Ok, the famed Breeders’ Cup meeting is about to unfold and it is America’s day of racing.
Probably is North America’s day too as many with interest from Canada get involved also.
Obviously, it is also one of the very biggest meets in the world.
So wouldn’t it be amazing, almost Hollywood-esque if the talented BELVOIR BAY was to get up and win the $1million Breeders’ Cup Turf?
Well, my captive audience read on because I just love the theatre that is sport and this story is right up there among the best. Especially if this mare can win!
As we look at the current state of the state of California with fires decimating 55% of it, rendering lives, homes and animals all devastated, our collective thoughts go back to the maddening moment fire looked at Belvoir Bay and a host of his equine buddies in the eye.
It was on 7 December back in 2017.
Dr Chuck Jenkins, a vet who was on loan to oversee things at the famed San Luis Rey Training Complex in California, where Belvoir Bay was resting, smelt smoke and wondered where it was coming from.
This establishment, with state-of-the-art training facilities and pools and stalls, is a one mile track and has housed four future Kentucky Derby winners while they were 2YOs. They being Fusaichi Pegasus, Gato del Sol, the great Sunday Silence and Ferdinand.
Dr Jenkins didn’t have anything that grand to look over on this day, but the rising sprint sensation Belvoir Bay was there as were nearly 500 other horses.
“Just after I smelt that smoke, I went out of my office and sure enough, I saw a plume of it rise to the east of the training centre,” he recalled. “It was a long way off but the wind was turning it our way.”
The fire was located at the intersection of Interstate 15 and Highway 76, quite a few miles from the training center— but when the wind changed, it started to move directly toward them. Dr. Jenkins and the barn foreman decided it was time to evacuate the horses, so they immediately began calling in emergency transport crews.
Unfortunately, with several fires raging out of control in the vicinity, the highway patrol had closed the roads, allowing access only to first responders working to save homes and evacuate the local human community.
There was no provision in their rescue charter for animals. Even though several horse vans and trailers were close by, they were not permitted to get to the training center. Sooo, with the fires gathering speed and heading their way, there was no transportation available to rescue these racehorses. Dr Jenkins saw an armegeddan coming when he found this out.
About 20 minutes later, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and facility security called Dr Jenkins and told him to get all humans to evacuate from the training center.
And naturally, some people left, but many stayed, committed to the care and safety of their horses —among them were grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders, assistant trainers, gallop girls, outriders, farriers and racetrack maintenance workers. “For those who hung tough at the training center assisting to save horses, it was a really heroic effort,” Dr. Jenkins says.
Indeed, they valued the lives of the horses above their own. Someone had to otherwise EVERY horse at this facility was doomed for death.
Praying for a miracle, which didn’t come, Dr Jenkins and the brave souls left behind, noticed the most insidious thing heading toward them. Embers, live, red hot embers were being blown by the wind directly at the training facility and ahead, almost like a scouting crew, of the fire.
Dr Jenkins saw them lodge in the canyon below which was not far from the facility. It made his heart and that of the others beat at a million miles an hour because it had death written all over it- should the Santa Ana winds pick up.
They waited. Some prayed. Everyone just sitting waiting for Dr Jenkins to make a call.
They looked up to him and after 15 mins, Aanta Ana decided to turn nasty. She picked up her force and the embers set alight. The gusts roared up to 50 kilometres an hour and the fire turned its attention directly and seemingly exclusively toward the training facility. “I yelled, let every horse free. Let them out and let them run to their freedom.”
Some people said what, you can’t let horses this valuable just run free, and didn’t at first but after a few minutes it was clear. Leaving them in their stalls was a death sentence. So Nearly 500 horses were set free to gallop to their own safety in the hills.
One of them was Belvoir Bay.
When the wildfire reached the property, it immediately ignited several of the Mexican palm trees spread throughout the grounds. “The trees acted like huge torches, the flames moving from tree to tree,” remembered Dr. Jenkins, who was working near a row of these trees. “As this happened, the large burning fronds fell onto the shed rows, igniting the dry hay and straw bedding, which exacerbated the spread of the fire from barn to barn.”
His decision moments earlier to let them all out had saved so many of them from certain and excruciating death which would have occurred right there and then before his very eyes.
The blaze moved quickly through the training center, aided by the strong menacing Santa Ana winds, and fire and smoke billowed everywhere. It was so thick you just couldn’t see where all the horses headed.
Though the horse stalls were metal-roofed and metal-sided, the barns were filled with combustible materials—dry hay, straw bedding and wood siding—and dry brush and grass surrounded the facility. The corrugated metal roofs became so hot that they in turn helped ignite the dry stall materials, eventually becoming twisted and tangled piles of flying wreckage.
The roofs became one of the great enemies. Deadly torpedoes becoming red-hot and flying courtesy of Santa Ana into whatever they wanted causing massive destruction. Any horse hit by these would have been decapitated on the spot.
That galled and saddened Dr Jenkins where he stood, but so did the fact helicopters carrying water bombs were seen above. Sadly, they were dropping them exclusively on homes. Humans were being saved, so were their houses. But horses were completely overlooked.
The pandemonium of hundreds of panicked horses running in all different directions once their stalls were opened added to the chaos. And tragedy struck immediately.
“When the fire got on the grounds, it moved so fast that in one barn, 15 of the 40 horses didn’t make it out of their stalls,” Dr. Jenkins says. “Sadly, they were totally charred in a matter of minutes.”
New embers were setting barns alight and the volume of horses, while slowly making their way out of doors, wasn’t moving fast enough. Bales and bales of hay were like red flags to a bull. They ignited and just exploded like flame throwers shooting death rays into the air.
Hugo Lara, head of security for the San Luis Rey Training Center, says the center’s maintenance department fought the fire the best they could. As soon as possible they had their water trucks spraying water, but the fire spread too fast, the effort hampered by the excessive winds, the volume of dry combustible material and the need to rescue the horses. Lara guesses that it took just a few minutes from the time the palm fronds ignited the barns until the entire facility was a devastating inferno.
Some horses ran to the training track. But smoke and fire bombs were exploding and reaping havoc. Grooms and all manner of workers turned garden hoses on, but that was like spitting into a hurricane.
The inferno was too great.
Many horses fled and managed to find shelter in the hills. But a lot didn’t.
Two horses that had been seen running continuously around the one-mile track were found dead, having apparently run themselves to death while chocking on the smoke.
When the dust settled and the smoke cleared away, counting the dead was done. The CHRB reported that 46 horses died as a result of the fire. But some were missing presumed dead.
One of them was Belvoir Bay.
She had made it out alive. Someone saw her fleeing. But after the dead were accounted for and many horses found and brought home, the fast sprinter wasn’t among them.
Slowly but surely horses were identified.
The first step was to corral the horses, then identify which ones needed immediate attention and treat them one by one. A few horses needed to be euthanized. One had a broken leg, many had been burned, and others had lacerations and scratches. Doctors provided suturing, bandaging, intravenous fluids, tranquilizers and other care depending on the injury.
“There were no veterinary technicians on the grounds,” Dr. Jenkins notes. “Whoever happened to be holding a horse instantly became a veterinarian assistant.”
Belvoir Bay (Equiano-Path Of Peace) was not accounted for until the next day. The talented Team Valor owned mare was missing. At this point of her career she was already quite valuable having won at Gr 3 level.
Back then she was being tried as a 1400m to a mile type and she’d won five races.
Eventually, someone spotted her and they reached her. They found her beaten and bloodied and with several deep cuts to her legs. She had made her way to the middle of the training facility.
Smoke had filled her lungs, like everyone else, but she was alive and well and Dr Jenkins looked over her. He concluded she would make a full recovery.
Three months after the fire she raced again. And won! That full recovery prediction had come true.
And she has continued to prove her fighting capabilities ever since to the point she is now a recognised world class sprinter.
She went to Dubai earlier this year for the rich $2million Dubai Sprint. And up against the superstar Blue Point and a host in international sprinters from Australia, Hong Kong and England, she led them all until near home. Only Blue Point got her in a speedy 1.08.40.
Gary Barber, so well known to North American race fans, particularly in Canada, part-owns her and Peter Miller trains her.
I suspect she’s movie material if she salutes at Santa Anita this weekend.