Held at a track with one of the most appalling welfare records at the top level of the sport, you can forgive the racing world for being a tad apprehensive ahead of the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Santa Anita.
Many of the planet’s finest horses will be on show – let’s call them prized assets, which they are for ownership teams, and a collective intake of breath will be taken as they take to the dirt and the turf at the Californian track.
Racing had to be postponed mid-season back in March when the 21st fatality was recorded at Santa Anita, and while the course was given the green light to host racing again shortly after more deaths have followed – that’s 35 in the past year, when considering racing and training, and more than 60 since the start of 2018.
Indeed, such is the level of concern about equine welfare here that the California Racing Commission is considering implementing rule changes that would hopefully improve the safety record at Santa Anita.
Animal welfare protesters have been a regular fixture at the track, while the news media – not usually concerned with the sport – have been reporting on what has become a mini-crisis for Santa Anita’s owners. The California Horse Racing Board will publish the results of their independent investigation in December, and the fear for race lovers is that stringent new rules regarding whip use and regulations regarding medicated horses will be introduced.
Nevertheless, there is so much pride and prize money at stake during the Breeders’ Cup weekend, many owners have taken the decision to send their horses to the West Coast of America regardless of their concerns.
O’Brien Confident of Incident-Free Racing
Given that the Breeders’ Cup weekend is regarded as the ‘world championships’ of international horse racing, with the eyes of the world watching who will win their share of the £22 million purse, organisers will have everything crossed that there are no further injuries – or worse – today and tomorrow.
There will be hundreds of horses in town, including a healthy 30-strong contingent from Europe, and leading Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien is confident that there will be no major problems that unfold.
“We know everyone is doing their best and are throwing everything they have at it,” he said. “We’re very confident that they will have it [the track] as good as they can possibly have it.”
The Irishman is taking a star-studded team out to California, where he has enjoyed plenty of success in the past. Magical, one of the jewels in his crown, has sadly been retired this week but there are plenty of other A listers making the journey.
Anthony Van Dyck will look to follow Epsom Derby glory with a triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, while Circus Maximum is very much a live contender for the Breeders’ Cup Mile too.
There is a healthy European field making the trip, and another horse who has enjoyed major success on UK soil is Billesdon Brook, who won the 1,000 Guineas. She will be looking to claim another major trophy for trainer Richard Hanon in the Filly and Mares’ race on Saturday.
And how about this for the best of British: Sophie Doyle, born in England but now residing in Chicago, could become the third woman ever to win a race at the Breeders’ Cup festival when she climbs aboard Street Band in the Distaff race.