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Breeders’ Cup tragedy leaves Santa Anita with dwindling options

Updated November 7, 2019 - 6:06 pm

The Breeders’ Cup is over, but it’s not really over.

The breakdown of Mongolian Groom during the stretch run of the $6 million Classic sucked the air out of the vast Santa Anita grandstand on Saturday. Fans slumped toward their cars or buses, as what had been two days of sensational — and safe — racing was instantly overwhelmed by yet another death – the 37th of the year – at the historic racetrack.

The 4-year-old son of Hightail’s sad demise also turned up the heat on Santa Anita management, occurring as it did right in front of the grandstand on one of horse racing’s biggest days.

Expect The Stronach Group, which runs both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, to come under serious political pressure to “fix” the problem once and for all.

Having already played its army-of-veterinarians and raceday-medication-limits cards, management is quickly running out of easy options. There is already talk of tearing out the dirt track and replacing it with a synthetic racing surface, though there is no time to pull that off before the track’s scheduled reopening on Dec. 26.

In the meantime, Southern California racing shifts again Friday to Del Mar for what the beachside track is calling its Bing Crosby meeting, looking to add to what was a remarkably safe summer meet. Racing will be conducted four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, through Dec. 1.

Finally, a couple other Breeders’ Cup-related observations:

— The track at Santa Anita was even deeper during the two days of Breeders’ Cup racing than it has been since a major renovation this summer. But while a deep, tiring track often favors closers, that wasn’t the case this time. It appeared to me the track was so deep that most horses were unable to get hold of it to accelerate, making it hard for the late-runners to make up ground. That’s worth remembering when those horses return to the races with what look like very dull efforts.

— There was a time when California connections slew the completion when Breeders’ Cups were staged in the Golden State, but this year the locals took it on the chin. The Californians only managed two wins, compared to eight for the mid-Atlantic-New York circuit. Midwest-based horses took down three races, and the Euros accounted for one.

— Say goodbye to many Breeders’ Cup winners, who headed to the breeding shed as soon as they collected their trophies. Among them, Classic conquerer Vino Rosso and Sprint winner Mitole, both of whom have been retired to Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Meantime, Blue Prize, who upset Midnight Bisou in the Distaff, and Belvoir Bay, who set a Santa Anita course record winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, both will go on the auction block at the Fasig-Tipton sale in Kentucky shortly and are likely to be retired as well by their new owners.

#RJhorseracing featured races

The #RJhorseracing handicappers are likely exhausted after powering through the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, but they’re not ones to call in sick the day after a big party. So this week they’re sinking their teeth into a pair of intriguing grass stakes races: The $150,000 Artie Schiller Stakes at a mile on Aqueduct’s inner turf course and the $175,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes (Grade 3) at 1 1/16th mile at Churchill Downs.

In the Artie Schiller, the crew is doing what bettors often do in a New York turf race: Back whatever horse Chad Brown is saddling. In this case, that is Frontier Market, who is 3-1 on the morning line. They like Caribou Club (5-2) and Curlin’s Honor (10-1) to fill out the minor placings.

I’m nearly in agreement, but will flip the top two and use Caribou Club, whose connections were confident enough in him to enter the Breeders’ Cup Mile, though he failed to draw in. Frontier Market and Curlin’s Honor underneath for me.

In the Commonwealth, a contentious affair, the crowd ‘cappers are narrowly siding with Marquee Prince (8-1), with Tracksmith (5-1) and Spectacular Gem (6-1) filling out their top three.

I am of a similar mind, as I also have Marquee Prince on top, but I like Proliferate (15-1) if he draws in off the also-eligible list. I’ll use Armistice Day (6-1) in the third slot.

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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