Godolphin’s homebred Modern Games overcame Olympic-sized pre-race drama to prove much the best in Friday’s $920,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). His bettors, however, did not enjoy the same happy ending to the wild ride at Del Mar.
Drama at the starting gate
The favorite found himself embroiled in a chain of events at the starting gate, and as a result, got withdrawn from the wagering pools. Modern Games was in post 1 when fellow Charlie Appleby trainee Albahr had a meltdown next door in post 2. Albahr reared up, thrust a hoof over the front of the gate, then went down on his haunches in a situation that turned dangerous fast. His jockey, Frankie Dettori, was extricated, and an assistant starter was reportedly injured in the melee. Albahr was a definite scratch in the circumstances.
Meanwhile, one of the starting crew opened Modern Games’ gate so that he could be removed safely away from Albahr’s vicinity. But as his rider, William Buick, explained afterward, it happened in a rather haphazard way, and the colt broke in stride thinking it was time to go.
“But there was a stall handler there that, he obviously meant well and tried to do the right thing, but he opened the front gate without anyone being ready for it. And obviously my horse does what he’s taught to do and he jumps out. Fortunately, he got my message to be pulled up and we went around the back and to be honest I wasn’t aware of the situation of him potentially being scratched or whatever happened, I’m not really quite sure. But the guy that opened my gate, he picked me up at the front of the gate, put me back round.”
Apparently, that created the misapprehension that Modern Games had broken through his gate. Officials accordingly announced that he too was scratched along with Albahr, only for the truth to be discovered. Buick continued the tale:
“And the vet team wanted to know what happened and I told them what happened and then the guy that opened my gate, thankfully, he exactly told them what he did and what happened there. So, you know, they had all the information that was correct and I just don’t know whether, maybe there was a bit of confusion, a bit of panic back there. But certainly as in regards to my horse and safety and behavior, there was, he was perfectly behaved and he was not harmed in any way at what happened at all…
“He was never touched. He was checked. But he was never, he was never touched, so there was no need to check him. There was really no need for what happened to happen. It was unfortunate, I think we all understand that, but thankfully everyone came around to do the right thing and let the horse run, because that was the only fair outcome.”
Once Modern Games was ascertained to be fine to run after all, he could not be reinstated as a wagering interest. According to California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) Rule 1974 (B), if a horse is erroneously removed from wagering, through no fault of the trainer or owner, “the horse shall start in the race as a non-wagering interest for the purse only and shall be disregarded for pari-mutuel purposes.”
Thus in the span of a few minutes, Godolphin and Appleby went from having two leading fancies for the Juvenile Turf, to none, then back to their top hope being able to compete. Fans the world over were watching in amazed consternation at the spectacle.
How Modern Games won gold
Modern Games, however, was unfazed. Finally loaded into his rail post again after the delay, the chestnut wasn’t quick into stride, but otherwise broke in order, and he soon established decent position slightly better than midpack.
Up front, Portfolio Company reeled off fractions of :22.66, :46.89, and 1:11.24 on the firm turf, tracked by Coinage. Grafton Street advanced into contention on the far turn and took over swinging into the stretch.
By that point, Modern Games had angled to the outside with a deft move and set sail after the new leader. The son of Dubawi stormed past by 1 1/2 lengths, clocking the mile in 1:34.72.
For pari-mutuel purposes, though, the 7.80-1 Tiz the Bomb furnished the $17.60 win payout by prevailing in a three-way photo for best of the rest. Far back early, the Ken McPeek pupil kicked in late and got up by a neck from fellow closer Mackinnon. Grafton Street was relegated to fourth, another head back.
Dakota Gold, who inherited 2.70-1 favoritism, was always thereabouts in a one-paced fifth. Slipstream reported home sixth, followed by Stolen Base; Portfolio Company; Coinage; Dubawi Legend, who was prominent from the far outside post 13 before fading; Great Max; Glounthaune; and Credibility. Also-eligibles Detroit City and Ready to Purrform did not draw into the field.
Modern Games has classic ambitions
Modern Games improved his scorecard to 6-4-1-0 with approximate earnings of $595,500. A smart Newmarket maiden winner in his second start, the Irish-bred was an honorable runner-up under 134 pounds in a Leicester novice. He advertised his Breeders’ Cup credentials with a powerful front-running score in the Somerville Tattersall (G3).
Connections praised his poise throughout the Juvenile Turf ordeal.
“It’s very unusual circumstances,” Buick said, “and it’s a lot for any horse to take on board, let alone a two-year-old that’s traveled all the way over here and he’s had to take a lot on board this last week.
“And he does everything in his stride, and not at any stage was I worried that he was not focused. He remained calm. He remained focused. He didn’t change complexion at all. And that makes it much easier.”
“A testament to the horse and William,” Appleby commented. “On a big stage like that and things, a quite dramatic incident happening there in the gate. But for him to compose himself and get himself back in there, back in the mindset, and for William to also, like I say, taking on board at one minute you’re not sure whether you are or are not in the race that day.
“But the horse came into the race with a lovely profile. He was a progressive two-year-old, and he’s really pleased us since he’s been here. And so we were confident coming into the race that we were going to be a big player anyway.”
Appleby also offered an encouraging update on Albahr.
“He jogged back to the barn and the team are looking after him. He’s got some minor cuts, but no more than that. My vet’s there now and just giving him a thorough examination. But, yeah, it looked uglier than, hopefully – we were expecting the worst and luckily horse and rider walk away from it.”
If it’s back to the drawing board for the gelded Albahr, Modern Games is eligible for the classics as a colt. His Del Mar heroics have put him in the mix for the 2000 Guineas (G1), along with his star stablemates Native Trail and Coroebus.
“But even going into this race we felt that potentially he could be possibly joining the Guineas for next year, and obviously on the back of what he’s achieved today then he’s got every right to be in that picture,” Appleby said. “So he’ll be shipped back to the U.K. and we’ll winter away and sort of work back from the Guineas. But we’re very fortunate as we stand at the moment we got a nice team of two-year-olds to winter, and so the Guineas is going to be an exciting race and to look forward to this spring.”
Modern Games’s pedigree suggests that he can go further. His dam, Modern Ideals, is a daughter of 2008 Epsom Derby (G1) winner New Approach, who had missed narrowly in both Newmarket’s Guineas and the Irish equivalent. His second dam is by the 1989 Guineas and Derby legend, Nashwan.
Statements from the CHRB and Breeders’ Cup
As a coda to the evening, both the CHRB and Breeders’ Cup issued statements on the wagering controversy.
The Breeders’ Cup followed later Friday night:
“Breeders’ Cup races are subject to CHRB rules, including Rule 1974 B which 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.
“The decisions leading up to today’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf were made under the authority of the CHRB. Please refer to the advisory put out by the CHRB earlier this evening for additional details and direct any further questions directly to them.
“We thank the CHRB for their thorough review of this situation, and we regret the impact this has had on the betting public.
“The health and safety of our equine and human athletes is our top priority and we are thankful for the safety of all involved.”