to let the horse down and I didn’t want to let the fans down,” Baffert said. “I’m just so proud of him; it’s like watching my child out there.”

American Pharoah won nine of his 11 career starts, including the first sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years this spring. He earned a total of $8,650,300 for Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian-born owner who chose to keep his popular horse in training so fans could see him run.

“We wanted him to go out as a winner,” Zayat said. “He is a winner.”

Next up for American Pharoah is a new career as a breeding stallion at a farm in Kentucky bluegrass country near Keeneland.

The colt became the first horse to win the Triple Crown and the Classic in the same year, and the only one to have such a chance since the Breeders’ Cup didn’t begin until 1984.

Bob Baffert sweeps Futurity and Starlet at Los Alamitos

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert became the first trainer to win the $300,000 CashCall Futurity and $294,000 Starlet in the same year at Los Alamitos on Saturday.

McKinzie won the Futurity for 2-year-olds via disqualification after Solomini, Baffert’s other entry in the race, was cited by the stewards for interference in deep stretch and dropped from first to third.

In the next race, 2-5 favorite Dream Tree won the Starlet by 3 1/4 lengths to improve to 3-0 for the Hall of Fame trainer.

Baffert has won the Futurity a record 10 times, including the last four at Los Alamitos, where it was moved from now-closed Hollywood Park, where he won it six times.

McKinzie, named for Baffert’s late friend and Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, was carried wide into the first turn and kept clear by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. McKinzie rallied approaching the stretch in tandem with Instilled Regard while Solomini started to gain outside of that pair.

The three horses came together and with a sixteenth of a mile to go, Solomini came in and bumped Instilled Regard before going on to finish three-quarters of a length in front of McKinzie, who was a head in front of Instilled Regard.

Baffert was surprised when the three stewards voted 2-1 to disqualify Solomini.

“It’s really too bad they took him down,” he said. “He was the better horse today.”

McKinzie returned $3 and $2.40. Instilled Regard paid $6.80. There was no show wagering because of the small field.

The final time for the Futurity was 1:42.57. McKinzie earned $180,000, increasing his career earnings to $210,000.

In the Starlet for 2-year-old fillies, Dream Tree and jockey Drayden Van Dyke covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.87 and paid $2.80 to win. It was Baffert’s fourth career win in the race.

Yesterday’s News was second and Piedi Bianchi was third.

Trainers rushed to save terrified horses as flames closed in

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BONSALL, Calif. — A routine day at an elite training center for racehorses transformed into terror and chaos in minutes, with hundreds of thoroughbreds stampeding out of their stalls in a desperate attempt to flee a Southern California wildfire that set their barns ablaze.

Turned loose by their trainers in a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the huge, muscular animals, their eyes wide with fear, charged through thick smoke and past dancing flames.

While hundreds made it to the safety of a nearby racetrack, others galloped in circles, unsure which way to run. Still others, too frightened to leave their paddocks, stayed there and died.

Workers at San Luis Rey Downs said an estimated 30 to 40 horses perished Thursday in the wildfire still raging out of control north of San Diego on Friday. At least two stable workers were injured, and their conditions were not immediately known.

Trainers described a terrifying scene that erupted at the facility Thursday afternoon, recalling how only minutes after smelling smoke, they saw flames roaring down a nearby hillside.

“I was heading to my barn to drop my equipment off and I smell smoke,” trainer Kim Marrs said Friday as she stood outside the still-smoldering facility. “Within two minutes, I look up the hill and you could just see it come up over the ridge.”

She and others tried to turn back the flames with hoses and fire extinguishers before firefighters arrived. But when embers from burning palm trees began igniting the roofs of barns, they realized they had no other alternative than to turn loose the approximately 450 horses stabled there.

“The next thing, there’s a stampede of 100 horses coming through here,” said Marrs, who was trying to lead one of the horses she trains, a 5-year-old named Spirit World, through a tunnel. “We almost got trampled to death.”

At one of the center’s many barns, video showed a group of trainers frantically tearing down a wooden fence and shouting at their horses to run.

One large black horse, its forelocks wrapped in white leggings, bolted toward safety but then spooked by the burning palm trees, turned and fled back toward its stable. Scores of others charged through thick smoke to safety.

Trainer Cliff Sise suffered burns on his chest and arm trying to get a 2-year-old filly named Scat Home Lady out of her stable. She wouldn’t budge, and he said she burned to death there.

“She was one of my favorites,” Sise said as he sat outside the facility.

Trainer Jerry Contreras said one of his best friends, a fellow trainer, was hospitalized.

“He was trying to get his horses out and was burned,” Contreras said.

At San Luis Rey Downs, the phone rang unanswered and the owners quickly barred outsiders from the sprawling facility.

It is Southern California’s premier training center for thoroughbreds, with a competition-sized racetrack, a smaller one for training, numerous trails for horses to relax on and even a swimming pool for them to work out in.

The center can house as many as 500 horses and states proudly on a sign out front that it is the “Home of Azeri,” racing’s U.S. Horse of the Year in 2002.

Other thoroughbreds that have trained there include Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.

The facility sits among rolling hills, picturesque vineyards and farms down a winding, two-lane road just a few miles off busy Interstate 15, the main thoroughfare connecting Southern California to Las Vegas.

The horses that fled were quickly rounded up, and many were taken to the nearby Del Mar racetrack, where a veterinary center was set up for the injured.

The tragedy resulted in an outpouring of support from the racing community, with Southern California’s Los Alamitos Race Course canceling its daytime thoroughbred program Friday out of respect.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the Stronach Group, owners of San Luis Rey Downs, have set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for hospital and rehab costs.

Santa Anita racetrack officials in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia collected clothes and other items for stable workers who lost their possessions.

“I lost everything. Forty years. I lost all my tack, all my machines, my webbings. It was all burned. My whole livelihood. I feel like quitting,” the 66-year-old Sise said.