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.

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

churchill downs
Michael Clevenger and Erik Mohn/USA TODAY NETWORK

Churchill Downs will suspend racing on Wednesday and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.