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.

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.