Updated on 10/26/2012 4:35PM

Breeders' Cup: Trainers keeping an eye on Hurricane Sandy


ELMONT, N.Y. – Oy, Sandy.

The threat of Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Northeast by the end of the weekend, has given New York-based trainers agita as they prepare to work and ship their horses to Southern California for next week’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

As of Friday, there were 21 Breeders’ Cup horses based at Belmont Park, though one, Upgrade, was scheduled to ship via FedEx Saturday. The remaining 20 were booked to leave on Tex Sutton flights from MacArthur Airport in Islip, N.Y., on Monday and Tuesday. Those flights, which actually leave from Lexington, Ky., will stop in Louisville each day to pick up Kentucky-based horses before going on to California.

According to a Tex Sutton representative, those flights could be moved to Newburgh Airport, which has longer runways that are pointed in opposite directions than MacArthur. That could be crucial depending on how strong and from which direction the winds are blowing.

“The fact is you can take off into a strong headwind or tailwind as long as the runways are long enough,” said Larry Ulrich, the East Coast representative for Tex Sutton.

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: Race-by-race coverage, video, early odds]

On Monday, a Tex Sutton plane is scheduled to leave Lexington, Ky., and go to New York to pick up horses from the barns of Bill Mott (Royal Delta, Flat Out, Ron the Greek, and To Honor and Serve) and Chad Brown (Awesome Feather, Zagora, Watsdachances, Noble Tune, Bail Out the Banks, and Corporate Jungle) as well Shug McGaughey’s Point of Entry, and Mike Hushion’s The Lumber Guy. Mid-Atlantic based horses Eldaafer and Next Question are also booked on the Monday plane. That flight then goes to Louisville, where other horses will board before heading to Ontario Airport in California.

Tuesday’s flight, which originates from Lexington, goes to New York to pick up the contingent from Todd Pletcher (Kauai Katie, Dreaming of Julia, Shanghai Bobby, and Turbulent Descent) and Tom Albertrani (Brilliant Speed and Belle of the Hall) as well as Mucho Macho Man and Jersey Town. Mid-Atlantic-based horses Grace Hall and Not Abroad are also on that flight. That plane then travels to Louisville to pick up, among others, Fort Larned and Wise Dan before heading to Ontario Airport.

Depending on which forecast you heed, the worst of the storm for the New York area is likely Monday into Tuesday when the winds could be at their strongest and rains at their heaviest.

“The Monday flight, I think that’ll be okay,” Ulrich said. “The Tuesday flight could be a little dodgy.”

According to Breeders’ Cup rules, horses are required to be on the grounds 72 hours before they race. Breeders’ Cup officials have already made plans to have officials meet a delayed plane in Ontario and travel in the van to Santa Anita.

Late Friday afternoon, a Breeders’ Cup official said that if Tuesday’s flight “is delayed on departure so as to affect the 72-hour ship-in rule, Breeders’ Cup security personnel will accompany the horses on the flight so that security protocols are maintained. Breeders’ Cup investigators will also accompany the horses from Ontario Airport to Santa Anita Park to maintain security procedures.”

“As long as there’s a back-up plan it’s good,” said Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Classic contender Mucho Macho Man.

In addition to worrying about travel, horsemen are also concerned about getting their final works in under dry conditions. There was a 30-percent chance of rain Saturday night into Sunday prompting some trainers to possibly move their works up a day.

“I’m going to continue to monitor it throughout the day, I’m leaning towards working everything [Saturday],” Pletcher said Friday morning. “Depending on which forecast you look at, the rain could hit as early as Saturday night or as late as mid-afternoon Sunday.”

Mott said he would prefer to work his quartet of horses on Sunday, but was prepared to move the works up to Saturday or early Sunday morning, depending on the forecast.

Brown believes that conditions will be okay to work his horses on Sunday.

“We’re all concerned about it,” Brown said. “At the present time it looks like we might be able to sneak the works in Sunday so the training half of the equation we’re optimistic we can get done. Getting out of here on Monday you’re worried about the wind.”

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was happy to have his four horses – Alpha, Emcee, Fortify, and Questing – leaving out of Newburgh on Saturday, well in advance of the storm. He did, however, move his own personal travel plans up from Tuesday to Sunday.