Vino Rosso was the toast of Santa Anita as Todd Pletcher’s four-year-old stretched clear in the last half-furlong to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Giving jockey Irad Ortiz Jr a big-race double following his success in the Turf on Bricks And Mortar, Vino Rosso stormed past McKinzie in the closing stages.
Joel Rosario took the brave move of sending McKinzie into the lead a long way from home and it looked like it might pay off, but Vino Rosso proved the stronger where it mattered. Higher Power was third.
But there was a sad postscript as Mongolian Groom, who had been prominent throughout, suffered a serious injury to his left-hind in the straight and was taken off the track in a horse ambulance for further examination at Santa Anita equine hospital.
It was later announced the four-year-old had been humanely euthanised.
A statement read: “The death of Mongolian Groom is a loss to the entire horse racing community. Our equine and human athletes’ safety is the Breeders’ Cup’s top priority.
“We have worked closely with Santa Anita leading up to the World Championships to promote enhanced equine safety.
“Santa Anita has implemented numerous industry-leading reforms to enhance the existing health and safety measures with the intent of providing a safe racing environment.
“Breeders’ Cup has engaged world-renowned veterinarian, Dr Larry Bramlage, to conduct an independent evaluation, the results of which will be published when completed.
“We will continue to keep all stakeholders apprised as information becomes available. We are committed to working with our partners in the industry to continue to advance safety reforms, with the well-being of our athletes in mind.”
For Pletcher, it was a first victory in the Classic, having twice won the Kentucky Derby.
He said: “It’s not very often you come into a race and you feel the horse is doing so well that everything was in place.
“It was one of those times when everything went right. The race unfolded perfectly, just as we thought it would.
“Irad was very confident in the paddock and he did a great job. The horse has put in some perfect works at Belmont, he was crawling out of his skin – we were on pins and needles so well was the horse coming here.
“It’s special for us and our organisation. It was one race that was missing. It feels great.”
Vino Rosso was last seen being demoted from first place in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, and Pletcher added: “It’s a huge win for us. I didn’t agree with the disqualification in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“Today was the strongest performance we have seen this year.”
Ortiz was winning his fourth Breeders’ Cup race over the two days of the meeting, and said: “We wanted this very much – he’s a special horse. He was working so good and now he’s much better than last year. He came good at the right time.
“I’m just so happy.”