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Bizarre starting gate incident triggers Breeders’ Cup controversy

Updated November 6, 2021 - 11:16 am

Controversy enveloped the final Breeders’ Cup race at Del Mar on Friday when a horse that had been removed from the wagering was allowed to run and crossed the finish line first in the $1 million Juvenile Turf.

The bizarre incident on one of horse racing’s biggest days occurred after Modern Games, the inside horse in the field of 13, reared back in the starting gate and slammed the back of the stall. That startled No. 2 Albahr and caused him to flip and become “lodged underneath the starting gate,” California Horse Racing Board representatives announced in a statement distributed in the Del Mar press box more than an hour later.

As assistant starters worked to free Albahr and prevent a further chain reaction, one member of the gate crew released Modern Games from his stall with jockey William Buick still in the saddle. After a delay of perhaps a minute, the horse was led back behind the gate.

In the interim, track veterinarian Chuck Jenkins had informed the stewards that Albahr was uninjured but should be scratched.

“The veterinary staff then relayed a second scratch of No. 1 Modern Games based on initial observation,” the CHRB statement said. This was also relayed to the stewards, who removed the horse from the wagering pools. After further discussion and observing Modern Games … (the horse) was declared fit and racing sound.”

Scott Chaney, executive director of the CHRB, later explained that Modern Games was scratched because veterinary staff had the “mistaken impression” that the horse had broken through the gate. When they corrected the error, he explained, the stewards had only two choices under CHRB rules because the horse had already been removed from the wagering: let the scratch stand or allow him to run for purse money only. They settled on the later.

When the gates opened, Modern Games advanced from midpack under jockey William Buick, swung out in the upper stretch and powered to a 1½-length victory over Tiz the Bomb, who was declared the winner of the parimutuel race and rewarded his backers with a $17.60 payoff. Mackinnon finished a neck back in third, but was awarded the place spot in the wagering, while Grafton Street was moved up to show.

The CHRB statement said the board and the Breeders’ Cup were “reviewing current veterinary and scratching procedures to ensure that this does not occur going forward.”

The incident enraged countless horseplayers around the world who had backed Modern Games, a horse that was hovering around 5-1 in the odds before wagers on him were removed from the win, place and show pools and refunded.

Saturday’s races

Despite the fiasco, the Breeders’ Cup will continue Saturday with nine more races. Here are my top three selections in order of preference:

$1 million Filly and Mare Sprint: Gamine (3-5) — Has won nine of 10 starts and deserves favoritism, but price is too short to back on win end; Bella Sofia (5-2) — 3-year-old filly figures to be right at Gamine’s shoulder from the start and may be good enough to end her reign; Edgeway (12-1) — figures to get perfect stalking trip behind dueling leaders and may be able to tag them late.

$1 million Turf Sprint: Arrest Me Red (12-1) — Makes his third start off layoff and has been working well for trainer Wesley Ward; Kimari (6-1) — Grade 1 winner returns for Ward off seven-month layoff and returns to turf after two straight wins on dirt; Golden Pal (7-2) — Speedster figures to get to front for (who else?) Ward and can hang around for a piece.

$1 million Dirt Mile: Silver State (7-2) — Steve Asmussen trainee lost focus in Parx Mile when edged by Mind Control but can make amends at a much better price; Life Is Good (4-5) — Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-old is neck away from perfection in five starts and is strictly the one to beat; Ginobili (4-1) — Addition of blinkers led to two straight wins at Del Mar.

$2 million Filly and Mare Turf: Love (4-1) — Six-time Group 1 winning filly from Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien’s barn looms a strong contender; Rougir (6-1) — French runner beat defending champ Audarya in this race last out; War Like Goddess (7-2) — Winner of four straight on East Coast for trainer Chad Brownwill be flying late.

$2 million Sprint: Jackie’s Warrior (6-5) — Fastest horse in the race will dare other runners to challenge him early, but none will; Dr. Schivel (4-1) — 3-year-old son of Violence has gotten good for trainer Mark Glatt and is 3-for-3 over Del Mar track; Firenze Fire (10-1) — Best known for the “bite seen round the world,” 6-year-old’s last race is a toss since he broke through the gate and was bumped at start.

$2 million Mile: Space Blues (3-1) — Favorite off recent Group 1 score in France will need to get an extra furlong; Master of The Seas (12-1) — Irish-bred 3-year-old gets back on firm turf he prefers and is just a nose shy of being a Group 1 winner in the U.K.; Got Stormy (10-1) — Runner-up in 2019 Mile didn’t care for quirky Kentucky Downs track, but is legit threat if she returns to her best.

$2 million Distaff: Malathaat (4-1) — Pletcher-trained 3-year-old is head shy of perfect 7-for-7; Letruska (8-5) — Favorite can complete amazing journey from Mexican races to the top of the world but is likely to be challenged on the front end; Royal Flag (8-1) — 5-year-old Candy Ride mare will benefit from expected hot pace and attracts top rider Joel Rosario.

$4 million Turf: Walton Street (8-1) — European runner tipped his hand with powerful win at distance at Woodbine; Tribhuvan (20-1) — Can get first jump on the closers if Jose Ortiz can get him to relax behind pace-setter Acclimate; Tarnawa (9-5) — Defending champ returns for another tilt, but will likely lose ground with gate positioned close to far turn.

$6 million Classic: Hot Rod Charlie (4-1) — Finally got his Grade 1 victory in the Pennsylvania Derby and tractability gives rider Flavien Prat options; Knicks Go (5-2) — Little question that speedy 5-year-old will go to front in bid for fourth straight win, but distance is a question mark; Max Player (8-1) — Has turned into a new horse since trainer Steve Asmussen and rider Ricardo Santana Jr. started putting him into his races sooner.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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