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Accelerate tops entries for 14-horse Breeders’ Cup Classic

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The Breeders’ Cup World Championships will have its biggest entry field along with a new race, which means plenty of story lines.

Especially in its main event.

Accelerate leads the 14-horse field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will offer the 5-year-old a rematch against West Coast in a marquee race that’s missing unbeaten Triple Crown winner Justify.

Horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown champion, who was trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was retired with an ankle issue in July after winning all six career starts this year. Baffert’s confirmed entries in the Classic are McKinzie and West Coast, whom Accelerate beat by 2 1/4 lengths last month at Santa Anita.

Monomoy Girl will seek another Grade 1 win at Louisville’s Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The filly has won eight of 10 starts, including the Kentucky Oaks in May at Churchill.

A record 221 horses were announced Wednesday for the 35th World Championships on Nov. 2-3. The 14-race schedule totaling a record $30 million in purses includes the inaugural Juvenile Turf Sprint on that Friday, the 2nd.

The Distaff and Dirt Mile have been moved to Saturday’s nine-race Cup card culminating with the Classic.

The Breeders’ Cup entries include a record 51 foreign horses aiming to race at Churchill Downs, which will host for the record-tying ninth time. Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has 18 entries, including 2017 Juvenile Turf champion Mendelssohn in the Classic. Coolmore Stud’s 20 pre-entries are up six from last year.

Final entries and the post-position draw are Monday.

No matter which spot Accelerate starts from in the Classic, the quest will be capping his roll with another victory.

The John Sadler-trained colt has won five of six starts including his victory over West Coast, who can avenge that finish and improve on a third place in last year’s Classic that helped him earn the Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old male.

However, Sadler likes the current performance of the California-based son of Lookin at Lucky.

“He’s got a good style that he can stalk the speed; he doesn’t have to be in front,” Sadler said in a teleconference. “He’ll get a good trip, no doubt. The other thing I’m comforted by is he is proven on an off track if we get rain.”

As for Baffert, a Classic win would be his fourth in five years. Besides McKinzie, which won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania on Sept. 22, the trainer has Collected among five horses just outside the 14-horse limit.

“We feel like he deserves a chance at the Classic,” Baffert said. “I can’t believe how many pre-entered. I was hoping to get Collected in there. He was a little late to the party, but he’s doing well and working well.”

Oscar Performance aims to defend his Cup Mile win on turf in his third consecutive Breeders’ Cup start. The 4-year-old is coming off a 1 1/2-length victory in the Woodbine Mile and has won two of three starts this year.

Five races for 2-year-olds highlight the Breeders’ Cup first day as “Future Stars Friday.” The $1 million Turf Sprint is open to colts and fillies and will cover 5 1/2 furlongs.

Santa Anita to run three days a week, hike purses for six weeks

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Santa Anita will race three days a week instead of four over the next four weeks because the track has lost some of its horse population to out-of-state venues.

Several stables have shipped horses to Kentucky to run at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, leaving Santa Anita with fewer horses to race and smaller field sizes.

Track officials have yet to decide whether to race three days or four for the final three weeks of the spring meet, which ends June 23.

The track said Friday it is raising purses for all non-stake races by $10,000 each for the next six weeks as a way to help owners and trainers who lost money when the track was closed for most of March.

The deaths of 23 horses since Dec. 26 forced the closure while the track’s dirt surface was examined. Racing resumed March 29, with one horse death occurring since then as the result of injuries in a turf race.

The purse increase announced Friday begins April 26 and runs through June 2. Track officials will decide later whether to continue it through the end of the meet.

The increase is being funded by existing excess money in the purse account and money from The Stronach Group, which owns the track.

Thoroughbred Owners of California chairman Nick Alexander says his group will match the purse supplements funded by TSG in the hopes of returning to racing four days a week.

Churchill Downs enacts improvements for horse, rider safety

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs will invest $8 million for an on-site equine medical center as part of several other measures to improve safety for horses and riders.

The medical center is expected to open next March and will include a quarantine facility. Next month’s Kentucky Derby will have a temporary medical center. The track’s parent company, Churchill Downs Incorporated, will also hire an equine medical director to oversee safety at its facilities.

The historic track will also install camera surveillance with other improvements to the backside area.

Earlier Thursday, Churchill Downs and several other tracks announced they would phase out use of the anti-bleeding medication Lasix for horses within 24 hours of racing. The track later announced other initiatives, including advocating for additional equine medication reforms; the formation of an Office of Racing Integrity that will to develop uniformed medication and safety standards; formalizing concussion protocol for jockey safety; and adopting international standards for riding crop use.