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Grim turn at California Cup

October 04, 2009|Eric Sondheimer

The San Gabriel Mountains were glistening on a picture-perfect day for racing at Santa Anita on Saturday, but an injury to the card's biggest name, Grazen, brought a stunned silence to the Arcadia track on California Cup day.

As the horses turned into the stretch for the 1 1/8 -mile $200,000 California Cup Classic, odds-on favorite Grazen was beginning to pull away to an expected victory. Then jockey Garrett Gomez pulled up the 3-year-old just past the eighth pole. Another entrant, Blackbriar, had been pulled up moments earlier.

Bold Chieftain went on to a 1 1/2 -length victory over Lethal Heat. Concerned spectators watched intently from the track rail as both injured horses were taken away in a van. Grazen suffered a tendon injury to his right front leg that trainer Mike Mitchell said would end his career.

"We won't have to put him down," Mitchell said. "We'll put a good support on him, and he should be OK. He'll never run again."

Blackbriar suffered a fractured sesamoid bone and was euthanized.

It was the second fatality during the opening week of the Oak Tree meeting and will add scrutiny to the ongoing debate about synthetic tracks.

Grazen's owner-breeder, Nick Alexander, said of Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface, "Go out and look at that [expletive] plowed track."

The injuries weren't the only focus Saturday. Evidence of an ailing thoroughbred industry could be seen in only 63 horses' competing in nine races restricted to California-breds, forcing officials to drop a 10th race from the Cal Cup program.

Usually, there have been 90 to 100 horses seeking to compete for $1 million in purses.

If these numbers persist and the inventory of horses doesn't improve, there might not be a 21st California Cup, according to Doug Burge, executive vice president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Assn.

"Obviously, it's concerning," he said. "At the same time, it's puzzling."

Nominations were similar to past years, with between 40 and 60 horses submitted for individual races, but by the time it came to running, most had dropped out, producing small fields of five horses in two races and six in another.

"If the horse inventory is similar next year, we'll definitely go back to the drawing board," Burge said.

The CTBA receives a percentage from each dollar wagered that goes into a fund to support California breeders. It contributed more than $300,000 of the $950,000 in purse money Saturday. Burge said conditions could be changed to help enlarge fields next year.

The best race of the Oak Tree card was the California Cup Sprint at six furlongs, which Dancing In Silks won by a nose over M One Rifle in a dramatic stretch duel.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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