Denis Savard helps out paralyzed jockey and friend

BETH HARRIS AP Racing Writer Published:

ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) -- Rene Douglas' riding career came to an end in 2009, when he was left paralyzed from the waist down. Not long after, his career as a racing manager began.

Hockey Hall of Famer Denis Savard and four other pals decided to invest in racehorses and formed Good Friends Stable. They put Douglas in charge of selecting the horses, hoping it would give him a sense of purpose and buoy his spirits.

Douglas went to his home country of Panama and picked out Private Zone. The group paid $80,000 for the horse, which has gone on to win $513,820.

Private Zone is the 3-1 early favorite for the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Sprint on Saturday at Santa Anita. He brings a two-race winning streak into the world championships.

Trained by Doug O'Neill, Private Zone will be ridden by Martin Pedroza, a childhood friend of Douglas in Panama.

"You can't imagine what winning the Sprint would mean to Martin," said his agent, Richie Silverstein. "Rene can't ride anymore and Martin has a chance to put his best friend in the winner's circle. It would be heart-filling if he won this race for Rene."

Douglas was paralyzed in a spill at Arlington Park, where he was the leading rider six times. He won more than 3,500 races in his career, including the 2006 BC Juvenile Fillies and the 1996 Belmont Stakes.

Savard, who won the Stanley Cup with Montreal, has been a racing fan since he was a teenager. He and Douglas first met at Arlington Park when Savard played for the Chicago Blackhawks.

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DRUG TESTING: Horses running in the 14 Breeders' Cup races this weekend will face increased drug testing and scrutiny.

The first four finishers in the $5 million Classic will be tested. Overall, two horses from each race except the Classic are tested.

Dr. Rick Arthur from the California Horse Racing Board said one-quarter of all pre-entered horses were selected for out-of-competition testing, with a particular focus on EPO.

"The tests were clear," he said Thursday.

Around-the-clock security in the stable area took effect starting 72 hours before Friday's card.

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HELPING RETIREES: Some trainers and owners of Breeders' Cup horses are pledging a percentage of their purse earnings from this year's championships to a program that helps retired thoroughbreds.

New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, based in Lexington, Ky., has raised nearly $200,000 the past four years to support its work of rehabilitating, retraining and finding new homes for retired racehorses.

Among the trainers committing a portion of their winnings this year are Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Doug O'Neill, and Kiaran McLaughlin.

In the $5 million Classic, Baffert has pledged to help based on money won by Game On Dude, while Pletcher will contribute if Palace Malice earns part of the purse, as will Zayat Stables with Paynter, another horse trained by Baffert.

"The more money we raise, the more horses we can take," said Anna Ford, director of New Vocations.

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EARLY SCRATCHES: Ron the Greek won't run in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, and Cleburne is out of the $2 million Juvenile.

Trainer Bill Mott said Thursday that Ron the Greek has an abscess in his right front hoof. He said it's not a major problem, but the timing of the injury won't allow the 6-year-old horse to run Saturday.

Cleburne, a 12-1 shot trained by Dale Romans, has bucked shins that will keep him out of the Juvenile on Saturday. The condition involves lameness in a horse's front limbs and is common in 2- and 3-year-old thoroughbreds.