Updated on 10/26/2012 5:35PM

Breeders' Cup: Trainers keeping an eye on Hurricane Sandy

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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.

Colette More than 1 year ago
I understand the trainers wanting to keep to their planned training schedules. But, what good is keeping on their schedules if their horses either get injured inflight or become so unglued they won't be in any shape to run their best just a few days later. By nature, horses are easily scared. Their instinct is to get away from what is scaring them. How are they going to be kept calm? They can't be sedated as that is against the rules of the Breeder's Cup. The turbulence will be really bad & that will last for a good amount of time as the high winds are expected to be really widespread. I've been on a plane during bad turbulence & it sure was scary. I am always calm when flying, but that time really was an experience I don't want to repeat. Standing up would have been dangerous. Horses don't have seats & seatbelts. They have no choice but to stand & attempt to keep their balance. The entire scenerio is not good & even if that flight does manage to get off the ground, none of the horses on it will be in any shape to race. At best, they will be traumatized & a nervous wreck. At worst, they will get injured. All that for the sake of keeping on a training schedule? There is only one transport plane in the country? There is no other transport plane that can get the horses out of NY before the storm hits, even if it isn't Tex Sutton Transport? It is hard to believe there are no planes that can come to the aid of getting these horses out to California ahead of the storm.
Linda Daly More than 1 year ago
Any word on the Euros travel plans?
scott More than 1 year ago
Nice post Colette. I have been a little surprised at the lack of urgency in regards to getting the horses out to Cali. I am unsure about rescheduling flights for horse transport, never had to do it, but I would have wanted to ship out Sunday morning. Move works up to sat. morning and get out of town. I understand it may not be possible, but no East coast based trainer has even mentioned the fact that these horses may not make it to Santa Anita. It's been pretty clear for over 48 hours this storm was going to have a major impact on the northeast. ....If anyone has more info on the possibilities of changing flights and so forth, please post. I don't know that much about the shipping process. But it does speak volumes that KMAC moved his personal plans up from Tues to Sunday.
Colette More than 1 year ago
I don't know??!! Sending all those Breeder's Cup horses up in a plane on either Monday or Tuesday seems so dangerous to me. I live 20 minutes from the Newburgh, NY airport & according to all reports, we are expected to get very severe weather late Sunday night thru Wednesday all day. They are expecting the high winds to arrive Sunday, more than 24 hrs before the storm reaches landfall around NYC. We are only 45 mins north of NYC & high winds are expected to reach as far north as Buffalo, which is at least an 8 hr drive away. My brother in law is a supervisor @ Newburgh Airport. I mentioned reading this article to him a few hrs ago. He said everyone at the airport is expecting all NY area airports to be closed on Monday & Tuesday. Granted, he works at the passenger airlines area of the airport, but he said when the airport is closed, its closed for all flights. The horse transport company, Tex Sutton, is using the Newburgh Airport because of the very long runways. Until the 90's, Newburgh Airport was an Air Force base & that is why it has such long runways. The huge Air Force cargo planes need the long runways to take off. The Air Force still uses the airport to refuel before the cargo planes head overseas. It is an amazing sight when one of those huge black cargo planes is coming in for a landing. As they approach the runway, they fly really low over the NYS Thruway & you feel as though you can reach up & touch it, It seems that close. Apparently, that is the runway the horse transport plane is expecting to use. I suppose with the expected high winds, they will need as much runway as possible to get into the air. But, I can only imagine how rattled the horses on that plane will be. The turbulence wil be terrible. I am worried about horses getting upset or even injured. It sure doesn't seem like the best circumstance as they head to the Breeder's Cup races. I guess if all planes are grounded, the horses will be, too. What a mess!. ColetteMarie