Two more horse-racing deaths at Churchill Downs under review

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Echo Zulu wins Monday's Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
1 of 2 | Echo Zulu wins Monday's Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

May 30 (UPI) -- Defunded, Macadamia and Exaulted won a trio of Grade I stakes at Santa Anita on Memorial Day, putting a cap on a full three-day Memorial Day weekend of horse racing.

Echo Zulu returned to the winner's circle at Churchill Downs in her first start since finishing second in last year's Breeders' Cup. Juncture and Frosted Grace won Lone Star Park's two biggest races Monday in Texas. Two "Win and You're In" spots were awarded for the Breeders' Cup Mile.


While racing continued, authorities doubled down on their efforts to improve safety for horses after two more fatalities at Churchill Downs brought to 12 the number of deaths at the track during the current meeting.

Around the rest of the world, where most racing is on kinder grass surfaces, we present a world tour from Ireland to South Africa, Japan to Chile and Hong Kong to France.


In England, 16 3-year-olds remain in contention for Saturday's Betfred Derby at Epsom with Coolmore's Auguste Rodin and Godolphin's Military Order heading up the antepost wagering and odds boards.

Let's start with the serious stuff.

Churchill Downs

Two more horses suffered fatal injuries during the weekend at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., one Friday and one Saturday, the 11th and 12th deaths at the track since the stable area opened for training March 30.

The track, Kentucky authorities and the new national regulator, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, announced redoubled efforts to find and minimize the causes of the fatalities, while emphasizing measures already in place.

"It is with absolute dismay and sorrow that we report this highly unusual statistic. ... We do not accept this as suitable or tolerable and share the frustrations of the public, and in some cases, the questions to which we do not yet have answers," Churchill Downs Inc., the track's parent company, said in a statement.

"We have been rigorously working since the opening of the meet to understand what has led to this spike and have yet to find a conclusive discernable pattern as we await the findings of ongoing investigations into those injuries and fatalities."


The horse racing authority announced Sunday it is "deeply concerned by the unusually high number of equine fatalities at Churchill Downs over the last several weeks. We continue to seek answers, and we are working diligently with Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to mitigate any additional risk."

The authority's response, the announcement said, will include an "emergency veterinary summit" Tuesday to review available information about the deaths and determine any needed additional analysis. Top authority officials also will be on site.

Animal rights activists have seized on the deaths to press their campaign to ban horse racing.

"Churchill Downs is complicit in this carnage for not shutting down this track to implement lifesaving changes. CEO Bill Carstanjen needs to stop hoping things will get better, be a leader and take action now. If he won't, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission needs to do it for him," PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo said.

Throughout it all, the world's top owners and trainers show their faith in the track by continuing to send some of their best horses to compete in top stakes races. The coming weekend's entries are replete with champions and other valuable runners.


Big Everest went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Cliff Hanger Stakes at Monmouth Park, held a daylight lead into deep stretch and won by 3/4 length over the even-money favorite, Smokin T.


With Jorge Vargas Jr. up for trainer Christophe Clement, Big Everest traveled 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.42. A 5-year-old, British-bred son of The Gurkha, Big Everest notched his fourth straight win.

Game Time was quickly out front in Sunday's $75,000 Alcatraz Stakes for 3-year-olds at Golden Gate Fields and held sway, winning by 2 lengths over Cousin Richie. Game Time, a Not This Time colt trained by John Sadler, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.41 with Armando Ayuso up.

Game Time finished second to Speed Boat in the Grade III Cecil B. DeMille at Del Mar in December in his previous career highlight.

Filly & Mare Turf

Macadamia launched a bid from the back of the pack in Monday's $400,000 Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita, took the lead in the stretch and won by 1 length. Quattrolle was up in the final strides to take second from Queen Goddess, who led briefly.

Macadamia, a 5-year-old, Brazilian-bred mare by the Japanese-bred sire Hat Trick, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.01 with Tiago Periera riding for trainer Phil D'Amato. A Group 1 winner in South America, Macadamia now has three wins from her last four starts in California.


"She was a quirky kind of backwards filly when we got her," D'Amato said. "She just needed to acclimate to North America. She's taken her time and now she is a Grade I winner."

Juncture unleashed a bold move through the stretch run of Monday's $200,000 Ouija Board Distaff at Lone Star Park, passed most of the field and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Iko Iko was second, another 1 1/2 lengths better than Colors of the Wind.

Juncture, a 4-year-old, British-bred Juddmonte hombred filly by Dark Angel, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.82 with Tyler Gaffalione up for trainer Brad Cox. It was her first U.S. win after a promising earlier career in England and Ireland.

Miss Yearwood, the 2-1 favorite, rallied from next-last of a dozen to win Saturday's $225,000 Keertana Stakes at Churchill Downs by 1 length over Lovely Princess. Sparkle Blue was another 2 1/2 lengths back in third.

Miss Yearwood, a 4-year-old Will Take Charge filly, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:27.45 with Chris Landeros up for trainer Ian Wilkes. She was unplaced in a pair of graded stakes at Gulfstream Park to start the year, and then won at Keeneland in her previous start.


Spirit and Glory came running late in Sunday's $100,000 Miss Liberty Stakes at Monmouth Park, dueled with the pacesetting odds-on favorite, Scotish Star, and defeated that rival by 3/4 length. Kalifornia Queen was third.

Spirit and Glory, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.63 with Nik Juarez up.

Turf Mile

Exaulted stalked the pace in Monday's $500,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita, took over the lead at mid-stretch and held off longshot Irideo to win by 1/2 length.

The favorite, Hong Kong Harry, was gaining ground out in the center of the course but ran out of room, finishing 1 length farther back in third.

Exaulted, trained by Peter Eurton, finished in 1:34.08, earning not only his first Grade I win but also a "Win and You're In" spot in November's Breeders' Cup Mile over the same course. He is undefeated in four starts since Eurton moved him to the green course.

"This horse really loves the turf so maybe the turf was the difference," winning rider Juan Hernandez said.

Turf Sprint

Queen Picasso caught pacesetting Lady Apple at mid-stretch in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Soaring Softly Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park and drew off to win by 2 lengths. The favorite, Lady Beth, finished third.


Queen Picasso, a British-bred Kingman filly, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:21.25 with Jose Ortiz up for trainer Christophe Clement. The victory was doubly impressive coming in just her second career start. She won her debut at Gulfstream Park March 5 in similar fashion.

On Saturday at Santa Anita, Fast Buck was off to a fast start in the $100,000 Grade III Daytona Stakes, built a big lead while negotiating the hillside course and the favorite, Whatmakessammyrun, just failed to catch him at the finish. The margin was a neck with Lovesick Blues just another head back in third.

Fast Buck, a 5-year-old gelding by Gallant Son, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:11.68 with Hector Berrios up. He picked up his fifth win from nine starts while trying graded stakes company for the first time.

Cogburn rallied from mid-pack to win Monday's $100,000 Chamberlain Bridge Stakes at Lone Star Park by 1/2 length over Tiz Magic. Cogburn, a 4-year-old Not This Time colt trained by Steve Asmussen, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.49 seconds for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.


Defunded led from the start in Monday's $400,000 Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita, stood up gamely to pressure from long shot Piroli and finally edged clear of that rival to win by 1 length. It was another 3 1/4 lengths to Kiss Today Goodbye in third.


Defunded, a 5-year-old Dialed In gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.85 with Juan Hernandez riding for trainer Bob Baffert.

Baffert's other runner in the Gold Cup, 2022 Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer, stumbled at the start and finished fourth.

"I would have liked to have seen Country Grammer second and run one-two," said Baffert, who won the race for the ninth time. "But Defunded is a tough horse."

Hayes Strike, last seen finishing seventh in the Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland, found Monday's $300,000 Texas Derby at Lone Star Park to be an easier assignment. The Connect colt started next-last of 11, came five-wide into the stretch and was a nose in front of Harlocap at the wire. Eyeing Clover was another neck back in third.

Hayes Strike, with Cristian Torres aboard, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.32.


Award Wanted wanted the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park, got it and didn't give it up. The odds-on favorite, Morning Matcha, gave it a go but came up a nose short. It was another 7 1/2 lengths to Hybrid Eclipse in third.

Award Wanted, a 6-year-old Macho Uno mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:49.28 with Angel Cruz in the irons.


Dirt Mile

Frosted Grace ran past pacesetting Touchuponastar in deep stretch to post a mild upset win in Monday's $400,000 Grade III Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star Park. Kokomo was third at long odds.

Frosted Grace, a 7-year-old son of Mark Valeski, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.99. Cristian Torres had the ride for trainer Robertino Diodoro.


Spirit of Makena stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita, took over the lead entering the stretch and rolled home first by 3 1/4 lengths. C Z Rocket just managed to hold off long shot Desmond Doss for second.

Spirit of Makena, a 5-year-old entire son of Ghostzapper, was clocked in 1:23.07 for 7 furlongs over a fast track. Joe Bravo rode for trainer George Papaprodromou. Unraced until last August, the horse has been making up for lost time with four wins and a second from five starts.

Lightning Larry waited behind the early speed in Monday's $100,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes at Monmouth Park, got the lead when asked by jockey Paco Lopez and fired off to win by 4 1/2 lengths from Hollywood Jet.

Lightning Larry, a 4-year-old colt by Uncaptured, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.28.


Skelly led most of the way to a 1 1/2-length victory in Monday's $100,000 Speightstown Sprint Stakes at Lone Star Park. The 4-year-old Practical Joke gelding, trained by Asmussen, got 6 furlongs in 1:09.63 under Ricardo Santana Jr.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Echo Zulu, making her first start since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last fall, dominated Monday's $225,000 Grade III Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs.

With Florent Geroux up, the Gun Runner filly drew off easily through the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths, running 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.99. It was her seventh win from nine starts for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Adaline Julia prompted the pace in Monday's $100,000 Memorial Day Sprint at Lone Star Park, then outfinished Tap Dance Fever for a 3/4-length victory. The 4-year-old Oxbow filly ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.03 with Cristian Torres up.

Around the world, around the clock

Who'd have thought a bear could run so well? Paddington blew by pacesetting Hi Royal inside the final furlong and ran on to win Saturday's Group 1 Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh by 2 lengths under Ryan Moore.

The winner's Ballydoyle stablemate, Cairo, was up for second in his first race since a 10th place finish in the Group 2 UAE Derby.


Paddington, a Siyouni colt from the Montjeu mare Modern Eagle, won his fourth straight race while stepping into group company for the first time as if he owned that tier.

Trainer Aidan O'Brien said he was particularly pleased as the colt showed he could handle good ground as his breeding and early success pointed to more giving footing. The St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot looks to be next.

On Sunday, Coolmore and crew took a back seat to the Aga Khan's forces in the Group 1 Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas as Tahiyra emerged from the pack in the final furlong to outfinish Meditate by 1 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite.

A homebred daughter of Siyouni, trained by Dermott Weld, Tahiyra atoned for her second-place finish behind Godolphin's Mawj in the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket May 7 -- her only loss in four starts.

Meditate, by No Nay Never, won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall at Keeneland but was a well-beaten sixth in the English Guineas.

Speaking of bears, after his 14th-place showing in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Little Big Bear returned to the sprinting ranks Saturday with a sparkling win in the 6-furlongs, Group 2 Betfred Nifty Fifty Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock.


With Frankie Dettori in the irons, the No Nay Never colt jumped well, never had an issue and responded when shaken up a bit at the 2-furlongs marker, winning geared down by 1 1/4 lengths.

Luxembourg made all to deny the favorite, Bay Bridge, by 1/2 length in Sunday's Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.

Luxembourg, a 4-year-old Camelot colt with Ryan Moore up for Aidan O'Brien, won last year's Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, and then finished seventh in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Sunday's win was his sixth from nine starts for the Coolmore lads.


Tastiera got the lead near the top of the uphill climb in the Tokyo Racecourse stretch in Sunday's Group 1 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby and held off the late runners, including the colt who defeated him in the Group 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2,000 Guineas.

That outcome ensured there will be no Triple Crown winner this year but hinted at a potential rivalry between two nice colts.

In the Guineas, Sol Oriens raced near the tail of the field and needed an electrifying stretch run to get by Tastiera at the finish over challenging wet turf to remain undefeated after three starts.


On Sunday, the grass was in prime shape and Tastiera was able to hold only to lead even while extending his range from 2,000 meters out to 2,400 meters for the first time.

While Tastiera moved to the head of the 3-year-old class, Hearts Concerto and Bellagio Opera kept their names on the honor roll, finishing third and fourth, two noses back of Sol Oriens.

Derma Sotogake was truant at the finish as the runner-up in the Grade 2 UAE Derby stumbled at the start, dislodging rider Ryusei Sakai.

Hong Kong

The question before Sunday's Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse was whether Romantic Warrior could stretch out to 2,400 meters for the first time. The answer was: Not this time.

Instead, last year's winner, Russian Emperor, came with a stern challenge in the final 100 meters and relegated Romantic Warrior, one of Hong Kong's best, to second place.

Russian Emperor proved his mettle at the distance, backing up not only last year's win but a victory earlier in the year in the H H the Emir Trophy in Qatar. He certainly locked up a second term as Hong Kong's champion stayer.

Still, Romantic Warrior's rider, Zac Purton, argued his horse could have won had he not been pressured from the 600-meters mark by long shot Money Catcher, forcing him to exert himself sooner than Purton wanted.


Winning trainer Douglas Whyte credited his jockey, Hugh Bowman, with knowing just when to move to catch Romantic Warrior after chasing the pedestrian pace.

"He put him to sleep and let things unfold and took advantage of that at the end," said Whyte, himself a former champion jockey.

It was the final Group 1 of a Hong Kong season that finally saw emergence from years of adversity fueled by civil unrest and the pandemic. Despite it all, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has persevered and prospered and added significantly to the purse structure for the 2023-24 season.


It doesn't get much closer than the result of Monday's Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp. Anmaat and jockey Jim Crowley rallied outside four rivals, hit the front in the closing strides and won by a short neck over Light Infantry.

Facteur Cheval, Buckaroo and Erevann were all within 1/2 length of the winner with only Junko out of the photo, 4 lengths back.

Anmaat, a 5-year-old Awtaad gelding, won the Group 2 Prix Dollar last autumn but the Ispahan was his first win at the top level. Owen Burrows trains for the Shadwell Estate.

South Africa

See It Again warmed up for the Group 1 Hollywood Durban July with a late-running victory Saturday in the Group 1 Daily News 2000 for 3-year-olds, his fourth win from nine starts. Winning jockey Piere Strydom had the race perfectly judged.


See It Again, a chestnut son of Twice Over, chased down pacesetting Dave the King in the final furlong for his second win at the 2,000-meter distance. Without Question was third as the stretch run saw some roughhousing in the middle of the pack.

See It Again now is eyed for Africa's signature race, won twice by Do It Again, also a son of Twice Over.


Lukka, a 3-year-ol son of Lookin At Lucky, nipped stablemate Mi Elegido by a nose at the finish of Sunday's Group 1 Gran Premio Club Hipico Falabella in Santiago, Chile, earning a "Win and You're In" berth in November's FanDuel Breeders Cup Mile at Santa Anita.

The victory was Lukka's second straight at the top level. Showing his versatility, he won the 1 3/8-mile Gran Premio Hipodromo Chile (G1) going 1 3/8 miles on dirt April 29. Before that, he finished second in the El Derby (G1) on turf at Valparaiso Sporting Club in Santiago. Overall, he has three wins from nine starts.

Meanwhile, back in the States ...

Santa Anita

Five races for California-breds enlivened Sunday's program at the Great Race Place. The track was fast, the turf course was firm.

Kings River Knight led all the way to a 2 1/4-lengths victory over Coalinga Road in the $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes. The 5-year-old Acclamation gelding ran 1 mile on the turf in 1:34.55 with Juan Hernandez up.


The companion Fran's Valentine Stakes for fillies and mares went to pacesetting Eddie's New Dream, who held off Rose Maddox late to win by 1/2 length. The 5-year-old Square Eddie mare reported in 1:35.04 under Mario Gutierrez.

Ceiling Crusher crushed three rivals in the $150,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, kicking away to win by 17 lengths. The Mr. Big filly, trained by Doug O'Neill, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.25, eased up last by Hernandez. Ceiling Crusher now is 4-for-4 with the four winning margins totaling 37 3/4 lengths.

Old Pal rallied up the rail to win the $150,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3/4 length over pacesetter Clouseau. The Grazen colt ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:50.14 with Hernandez up.

The Chosen Vron kicked away in the stretch to win the $100,000 Thor's Echo Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths, finishing 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.58 with Hector Berrios up.

Belmont Park

On Monday, it was New York-breds' turn on the other coast.

Maker's Candy took the $125,000 Mike Lee Stakes for 3-year-olds by 2 1/2 lengths with a bold stretch move. By Twirling Candy, he got 7 furlongs in 1:23.35 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.


Downtown Mischief led most of the way to a 1-length victory over Miracle in the companion Bouwerie Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Into Mischief miss finished in 1:23.98 for jockey Jose Lezcano.

Bankit won the $200,000 Commentator Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The 7-year-old by Central Banker won by a head in 1:43.01 under Joel Rosario.

Classy Edition, a Classic Empire filly, ruled the stretch run in the companion Critical Eye Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 2 1/4 lengths while finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.82 for Irad Ortiz Jr.

On the turf, Marvelous Maude got a nose in front of Runaway Rumour to win the $125,000 Mount Vernon Stakes for fillies and mares in 1:34.08 for Irad Ortiz Jr. City Man won the $125,000 Kingston Stakes for 4-year-olds and up by a nose over Jerry the Nipper, covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:39.46 with Rosario up.

Canterbury Park

Doctor Oscar led throughout Saturday's $50,000 10,000 Lakes Stakes for Minnesota-breds, turned back a bid by Thealligatorhunter and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The 4-year-old Shackleford colt ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.82 with Alonzo Quinonez up.

Charlie's Penny was up late to win the companion $50,000 Lady Slipper for state-bred fillies and mares by 1 length over early leader Clickbait. The winner, a 5-year-old Race Day mare, finished in 1:09.97 with Lindey Wade in the irons.


Golden Gate Fields

I'mgonnabesomebody stalked the pace in Monday's $100,000 All American Stakes, assumed command in the stretch and won by 1 1/2 lengths from American Farmer.

I'mgonnabesomebody, a 5-year-old Will Take Charge gelding, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.63 with Alexander Chavez in the irons.

Finger Lakes

Disco Deano led home an all-long shot trifecta in Monday's $50,000 George W. Barker Stakes for New York-breds. The Verrazano gelding won by a head and a winning 50-cent trifecta ticket returned $7,467.

As former Daily Racing Form columnist Marty McGee was fond of saying, "It's an easy game."

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