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Rare scenes cause Sydney Cup to stop halfway through the race

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SYDNEY (AP) One of Australia’s biggest horse races – the Sydney Cup – was abandoned at the halfway point on Saturday in dramatic and controversial scenes after two horses threw their riders and one of the horses died on the track.

The 3,200-meter (2-mile) Group 1 event, worth 2 million Australian dollars ($1.5 million), attracted a field of 14 Australian and international gallopers, and shaped as one of the highlights of the autumn racing season at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse.

But trouble occurred soon after the field passed the winning post the first time in the lap-and-a-half race when Almoonqith – a former Europe and Dubai-based stallion raced by the emirate’s deputy ruler Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum – broke down.

Not only was the seven-year-old’s English jockey James Doyle thrown from the saddle, the incident also caused rival horse Who Shotthebarman to unseat its jockey, Blake Shinn.

With Almoonqith lying on the track and Doyle having trouble moving away due to an injured knee, race officials decided to call a “no-race” with 1,600 meters left. But with no warning sirens in operation, it was left to mounted track officials to call out to jockeys that the race had been abandoned.

Only about half of the remaining riders heard the call and pulled up their horses, however, with the other half pushing on in the belief the race was still valid.

English visitor, the Godolphin-owned Polarisation, was first across the line, with his rider Corey Brown celebrating what he believed was a big win for the horse’s connections.

He and the other finishing riders then steered their mounts around Almoonqith, who later had to be euthanized.

Brown was later fuming over the decision to abandon the race, saying jockeys could easily have avoided the stricken horse after the finish of the race.

“One’s broken down and it was a furlong (200 meters) after the winning post. If it was at the 100-meter mark (before the post) I could understand,” said Brown, who also called the lack of a warning siren “farcical.”

Race officials, who were expected to reschedule the event, defended their decision. Chief steward Marc van Gestel said officials had to “err on the side of caution,” as it was not immediately clear whether Almoonqith might still get up and cause havoc with the remaining field.

Meanwhile, five-year-old Australian mare Winx, the world’s highest-rated horse on turf, completed her 17th straight win with a five-length victory in the day’s richest race, the $3 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 2,000 meters.

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.