ARCADIA (CNS) – Horse racing’s two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships begin today at Santa Anita Park with four races, including Goldencents attempting to defend his title in the $1 million Dirt Mile.
Today’s other races are the $2 million 1 1/8-mile Distaff, in which this year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, Untapable, is set to take on last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff runner-up, Close Hatches and Ria Antonia, who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race; the $1 million 1-mile Juvenile Turf; and the $1 million 1-mile Juvenile Fillies Turf.
There will be nine races Saturday, concluding with the $5 million 1 1/4- mile Breeders’ Cup Classic, with a field including Southern California-based Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome and the undefeated 3-year- old Shared Belief.
“I think you’ll see a different Chrome this time,” California Chrome’s 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman, told reporters Thursday, referring to the colt’s sixth-place finish in his last race Sept. 20 in the Pennsylvania Derby. “He’s right on his game.”
Sherman said the crop of 3-year-olds is the best he’s seen in a long time.
For the first time, California Chrome will take on the Northern California-based Shared Belief, who is trained by Sherman’s longtime friend, 68- year-old Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by a partnership that includes sports talk show host Jim Rome.
Shared Belief — the early betting line favorite kept off the Kentucky Derby trail because of a hoof injury — has won all seven of his races, including Del Mar’s Pacific Classic and Santa Anita’s Awesome Again.
The expected 14-horse field also includes the East Coast-based Tonalist, who stopped California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in the Belmont, and Bayern, who beat California Chrome in the Pennsylvania Derby.
The Classic will also feature three other 3-year-olds and seven older horses, such as Santa Anita Gold Cup victor Majestic Harbor, East Coast winners Moreno and Zivo and the lightly raced Cigar Street.
The $5 million race could set up a battle for the prestigious Horse of the Year title.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who trains Bayern, said he thinks the Classic is “shaping up” to produce the eventual Horse of the Year.
Baffert called it a “very tough class of 3 year olds,” but said of the field, “It’s just a matter of who brings their A-game that day and who gets a (good) trip.”
In the past few weeks and even the past few days, three of last year’s Breeders’ Cup winners — two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder and the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician — have been pulled from the weekend series of races due to injuries or illness.
But Breeders’ Cup President Craig Fravel said he doesn’t hold his breath worrying about who might be the latest defection from the lineup.
“We’re just going to be happy with who shows up on the race track … and I wish them all the best and hope they get around well,” Fravel said.
The Breeders’ Cup is being held at Santa Anita Park for an unprecedented third consecutive year.
“When I got up this morning and walked outside to look at the San Gabriel Mountains and the temperature today was going to be about 78 degrees and perfect weather, and I got to see the backdrop that’s going to show up on NBC television, it reinforces one of the reasons why we’re here at Santa Anita,” Fravel said this week.
Fravel said he has occasionally received “disappointment mail” from those on the East Coast and Midwest that the Breeders’ Cup has not recently returned to racetracks there, while noting that the Breeders’ Cup will be held next year at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, before returning again to Santa Anita in 2016 and Del Mar in northern San Diego County in 2017.
“I think a lot of people, particularly our friends from overseas, are very pleased when they leave colder climates and show up here for a little bit of a vacation, along with a great horse race,” Fravel said.
Along with some of the biggest stars in horse racing, the event will include some Hollywood star power from singers Macy Gray, Joan Osborne, Toni Braxton and Kristin Chenoweth, who are part of the line-up for Saturday’s Infield Music Fest, and musician Richie Sambora, who is set Saturday to sing the national anthem.