Santa Anita hosts Breeder’s Cup this weekend after spate of racehorse deaths

ARCADIA, Calif. — Santa Anita Park will host a record 10th Breeders’ Cup World Championships event beginning Friday as the Arcadia racetrack faces continuing pressure from animal rights activists over the deaths of 36 thoroughbred horses since last December.

“There will be a lot of people from around the world watching, so naturally everyone involved in the sport realizes the importance to have no injuries whatsoever,” said trainer Simon Callaghan, who had the 3-1 morning-line favorite in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race with Donna Veloce, who won her only start by more than nine lengths Sept. 28 at Santa Anita.

The two-day series will include 14 Breeders’ Cup races with purse money totaling $28 million, with five of Friday’s races featuring 2-year-old colts and fillies as part of “Future Stars Friday.”

Among the most highly anticipated races Friday was the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which pit the 8-5 morning line favorite, Dennis’ Moment, against local contender Eight Rings. Both 2-year-old colts, who faced each other for the first time, have won two out of their three races.

Eight Rings’ trainer, Bob Baffert, said during a teleconference last week that the series of horse deaths at Santa Anita, the ensuing protests and the track’s closure for nearly a month in March were a “wake-up moment for racing.” But he said he didn’t have any issues with the track and thinks “it’s going to be a great Breeders’ Cup.”

“We need some good things happening here in California,” Baffert said. “… We’re going to get some good, positive vibes out of this whole thing (Breeders’ Cup).”

Another trainer, Chad Brown, said the horse fatalities at Santa Anita have been “concerning, for sure, watching from afar from the East Coast.”

“Ultimately, I didn’t avoid running any horses in the Breeders’ Cup due to this issue,” said Brown, who trains Bricks and Mortar and Sistercharlie, the morning-line favorites in two of the Breeders’ Cup races Saturday.

“I did have a lot of questions from clients throughout the summer and right into the fall here about our plans, individual horses, about my opinion on it,” Brown said. “But ultimately we feel confident in Santa Anita’s management that the track will be safe and I support everything they’ve been doing to try to improve the situation.”

Breeders’ Cup’s top executive, Craig Fravel, said Wednesday he believes “everything humanly possible” has been done to try to prevent horses from being injured in the Breeders’ Cup races.

Debbie Lamparter, the Breeders’ Cup’s veterinary team leader, added, “No horses racing anywhere have been more examined or observed than these horses. All of this is being done to ensure the best for the horse and to make sure that we have done our utmost for the safety of these horses.”

Such assurances, however, have done little to ease protests from animal-rights groups, at least one of which plans to protest outside Santa Anita Friday to call for an end to horse racing. Kitty Block, president/CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, issued a statement Thursday decrying the spate of horse deaths.

“While we’ve long recognized that some in the industry are trying to address the welfare of these horses, the rate at which they are dying is deplorable,” Block said. “We continue to work with industry leaders to secure passage of the federal Horseracing Integrity Act to ban race-day medication, which would significantly decrease racehorse deaths and rid the sport of cheaters who place winning before horse welfare.”

Along with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, Friday’s races included:

  • The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, in which the undefeated Four Wheel Drive, a son of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was the 3-1 morning line favorite
  • The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf featuring the 5-2 morning line favorite Arizona, who was making his first U.S. start following six races in Europe for trainer Aidan O’Brien
  • The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, in which the Irish-bred Albigna was the lukewarm 9-2 morning line favorite after three wins in four starts in France and Ireland

The weekend’s top races will occur Saturday, culminating with the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which the 5-year-old mare Elate will try to become just the second female to win one of the world’s most prestigious races. The legendary Zenyatta was the first in 2009 before a cheering crowd at Santa Anita.

“She’s put in a few efforts that I think are equivalent to any of the boys in this race. She’s 3-for-3 at the distance,” Elate’s trainer, Bill Mott, said last week of the mare, who has finished in the top three in each of her races since July 2018. “We can’t predict exactly if they’re going to run their best race on Breeders’ Cup day or not, but, if she would happen to run one of her best races, I think that puts her right there.”

The Breeders’ Cup Classic field also includes the 3-1 morning line favorite McKinzie, who finished a disappointing 12th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, and a quartet of 3-year-old colts — War of Will, Code of Honor, Math Wizard and Owendale — who have won races including the Preakness, Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Ohio Derby. Higher Power, Mongolian Groom, Seeking the Soul, Vino Rosso and Elate’s stablemate, Yoshida, round out the field for the Classic.

Meanwhile, the 4-year-old filly Midnight Bisou — who is unbeaten in seven starts this year — is set to run in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She finished third last year to Monomoy Girl and Wow Cat, the latter of whom she will face again in this race.

Other Breeders’ Cup races set for Saturday are:

  • The $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf, in which the 5-year-old Bricks and Mortar is the 9-5 morning line favorite following a racing campaign this year in which he is unbeaten in five starts. Bricks and Mortar has been ranked No. 1 on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly Top Thoroughbred Poll for more than six months.
  • The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, in which Bricks and Mortar’s stablemate, Sistercharlie, will seek a second consecutive Breeders’ Cup win. Sistercharlie, the 8-5 morning line favorite, is undefeated in three starts this year.
  • The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, in which Stormy Liberal will attempt to win the race for the third year in a row. The 7-year-old gelding has not made it into the winners’ circle this year, with a pair of second-place finishes and three third-place finishes in six starts this year. The 9-2 morning line favorite is the 6-year-old Eddie Haskell, who has finished first, second or third in all eight of his races this year.
  • The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, with the 3-year- old filly Covfefe set as the 2-1 morning line favorite following a campaign that included four wins and a third-place finish.
  • The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, in which the highly regarded 3-year-old colt Omaha Beach is the 8-5 morning line favorite after missing out on a Triple Crown campaign and returning after a nearly six-month layoff to win the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. The field also includes a 4- year-old, Blue Chipper, who traveled from South Korea, where he has won seven of his eight starts.
  • The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which the 9-5 morning line favorite Mitole will match up against rival Imperial Hint for the second time this year. Imperial Hint bested Mitole in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga in July, but Mitole has otherwise been unbeaten this year. The field also includes Catalina Cruiser, who is undefeated in three starts this year, along with Matera Sky, who has raced predominantly in Japan and is making his first start in the United States.
  • The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which the Irish-bred Circus Maximus will make his first start outside Europe as the 3-1 morning line favorite.
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