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Horse Racing

Breeders’ Cup Fiasco Ruins Bettors’ Friday Night

DEL MAR, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 05: Jockey William Buick rides Modern Games after Albahr in the two hole wouldn't load into the starting gate before the start of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar Race Track on November 05, 2021 in Del Mar, California.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

This weekend is the Breeders' Cup, one of the biggest events in American horse racing. Since 1984, it has attracted top horses and is usually one of the top-attended events of the racing season. That second part is key to this story: There were a lot of people watching the races, and a lot of people gambling on them. And on Friday evening a bunch of them were jobbed.

Friday’s races were at Del Mare Racetrack in California. They were all for juvenile horses—two-year-olds. The race in question was the Juvenile Turf, the last one of the evening. As stewards were loading horses into the starting gates, one of them—a horse named Albahr—was trapped under the starting gate. (While Friday evening was a fiasco for bettors, far more frequently horse racing is simply a fiasco for horses.) As he thrashed around, the horses next to him exited the gates. The horse in the No. 3 position, Dakota Gold, went out the back. The horse on the rail was Modern Games; jockey William Buick guided it out the front of the gate, which had opened due to Albahr's thrashing.

“He freaked out and put his legs across,” said Albahr’s jockey, Frankie Dettori. “Thanks to the boys who got me out of there, it could have been nasty.”

Albahr, at 6-1 odds, was injured and scratched from the race. A horse next to him, Modern Games, was scratched as well. UPI reported there was some confusion; those horses have the same owner and wear the same silks. Bloodhorse reported that it was a premature decision by a veterinarian made before an exam had been conducted. The vet had been told, incorrectly, that Modern Games had broken through the starting gate. But the decision to exclude the horses had been made and so both were removed from betting pools.

That ruling stood about four minutes. After some discussion, it was announced Modern Games would return to the race, but would only run for purse money. The horse was briefly entered back into the betting, then removed again, and then the race started. It is important to note: Modern Games would’ve been the favorite in the race, winning three of his five starts coming into the race. Well, he made it four in six. Crossing the finish line first, to a chorus of boos, was Modern Games!

There were many reasons gamblers were booing. Bettors who picked the winning horse saw their horse win the race, but only got a refund on their bets. It was worse for gamblers with multi-race bets: In scenarios where a horse in a parlay bet is scratched, the bettor simply receives the favorite in place of it. The favorite for the race in the end was Dakota Gold at 8–1. That horse finished 5th. The winner for gambling purposes was Tiz The Bomb, who technically finished second. So gamblers who correctly picked Modern Games to win the race on those bets saw their horse win but their ticket lose. This shifted millions of dollars' worth of bets.

Obviously, people were quite angry. The California Horse Racing Board, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Breeders’ Cup released a joint statement yesterday:

The CHRB determined that, as discussed in the aftermath of the race, #1 Modern Games was scratched by the stewards on the recommendation of one of the track veterinarians, Dr. Chuck Jenkins, at the starting gate at 17:35:35 PT.

After additional examination and assessment of Modern Games by the attending veterinary team, track veterinarian Dr. Dana Stead concluded that the horse had not been injured and communicated to the stewards that the horse was cleared to run.

Due to a miscommunication between the stewards and the Del Mar mutuels department, Modern Games was reinserted into the pari-mutuel wagering pools at 17:37:01 PT.

At 17:43:49 PT, after it was made clear to the mutuels department that Modern Games was competing for purse money only, the horse was again removed from the wagering pools.

The race went off at 17:47:34 PT.

Per CHRB rules, all wagers on #1 Modern Games in the win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, superfecta, and super high five pools are subject to refund. Daily Double and Pick 3 wagers to Modern Games received a consolation payment. Per CHRB rules, in all other multi-leg wagers ending on the 10th race, bettors with tickets including #1 Modern Games and #2 Albahr received the post-time favorite, #3 Dakota Gold, unless they designated an alternate for the race.

As a result of the review, the CHRB, Del Mar and Breeders' Cup are modifying their injury management communications protocols, so that Dr. Stead will make the final determination with respect to recommended scratches at the starting gate and has sole authority to communicate those recommendations to the stewards.

Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking—that the doctor’s name better be pronounced “steed”? Yeah, I looked it up. It’s not. Just one disappointment after another with this year’s Breeders' Cup.

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