Horse grazes two people on track at Santa Anita fall opener

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ARCADIA, Calif. — A horse dumped its jockey and knocked down two photographers standing near the rail as racing returned to Santa Anita with the opening of its fall meet Friday amid intense scrutiny after the deaths of 31 horses at the historic track earlier in the year.

It was the lone incident between morning training hours and eight other races in the afternoon.

Jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. was unseated by 2-year-old filly Leucothea in the $300,000 Chandelier Stakes. He was unhurt and rode later.

The filly veered to the outside rail and charged by the winner’s circle before grazing a man and woman photographing the race near a gap in the rail. Neither apparently saw her approaching. Others jumped out of the way as Leucothea continued running most of the way around the track.

An outrider finally caught the filly near the gap leading to the stable area.

The man got up and was moving before being taken away in the ambulance that follows the horses and jockeys around the track. There was no immediate word on his condition. The woman was examined by paramedics before returning to work.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who won the Grade 1 Chandelier with Bast and the American Pharoah Stakes with Eight Rings, expressed no anxiety about returning to his home track.

“Not at all,” he said. “Everybody is thinking about horse racing now, get back to business. Especially when you get here. Santa Anita is just so beautiful. This is the greatest racetrack in America.”

Aidan Butler, the new acting executive director for Santa Anita and chief strategy officer of its owner, The Stronach Group, said there’s a lot at stake during the 23-day meet.

“We have never had so many eyeballs on us and I believe that warrants everything we’re doing and more so,” he said. “We should show that we’re not only a good sport, we’re a viable sport. We’re a beautiful sport when done right.”

Heavy clouds obscured the picturesque backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains for the small crowd, typical of a weekday, gathered to watch the races. Unlike times during the winter-spring meet, there were no protesters outside the main entrance.

“Here it’s a Friday,” Baffert said, “and we still have a decent little crowd here watching these good races.”

In preparation for hosting the Breeders’ Cup for a record 10th time in November, the track spent over $5 million on upgrades, including a new LED infield video board, trackside dining area, clubhouse loge box seats and Stretch Run Suites.

A team of seven veterinarians is reviewing all horses that have given 48 hours’ notice to work out on the main track or training track, as well as inspecting all horses entered in races.

“We put horses first here,” said Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinarian for TSG. “If we’re not taking care of them, we’re not doing our jobs (and) we don’t deserve to race them.”

The fatalities at Santa Anita since Dec. 26 have raised alarm within California and the rest of the racing industry. The majority occurred during the winter months when usually arid Santa Anita was hit with record rainfall totaling nearly a foot.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has made comments critical of the sport and last spring he ordered the formation of a special panel to evaluate horses’ histories before they race.

“We really had to examine everything we do and transform how we look at training,” Benson said.

In the day’s major races:

– Bast rallied to win the $300,000 Chandelier by a half-length under jockey John Velazquez, who set a record with his 660th career graded stakes victory in the U.S. and Canada, snapping a tie with fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey.

The 2-year-old filly earned an automatic berth in the BC Juvenile Fillies. She ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.10 and paid $2.40 to win.

“This means a lot,” Velazquez said. “Jerry is a guy who I rode with for so many years and have looked up to for so long.”

The New York-based Velazquez was making a rare appearance in Southern California to ride for Baffert.

“Todd Pletcher is the one who got him all those graded wins,” Baffert said of his fellow trainer. “I just threw him a couple bones.”

– Eight Rings romped to a six-length victory in the Grade 1 American Pharoah, giving Velazquez his 661st graded stakes win.

Trained by Baffert, Eight Rings ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.41 and paid $4.40 to win. The 2-year-old colt earned an automatic berth in the BC Juvenile race.

Collusion Illusion was eased by jockey Joe Talamo and didn’t finish.

– Pee Wee Reese won the $200,000 Eddie D Stakes by a half-length under Flavien Prat.

The 6-year-old named for the late Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop ran five furlongs on turf in 55.33 seconds and paid $7 to win.

Eddie Haskell, named after the smart-mouthed character on “Leave It to Beaver,” finished second in the Grade 2 race.

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.