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.