ARCADIA, Calif. — The BC Classic, which of course stands for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, resembled the Bumper Car Classic at the start of the one and a quarter mile, $5 million race Saturday.
Eventual winner Bayern, ridden by Martin Garcia, took a sharp left turn as the starting bell rung and the gates sprung open, slamming into favorite Shared Belief and causing a chain reaction multihorse traffic jam that was more akin to a notorious Los Angeles freeway than the Santa Anita home stretch.
An inquiry was declared, and a three-person panel of racing stewards analyzed the incident to determine if a foul had occurred.
The race was run in a shade under two minutes, but it took another 10 minutes for officials to look at the bumping before Bayern was declared the winner, giving trainer Bob Baffert his first Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.
No horses were injured, but there were some strong opinions from the jockeys who were affected.
Mike Smith, rider of Shared Belief said, “I think it cost me the race.”
And Javier Castellano, the jockey aboard Moreno, the third horse in the bumper car sequence, said, “We lost our race at the break.”
Garcia defended his left turn by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “In racing, these things happen.”
And indeed they do — just not in the biggest race of the year.
After the start, Bayern went straight to the front, led the entire race and held off a determined Toast of New York by a long nose.
California Chrome sat in third all the way around and closed to within a half a length, but Bayern was determined. Bayern, a 3-year-old who had been overshadowed by fellow classmates Shared Belief, California Chrome and Tonalist, got the best of them Saturday.
The past few years, Baffert had the favorite in the Classic with Game on Dude, but Dude couldn’t get the job done. This year, Baffert brought in under-the-radar Bayern, who had been dominant in a few starts at smaller venues over the summer.
The 3-year-olds dominated their elders this year, running first through sixth.
Inquiries are not common in horse racing, and disqualifications are as rare as rain in Southern California. But this incident was magnified because of what was on the line: a $5 million purse and a possible claim to the title of Horse of the Year.
Bayern may have won the money, but his claims to Horse of the Year and best 3-year-old are still debatable. Luckily for racing fans, that decision won’t be left to the California racing stewards, who might have botched the biggest call in the biggest race of the year.
Michael Beychok was the 2012 National Handicapping Championship and 2012 Eclipse Award winner for best handicapper. He runs his own handicapping website, BeychokRacing.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BeychokRacing.