Hoppertunity wins Jockey Club Gold Cup; Breeders’ Cup next

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NEW YORK — Hoppertunity, trained by Bob Baffert, made a successful trip from California to Belmont Park on Saturday to win the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup and secure a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

He will once again face California Chrome in the $6 million Classic, Nov. 5 at Santa Anita. California Chrome has already beaten Hoppertunity three times this year, most recently in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August.

Baffert opted for a change of venue, and it paid off with a half length win over Effinex.

“We always thought in our minds that he would like these big turns here and this big, deep track where he would have a chance to come from behind,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant trainer who accompanied the horse.

Hoppertunity saved ground for most of the 1 1/4 miles as Effinex and Protonico set the pace. John Velazquez angled Hoppertunity three wide for the stretch drive and the 5-year-old responded with his sixth win in 22 starts.

The time was 2:00.63, and Hoppertunity paid $9.60, $4 and $2.60.

Effinex, the 6-5 favorite, returned $3 and $2.20. Protonico held on for third, paying $3.80.

Mubtaahij was fourth followed by Watershed.

Trainer Chad Brown was the big winner on the second of Belmont’s Super Saturdays of prep races leading to the Breeders’ Cup.

Brown won three stakes, including a 1-2-3 sweep in the $500,000 Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf as Camelot Kitten ($8 to win) edged Beach Patrol with Annals of Time third.

Irad Ortiz Jr. guided Camelot Kitten to his fifth win in 10 starts.

Practical Joke ($7.90) insured Brown would have a starter in the $2 million Juvenile with a hard-fought victory by a nose in the $500,000 Champagne for 2-year-olds with Joel Rosario in the saddle.

He will head to Santa Anita with a 3-for-3 record.

It was a tough week to be a Syndergaard. First Noah Syndergaard and Mets lost to the Giants in the NL Wildcard game.

Then his namesake Syndergaard was second in the photo finish of the Champagne.

In Brown’s most heartwarming moment, Lady Eli ($3.70) captured the first race in her comeback from a major illness, and nailed down a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup, with a three-quarters of a length win over Sentiero Italia in the $500,000 Flower Bowl for older fillies and mares on the turf.

Lady Eli, winner of the 2014 Juvenile Fillies Turf, will compete this time in the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf. She missed over a year recovering from a potentially fatal bout of laminitis, a foot disease.

Lady Eli returned in late August to run second in the Ballston Spa at Saratoga.

It was the fourth Flower Bowl win in the last six years for Brown.

In other stakes results: Yellow Agate ($4.70) secured a spot in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with a head victory over Libby’s Tail in the $400,000 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies.

She is 2 for 2 in her brief career for the team of trainer Christophe Clement and jockey Manny Franco.

-Anchor Down ($6.40) set the pace on his way to two-length win in the $350,000 Kelso for milers.

Javier Castellano was aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher as the gray 5-year-old posted the biggest win of his career. Pletcher said the next start would be the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

-Pure Sensation ($6.30) edged Power Alert by a head in the $150,000 Turf Sprint Invitational.

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.