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Erroneous scratch angers bettors at Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar

Jockey William Buick charges the finish line on Modern Games.
Jockey William Buick charges the finish line on Modern Games in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar on Friday.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Crowd boos loudly as Modern Games, the favorite in the Juvenile Turf, wins but only after all bets are refunded at Del Mar.

The first day of the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar ended in bizarre fashion Friday, with fans lustily raining boos on the track in quickly fading light.

The start of the 10th and final race of the day, the $1-million Juvenile Turf, was delayed for 17 minutes after a gate controversy that had state and Cup officials huddling into the night.

The incident began with most of the horses in the starting gate. Race favorite Modern Games, in the No. 1 gate, reared up and was subsequently released out of the front of the gate. In the No. 2 gate was Albahr, who had to enter the post wearing a hood to calm him, also reared up, tipped on his back and ended up under the gate. Both horses are trained by Charles Appleby.

Corniche easily won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar and became the early Kentucky Derby favorite at Churchill Downs, where Bob Baffert is banned.

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Albahr was scratched, and then confusion ensued when it was announced Modern Games also was withdrawn and taken off the tote board, meaning bets on the horse would be refunded. But the colt, who calmly handled the mishap, was fine and after being examined by veterinarians was cleared to run in the race.

California Horse Racing Board Rule 1974 (b) states: “If a horse is removed from the wagering pool due to a totalizator error, or due to any other error, and neither the trainer nor the owner is at fault, the horse shall start in the race as a non-wagering interest for the purse only and shall be disregarded for pari-mutuel purposes.”

When the Irish-bred Modern Games, running in his first race in America, then made a late charge and crossed the line first in a burst of flashes from the cameras, many angry patrons in the crowd of 20,536 who surely bet on the horse booed loudly.

For mutuel betting purposes, runner-up Tiz the Bomb, trained by Ken McPeek, was the top-finishing horse and paid $17.60.

In a written statement and subsequent meeting with reporters nearly 90 minutes after the race, CHRB officials explained the situation. They said that Modern Games, with jockey William Buick, first reared up and appeared to hit his head on the top of the gate before appearing to break through the front of the gate. Albahr, with Frankie Dettori aboard, then reared up and ended up on his back. Upon seeing the situation, the two veterinarians on duty immediately called to the stewards that both horses would be scratched.

However, the veterinarians were then informed that an assistant starter had released the gate for Modern Games, and upon further examination the horse was deemed uninjured and fit to race. By that time, however, he already had been scratched from the mutuel pool.

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

After the race, Buick spoke of the incident but didn’t mention that Modern Games reared up. He said he was surprised when the front of the gate was released, but that he was able to quickly control the horse.

Despite horse racing’s need for big-race winners to prop up the sport, a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic usually turns into a horse’s final race.

Of explaining the situation to the vets, Buick said, “They had all of the information and were correct, and I just don’t know whether … maybe there was a bit of confusion, a bit of panic back there. But certainly, in regards to my horse and safety and behavior, he was perfectly behaved, and he was not harmed in any way by what happened at all.”

Tod Leonard is a freelance writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Special correspondent John Cherwa contributed to this story.


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