Emotions ran high around the barns at Santa Anita early last Friday morning. River Tiber, Aidan O’Brien’s favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, was prevented from running by a vet, who had watched him walking on an uneven surface.
Vets were stationed across the course every day last week, with each Breeders’ Cup runner subjected to stringent checks, and River Tiber had given no indication there was anything wrong with him. He may have moved a little gingerly initially, like any athlete while in training, but minds were made up.
Something similar happened with Givemethebeatboys. Trained by Jessica Harrington, the strapping colt looked absolutely magnificent when you stood beside him, his coat shining, his well-being visible to all. Connections expected a bold show in the Turf Sprint; the vets deemed he couldn’t run.
Harrington was incensed by it all and you could only have sympathy. There is a huge financial commitment to travel a horse from Ireland to America’s West Coast, not to mention the dreams that were invested in potentially winning at one of the greatest meetings of all.
O’Brien and Harrington are vastly experienced. They have enjoyed magnificent success in their careers but, more than anything, the love they have for their horses and the commitment to ensure equine welfare remains paramount is something they share. These are not people who would ever take a chance.
Aidan O’Brien-trained River Tiber was a late withdrawal after vets assessed him ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf
The trainer had taken considerable precaution and invested significantly in a bid to let him run
Jessica Harrington’s cold Givemethebeatboys suffered a similar fate after vets deemed him unfit to race
That both would have had no issue in running River Tiber and Givemethebeatboys that day tells you something, somewhere had gone wrong in communication. Yet the sensitivity around American horseracing at present is huge and the last thing the authorities needed was something to go wrong.
The week, after all, had started in grim fashion. This observer was on course when Practical Move, a leading hope for the Dirt Mile, collapsed on track after morning exercise on Tuesday. His trainer, Tim Yakteen, was inconsolable as he raced to be alongside his stricken star.
These things can happen with horses, unfortunately, but they have happened a bit too often Stateside of late. It must be stressed, to be clear, this is no inference Yakteen had done anything wrong in his handling of Practical Move and sympathy goes to him and the horse’s connections.
But there are trainers in America about whom you could not say the same. And this brings us to the Breeders’ Cup Classic — the most prestigious race of the two-day meeting, with a $6million (£4.8m) prize fund — that was won by White Abarrio.
White Abarrio was gallant in victory. The nature of dirt racing, with its attritional surface, means a horse is never going to fly past you at the finish or make you go ‘wow’, as O’Brien’s Auguste Rodin did in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Still, White Abarrio kept up his gallop and secured a place in history.
The most interesting thing about White Abarrio, though, is his back story and in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times an indication was given to how the landscape of American racing can look when the words ‘tumultuous year’ appeared in a headline.
Here are the facts: White Abarrio was once trained by gentleman called Saffie Joseph Jr; the grey won the Florida Derby in April 2022 and was prepared for the follow month’s Kentucky Derby, in which he finished 16th — this would be the start of a six-race losing sequence.
Joseph took a string of horses to Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is staged early this year, but two of them — Parents Pride and Chasing Artie — died suddenly. The cause of their deaths was unknown. ‘We have reasonable concerns about the conditions of his horses,’ Churchill Downs Inc said in statement on May 5 — and they suspended Joseph Jr immediately. What a remarkable and worrying conclusion that was to draw yet Joseph Jr’s ban was lifted on June 30.
The Breeders’ Cup was won by White Abarrio, who was transferred to the yard of Rick Dutrow
The trainer (right) was previously suspended for 10 years until 2021 after being charged with a number of medication and administrative violations
By that time, White Abarrio had been transferred to Rick Dutrow. The 64-year-old regularly won major prizes around the turn of the millennium but his career was put on hold by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in 2011 — for 10 years.
Why? The suspension was imposed after he had been charged with numerous medication and administrative violations that included the finding of syringes with unauthorised medication in his barn.
‘Right now, I just feel lucky I am around him,’ Dutrow said after White Abarrio returned to the winner’s enclosure.
Too right he should feel lucky. To be quite clear again: no accusations are being made here of any wrong doing in the handling of White Abarrio. The horse has talent and Dutrow had brought his confidence back in the two runs he had prior to taking him to Santa Anita.
But the point to make here is that a trainer in Europe would not get the chance to compete at the highest level again if he was hit with such a swingeing punishment; there would certainly be no romance around the comeback or glee to be had in any subsequent victories.
Racing is not perfect in this part of the world but one thing can be said with certainty: the care and attention invested here — and the abhorrence towards any kind of drug use — leads the way. O’Brien and Harrington are two of the finest examples.
Iroko quickens the pulse
It takes a lot to enliven a quiet Tuesday afternoon, as winter starts to take a grip, but the 155 Novices Chase at Warwick certainly quickened the pulse.
Iroko, winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, was foot perfect on his first try over bigger obstacles for joint trainers Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero and beat a good horse from Paul Nicholls’ stable — Golden Sun —without coming off the bridle.
Carrying the silks of JP McManus, there can be no understating how important Iroko could be for Greenall and Guerriero. It should also be noted that when knowledgeable and skilful professionals get the right artillery, they can compete with anyone. This journey will be thrilling to watch.
Iroko won last season’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle and was foot-perfect at Warwick
Henry Cecil made Warren Place a hub in Newmarket but since the trainer’s death the stables have fallen into disrepair
Memories of Warren Place
Last word goes to Jim Hicken, an enthusiastic reader who reached out last week after learning about the shameful way Warren Place, the home to so many champions, has been left unoccupied.
‘It bought back lovely memories for myself and my wife,’ Jim writes.
‘Many years ago we were members of a racing club and lucky enough to visit Henry Cecil for a stable tour. What a lovely man, a true gentleman and a genius.
‘I mentioned to him how much I liked a particular rose in the garden, he proceeded to give me a horticultural lesson on it. Truly magical.’
Words befitting the stable — and the training genius who brought it to life.