McKinzie is early favorite in Breeders’ Cup Classic


ARCADIA, Calif. — McKinzie, with a new jockey replacing Hall of Famer Mike Smith, is the 3-1 favorite for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic this weekend at Santa Anita.

The track is hosting the world championships for a record 10th time Friday and Saturday. A total of 36 horses have died at Santa Anita since December, including two since last Friday.

That hasn’t deterred an international group of horses from gathering to chase over $30 million in purse money.

The Classic will be shown in prime time Saturday on NBC.

How to watch the Breeders’ Cup Classic

“I hate to really say anything,” McKinzie’s trainer Bob Baffert said Monday when asked about the deaths. “I don’t want to jinx myself.”

McKinzie drew the No. 8 post on Monday in the 11-horse field for the 1 1/4-mile Classic. He’ll be ridden by Joel Rosario, who replaced Smith after McKinzie finished second as the favorite in the Awesome Again on his home track last month.

“He looks like he’s doing well. Really no excuses,” Baffert said. “The break is the whole key. You have to get away first and then you can have a plan. If not, you have to scramble for a plan.”

McKinzie has two wins and four seconds in six starts this year. The 4-year-old colt won the Whitney at Saratoga in August.

Baffert is going for his fourth victory in the Classic. He won it from 2014-16 with 3-year-olds Bayern, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Arrogate. He’s never won it with an older horse.

Smith will ride Japan-bred Yoshida, an 8-1 shot.

Code of Honor and Vino Rosso are the co-second choices at 4-1 odds.

Elate, taking on males for the first time 10 years after superstar mare Zenyatta beat the boys in the Classic over the same track, is the co-third choice at 6-1 with Higher Power. Elate drew the No. 6 post.

She is undefeated in three races at 1 1/4 miles.

“It’s hard to be comparable to her,” Elate’s Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said about Zenyatta. “She was obviously a very special horse and one of the very best.”

Preakness winner War of Will is a 20-1 shot in the Classic and will break from the No. 4 post.

Others in the Classic field are: Mongolian Groom, 12-1; Owendale, 15-1; Seeking the Soul, 20-1; and Math Wizard, 30-1.

Friday’s five-race card features all 2-year-olds, with the winner of the $2 million Juvenile typically tabbed as the winter-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

The early Juvenile favorite is 8-5 shot Dennis’ Moment, trained by Kentucky-based Dale Romans. Baffert has an entry, too: 2-1 shot Eight Rings.

Other favorites in Friday’s races:

– Four Wheel Drive at 3-1 in the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint.

– Ireland-bred Arizona at 5-2 in the $1 million Juvenile Turf.

– Donna Veloce at 3-1 in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies.

– Ireland-bred Albigna at 9-2 in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Saturday’s card features nine races with results figuring into year-end honors for Eclipse Awards.

The $4 million Turf is led by 9-5 favorite Bricks and Mortar, trained by New York-based Chad Brown. Ireland-bred Anthony Van Dyck is the second choice at 3-1.

Midnight Bisou tops the 11-horse field for the $2 million Distaff. Smith will ride the 6-5 favorite, the heaviest favorite in the 14 races. She was third in last year’s Distaff at Churchill Downs and hasn’t lost since, going 7-for-7 this year.

Ireland-bred Circus Maximus is the 3-1 favorite for the $2 million Mile.

Other favorites in Saturday’s races:

– Covfefe at 2-1 in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint.

– Eddie Haskell at 9-2 in the $1 million Turf Sprint.

– Omaha Beach at 8-5 in the $1 million Dirt Mile. The colt was the favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby before being forced to scratch.

– Ireland-bred Sistercharlie at 8-5 in the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf.

– Mitole at 9-5 in the $2 million Sprint.

Watch NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup starting with Future Stars Friday on Nov. 1 from 4-8 p.m. ET (NBCSN) and continuing with Championship Saturday on Nov. 2 from 3:30-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN until 8, NBC from 8-9). 

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

Betway Challow Hurdle Day - Newbury Racecourse
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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths on Saturday at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.