Saturday's Breeders' Cup started with a thud. Death and pain followed quickly. Thoroughbred horse racing is a thing of beauty. Also, occasionally, a sport of the ugly and nasty.
In the first Breeders' Cup race of the final day of this $25 million event, a Bob Baffert-trained horse named Secret Compass, competing in the $2-million Juvenile Fillies, went down hard in the home turn. She was competing near the front of the pack, digging hard.
Then came the fractured leg, horrifying in its suddenness.
Secret Compass went down hard, hurling jockey John Velazquez forward and hard onto his back. The young filly tried to get up, but soon, the ambulance was there and the green curtain was stretched around the scene to shield the paying costumers from the act of euthanasia.
Velasquez clearly was injured. He was taken to a hospital and his rides for the rest of the day were quickly reassigned.
The show must go on.
In the gambling crowd, attention quickly moved to the race finish, where Gary Stevens, aboard She's A Tiger, was struggling in the lead in the last furlong and longshot Ria Antonia, with Javier Castellano aboard, was trying to get past on the right.
She's A Tiger lugged out and bumped Ria Antonia, then straightened out and won by inches. But an inquiry was called, and the stewards, after a long delay, ruled that Ria Antonia had been impeded, and was the winner. That placed She's A Tiger second.
By then, Secret Compass was gone, literally and figuratively.
After several hours, Velazquez's agent, legendary jockey Angel Cordero, reported that his rider had been taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena and was about to leave when doctors discovered internal bleeding. Quickly, Velazquez was wheeled into emergency surgery to remove his spleen.
Four races later, Baffert's New Year's Day won the $2-million Juvenile, the male version of the race in which his Secret Compass went down. Afterward, his elation at winning his ninth Breeders' Cup race and his third Juvenile — he also won again in the Sprint with Secret Circle — was correctly tempered.
He said, "When the filly got hurt, it took the wind out of our sails. I've never had anything like that happen to me on a big racing day. We're still thinking about the filly."
The veteran Stevens lost a ride in the $1-million Turf Sprint, when Cal-bred Caracortado came up with an abscess in the right front hoof Saturday morning. It marked the second straight year that trainer Mike Machowsky lost a horse to injury just before the races. He lost Worth Repeating in last year's Marathon.
On the ball
Trainer Doug O'Neill, whose Goldencents won Friday's $1-million Dirt Mile, said that one of the horse's minority owners was very exited about the result and texted him right away.
"Rick Pitino was pretty pumped up," O'Neill said, of Louisville's basketball coach, the defending NCAA champion.
In two consecutive races, the $1-million Filly and Mare Sprint and the $1-million Turf Sprint, defending champions — both on the sales block — won.
In the Filly and Mare Sprint, Groupie Doll won a similar race to her last year's effort, with jockey Rajiv Maragh getting her clear to outrun the field.
In the Turf Sprint, Mizdirection ran down the only other female in the race, Reneesgotzip, to repeat for an ownership that includes broadcast celebrity Jim Rome.
The winning ride was by veteran Mike Smith, who extended his Breeders' Cup record to 20 victories. Reeneesgotzip was run down at the end by longshot Tightend Touchdown, resulting in a rare dead heat for second.
Rome, addressing the pending sale of his mare, said, "This is one of the greatest days of my life. If I have to say goodbye to her [if her sale goes through], it will be one of the saddest days."