Drama and confusion as Charlie Appleby wins Juvenile Turf after 'surreal' start
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, Del Mar
Modern Games, in and then out of Friday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar before being sensationally reinstated into the field, did not let any of the pre-race drama get to him when producing a sparkling performance in the Grade 1 under William Buick.
His Charlie Appleby-trained stablemate Albahr was at the centre of a serious incident when he reared up in the stalls under Frankie Dettori, causing a lengthy delay.
That horse was eventually withdrawn and the same fate seemed to have befallen Modern Games, whose stall was opened amidst the delay and who set off down the track.
It was announced on course that he had been scratched with a minor injury, but that appeared a premature call and after a subsequent veterinary inspection he was allowed to run.
The Godolphin colt then scored in decisive and dramatic fashion.
It was not, however, a result cheered home by those at Del Mar, who were not permitted to bet on the son of Dubawi, who would have been favourite, after it was announced he had been taken out.
Indeed, boos were heard as he returned to the winner's enclosure after defeating Tiz The Bomb, Mackinnon and Grafton Street. They were subsequently deemed the first three for betting purposes, although Paddy Power were among the bookmakers who said they would pay out on the two 'winners'.
Buick, who teamed up with Appleby to win the Juvenile Turf on Line Of Duty three years ago, joked he had seen nothing like that in his time in the sport.
He explained: "When these things happen [the Albahr incident] you know it's going to take a while. Usually the horses get backed out the back of the gate and the horses get reorganised and go again. But there was a stalls handler there and he obviously meant well and tried to do the right thing, and he opened the front gate without anyone being ready for it.
"Obviously my horse does what he is taught to do and he jumps out.
"Fortunately he then pulled up and we went around the back. I wasn't aware of him potentially being scratched or whatever happened. The guy who opened my gate picked me up at the front of the gate and walked me round. The vet team wanted to know what happened and I told them what happened, and then the guy who opened my gate, thankfully, told them what he did.
"They had all the correct information and I just don't know whether there was a bit of confusion or panic back there. But, certainly, in regards to my horse and his behaviour, he was perfectly behaved and he was not harmed in any way.
"He was never touched, so there was no need to check him, but he was checked. There was really no need for what happened to happen."
Buick, a winner on Wuheida in the 2017 Filly & Mare Turf, added: "It was unfortunate. I think we all understand that but, thankfully, everyone came round to do the right thing and let the horse run, because that was the only fair outcome. I didn't know he had been scratched. I was told afterwards. I was hearing something that he had to be reinstated but I mean, to be honest, I knew he was going to run, so I didn't want to focus too much on the whys and wherefores. You need to be on your game round here and so does the horse. I didn't want to trouble myself with stuff I couldn't control."
Modern Games won the Tattersalls Stakes in style before his Californian raid.
"He was a step slow from the go, but we got ourselves in an okay pitch and he's a great little horse, a true pro," added the rider.
"He leads the string here every morning when they come out. It's a lot for our two-year-olds to take in and adapt to, but when you work with great trainers they can do it."
Appleby's first Grade 1 came when Outstrip won the prize in 2013 and it is unlikely he will forget his third victory in it in a hurry.
"Everyone is delighted, but it's a surreal moment what happened pre-race," he said. "He went in there as a worthy favourite and it was a great ride by William, but most importantly Frankie and Albahr are fine.
"Frankie ran up to me and I spoke to him, while Albahr is in the barn and has some superficial cuts, but is perfectly all right and there are no problems at all.
"I didn't quite know what was going on behind the gates with Modern Games, but the vets and officials were happy for him to run.
"Mentally, it's very challenging for them, but I thought this horse had the experience to come to the Breeders' Cup. In my opinion, it's challenging for these two-year-olds to come from Europe and change training styles and travel, but they took it in their strides, although it's unfortunate Albahr did his trick in the stalls."
Dettori jogged back to the weighing room and was grateful he could do that after what could have been a dangerous incident.
"I was lucky," he said. "He just freaked out. He put his two legs across the front of the stalls and it's thanks to the boys who got me out of there because it could have been nasty. I'm okay."
'There was a little bit of confusion'
Explaining the chain of events, vet Will Farmer, co-leader of the Breeders' Cup veterinary team, said: "Any time we have an issue with a horse at the gate we try to examine every horse thoroughly.
"So there was some discussion with regard to the horse who broke through the gate, the number one horse [Modern Games], to evaluate the horse to make sure he was safe to continue on. In the process, there was a little bit of confusion, but the horse was examined and deemed safe to race. I think there was some confusion when the horse went through the gate and the potential for an injury.
"The vets who were there were trying to examine him along with the two horse [Albahr], and I think there was some confusion when it got relayed to the stewards over which horse they were scratching. He went through the gate, so, from a veterinary aspect, that triggers us to do an exam on the horse. I was not behind the gate when it happened, but I think there was discussion regarding if the one horse was involved with the two horse when it went down and went through the gate."
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