32nd horse dies at Santa Anita after catastrophic injury

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ARCADIA, Calif. — A 3-year-old colt sustained a catastrophic injury in the eighth race at Santa Anita and was euthanized Saturday, the 32nd horse to die at the track since December.

Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mario Gutierrez was tossed off in the incident on the second day of the fall meet at Santa Anita, where the Breeders’ Cup world championships are to be run in November.

Track officials said Gutierrez wasn’t injured after landing near the inner rail. He was taken away by ambulance.

Track veterinarian Dr. Dana Stead said in a statement that Emtech had two broken front legs and she made the decision to euthanize the colt on the track.

Workers hurried to put up a green screen to shield the foundering colt from the crowd, its front legs unable to withstand the animal’s weight.

Dr. Dionne Benson, chief vet for The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, said a review would be opened to consider the factors that contributed to Emtech’s injury.

She said the colt would have a necropsy at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, which is mandatory for all on-track accidents.

Emtech, trained by Steve Knapp, went down in the middle of the track in the upper stretch of the six-furlong, $40,000 claiming race.

“There’s an expected level of safety and accountability that is required to participate at a Stronach Group racetrack,” according to a TSG statement. “If anything less is found which could have contributed to this incident, it will be addressed immediately.”

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.

Gutierrez, a 32-year-old native of Mexico, won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012 aboard I’ll Have Another and the Derby in 2016 with Nyquist.

Sent off at 15-1 odds, Emtech had two wins in five career starts and earnings of $47,151. He won his previous start Sept. 14 at Los Alamitos after being claimed for $25,000. The colt is owned by Steven Zolatas and Sabina Romo Zolatas.

The death occurred just before the day’s two major stakes, both Breeders’ Cup qualifying races.

– Mongolian Groom, a 25-1 shot, upset favored McKinzie to win the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths.

Ridden by Abel Cedillo, Mongolian Groom ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.27 and paid $52.80 to win. The 4-year-old gelding earned an automatic berth in the $6 million BC Classic in November.

Mongolian Groom has three wins in 16 career starts.

McKinzie, the 1-5 favorite trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, had already earned a spot in the BC Classic. He’s finished first or second in 12 of 13 career starts, with his lone poor showing coming in last year’s BC Classic when he was 12th.

Higher Power was third and Seeking the Soul finished fourth.

– Mirth won the $300,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths under Smith.

That gives the 4-year-old filly trained by Phil D’Amato an automatic berth in the BC Filly & Mare Turf race.

Mirth ran 1 1/4 miles on turf in 1:58.47 and paid $14.20 to win at 6-1 odds.

A pair of Ireland-breds, Beau Recall and Elysea’s World, finished second and third.

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.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

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Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”