Mongolian Groom fatally injured in Breeders’ Cup Classic

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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.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

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Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.