ARCADIA (AP) — McKinzie heads a field of 11 horses, including mare Elate against males, for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with trainer Bob Baffert going for a fourth victory in the $6 million race that includes Preakness winner War of Will. The Classic won’t have Kentucky Derby winner Country House or Belmont winner Sir Winston.
The Classic outcome could influence Horse of the Year, which it has done 13 times before, when the winner has gone on to earn year-end honors. The 1¼-mile race pits West Coast star McKinzie and Code of Honor, the East’s top horse who finished second in the Kentucky Derby.
The Classic field was among a total of 187 horses pre-entered Wednesday for the $30 million, 14-race world championships at Santa Anita on Nov. 1-2. The Nov. 2 race will be shown live in prime time on NBC.
The track is hosting the richest two days in North American racing for a record 10th time.
It has been the site of 34 horse deaths since Dec. 26, most recently last weekend during a lower-level race. The spate of deaths and ensuing criticism, including from Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein as well as animal rights activists, prompted track owner The Stronach Group to institute a host of rules changes involving medication, training and whips.
“It’s been concerning for sure watching from afar,” New York-based trainer Chad Brown said. “I did have a lot of questions from clients over the summer and fall. Ultimately, we feel confident in Santa Anita’s management that the track will be safe.”
Baffert, the all-time leader among trainers in Breeders’ Cup earnings with nearly $29 million, called the deaths “a wake-up moment for racing.”
“We’re being more conscientious,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great Breeders’ Cup.”
McKinzie is winless in three starts — finishing second each time — at his home track this year, which led Baffert to replace Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith with Joel Rosario for the Classic.
Code of Honor has improved over the second half of the year, with wins in the Dwyer, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup via disqualification.
Elate will try to become the first female to win the Classic since superstar Zenyatta did so 10 years ago on the same track. Elate is 3-0 at the Classic distance.
“She’s put in a few efforts that are equivalent to any of the boys in the race,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said.
“That’s a great distance for her. If she repeats any of her two best races, I think it puts her right there.”
The Classic is worth $3.3 million to the winner, with purse payouts down to eighth place.
The $2 million Distaff has its own Horse of the Year candidate in Midnight Bisou, who is 7-0 this year.
The $4 million Turf features Bricks and Mortar, undefeated in five starts this year for Brown, who believes the 5-year-old also merits Horse of the Year consideration.
“I think he’s earned that right,” Brown said.
Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has three entries in the Turf, led by English Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck.
Brown has potential favorite Sistercharlie in the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf. She’s the defending champion and is 3-0 this year. Brown has won the race four times.
Omaha Beach, scratched as the morning-line favorite in the Kentucky Derby, headlines the $1 million Dirt Mile.
The $2 million Juvenile features Eight Rings, trained by Baffert.
The Hall of Fame trainer also could have the favorite in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies with Bast.
A total of 47 foreign horses were pre-entered, including a leading 17 by O’Brien. Coolmore Stud leads all owners with 18 pre-entries.
Final entries and the post-position draw will be Monday at Santa Anita.
The world championships will open with five races for juveniles on Nov. 1, followed by nine races on Nov. 2.
A maximum of 14 horses are allowed in each race, except the Juvenile Turf Sprint and Dirt Mile, which are capped at 12.