Mongolian Groom fatally injured in Breeders’ Cup Classic

Getty Images
0 Comments

ARCADIA, Calif. — A victory by Vino Rosso in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was overshadowed by a fatal injury to a 15-1 long shot in the $6 million race at Santa Anita on Saturday night.

Cup officials said in a statement about two hours after the race that Mongolian Groom had been euthanized after sustaining a serious fracture to his left hind leg.

It’s the 37th horse death at Santa Anita since December and it occurred in the season-ending championships in front of 67,811 fans and a national prime-time television audience.

Mongolian Groom was part of the early pace in the 1 1/4-mile race. But jockey Abel Cedillo sharply pulled up the 4-year-old gelding near the eighth pole as the rest of the field charged toward the finish line.

Vino Rosso won by 4 1/4 lengths, drawing away from 5-2 favorite McKinzie down the stretch.

The deaths prompted track owner The Stronach Group to implement changes to rules involving medication and training. The Breeders’ Cup also beefed up its own pre-race exams and observations of runners.

It almost worked, too, with the only injury coming in the last of the 14 Cup races over the two days of racing.

“Everything had been going so great,” trainer Bob Baffert said before the death was announced. “You just don’t know when it is going to happen. We try to keep them as safe as we can.”

A green screen was rushed onto the track to block Mongolian Groom from the view of 67,811 fans and a prime-time television audience. He was loaded onto an equine ambulance and taken to a hospital on the backstretch.

Four veterinarians were consulted before the decision was recommended to euthanize.

Cup officials said they have hired Dr. Larry Bramlage to conduct an independent evaluation with the results to be made public when completed.

Mongolian Groom had three wins in 17 career starts and earnings of $579,141. He was coming off a victory over McKinzie in the Awesome Again Stakes on the same track in September that earned him a berth in the Classic.

Bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm, Mongolian Groom was trained by Ganbat Enebish and owned by Mongolian Stable, the name of Ganbaatar Dagvadorj’s racing operation. His best horse was 2015 Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday, who like Mongolian Groom was a 15-1 shot in the Breeders’ Cup.

Mike Repole, winning co-owner of Vino Rosso, said before the death that an injury is “the worst part of this game.”

“For us, horse safety is very, very important. Prayers for the horse. Prayers for the connections of the horse. It’s got to be really, really tough. It’s very sad,” Repole said.

Winning trainer Todd Pletcher said he was concerned about horse safety at Santa Anita coming into the season-ending world championships.

“We were anxious, not only for running in huge races like this, but hoping everything would go smoothly and safely,” he said. “Everyone took every precautionary measure they possibly could.”

However, that wasn’t enough in the view of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“The racing industry must make a choice between doing right by the horses or shutting down forever,” said Kathy Guillermo, PETA senior vice president.

Four horses were scratched Saturday from Cup races after pre-race exams by vets found issues concerning enough to keep them in their barns.

Earlier in the day, protesters angered by the 36 deaths stood outside Santa Anita toting signs urging the end of the sport in California. A short distance away, industry workers feeling pressured by the prospect of losing their jobs rallied to promote racing.

It’s not the first time death has haunted the Breeders’ Cup.

In 1990 at Belmont Park, Go For Wand was leading the Distaff when she sustained a fatal injury and fell in front of a horrified grandstand crowd and live TV audience. Jockey Randy Romero was thrown to the ground and Go For Wand got up and limped on three legs. She was euthanized on the track.

In the 2007 Classic at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park, George Washington dislocated his ankle during the Classic and was euthanized.

Before tragedy struck it had been a day of upsets and thrilling performances at the sun-splashed track located at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Heading into the Classic, Vino Rosso went off at 9-2 odds for Pletcher, who won the race for the first time.

“It’s one thing that was missing,” Pletcher said. “It feels great.”

Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. earned a leading fourth Cup victory of the weekend that featured just three victories by favorites.

McKinzie, the 5-2 favorite, finished second for Baffert.

Higher Power was third and Elate, a 5-year-old mare taking on the boys, finished fourth.

Vino Rosso covered the distance in 2:02.80 and paid $11.20, $5.80 and $4.

Saturday’s biggest upset belonged to 14-1 shot Belvoir Bay in the $1 million Turf Sprint. The 6-year-old mare beat the boys for a 1 1/4-length victory. She paid $31.60 to win.

Trainer Chad Brown won a leading three Cup races over the two days to move into a second-place tie for career victories with Baffert at 15.

Ireland’s Joseph O’Brien made history. At 26, he became the youngest trainer to win a Cup race with Iridessa’s neck victory in the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf. He beat his father, Aidan, who saddled Just Wonderful to a fifth-place finish.

Iridessa was the day’s second-longest priced winner at 13-1 odds, paying $28.40 to win.

Joseph O’Brien also joined Freddie Head as the only person to train and ride a Cup winner. O’Brien won the 2011 Turf with St Nicholas Abbey before eventually growing too tall to remain a jockey.

Iridessa earned the only European victory of the weekend.

The weekend’s biggest shocker occurred in the $2 million Juvenile on Friday. Storm the Court won by a neck. He paid $93.80 at 45-1 odds, the highest payout in the race’s 35-year history.

In other races Saturday:

– Bricks and Mortar won the $4 million Turf by a head to complete a perfect season and move solidly into contention for Horse of the Year honors. He’s 6 for 6 this season and has won seven in a row dating to last year.

– Covfefe won the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint by three-quarters of a length.

– Spun to Run won the $1 million Dirt Mile by 2 3/4 lengths, upsetting even-money favorite Omaha Beach.

– 9-5 shot Mitole won the $2 million Sprint by 1 1/4 lengths.

– Uni won the $2 million Mile on the turf by 1 1/4 lengths over 3-1 favorite Get Stormy.

– Blue Prize rallied from second-to-last on the backstretch to win the $2 million Distaff by 1 1/2 lengths, upsetting even-money favorite Midnight Bisou, who lost for the first time in eight races this year.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

eclipse awards
Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

bob baffert
Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.