Led by an international cast that includes Game On Dude, defending Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, European stars Declaration of War and The Fugue, 162 horses, including 16 European-trained runners, were entered on Monday for the 30th Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park to be run this Friday and Saturday.
Thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious global event with 71 Grade or Group I winners among those entered, the Breeders’ Cup consists of 14 races worth a total of $27 million in purses and awards, and will be run at Santa Anita for the seventh time with five races on Friday and nine on Saturday.
Game On Dude was made the early 8-5 favourite in an impressive field of 12 for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race he has failed to win in two previous tries for trainer Bob Baffert. For the second straight year, the gelding will be running on his home track, where he is 8-1. Game On Dude’s only loss at Santa Anita came in last year’s 1 1/4-mile Classic, where he finished seventh behind winner Fort Larned.
“I’m just hoping he runs like an 8-5 shot,” Baffert said Monday.
Baffert is winless in the Classic, but he has trained Game On Dude to a 5-0 record this year heading into Saturday’s race. Joe Torre, the former Dodgers and Yankees manager, co-owns the gelding, which will be ridden by Mike Smith. The 48-year-old Hall of Fame jockey has mounts in 13 of 14 Breeders’ Cup races.
Baffert sent Game On Dude out for his final workout Monday. “He’s not the same horse that ran here last year, thank God,” he said. “He’s bigger, he’s filled out and he’s a happy horse. I’ve spaced his races out and that’s allowed me to keep his weight on.”
Fort Larned, who won last year’s Classic by three-quarters of a length over Mucho Macho Man, is back to defend his title. Mucho Macho Man returns, too, with Gary Stevens in the saddle. Game On Dude drew the No. 9 post.
“I didn’t want him to be buried on the inside,” Baffert said. “The field is strong. It’s so competitive. All these horses are back from last year.”
Baffert also will saddle Paynter, who will start from the No. 2 post at 12-1 odds.
Fort Larned drew the No. 7 post and was listed at 6-1 odds. “Seven’s a lucky number for me and looks good,” said Ian Wilkes, who trains Fort Larned. Mucho Macho Man will break from the No. 6 post at 5-1 odds.
“It’s very good. I’m happy with it,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has Will Take Charge in the Classic. The Travers winner drew the No. 10 post and was listed at 12-1 odds. Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice is 10-1 and drew the No. 8 post.
The Irish father-son duo of trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Joseph O’Brien team up with 10-1 shot Declaration of War in the Classic.
Reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan drew post position eight in a field of 10 and was made the even-money favourite for the $2 million Mile, where the 6-year-old gelding will try to improve to 6-0 on the turf this year.
Wise Dan will be ridden by John Velazquez, who was aboard for the gelding’s only loss in his last nine starts earlier this month at Keeneland, where the race was moved from the turf to the synthetic surface.
Cleburne and Havana – both 2-0 – will put their undefeated records on the line in the $2 million Juvenile, which drew a full field of 14. Velazquez will ride Havana, the 5-2 morning-line favourite; Cleburne was listed at 12-1.
Stevens, who launched a successful comeback earlier this year at 50, has nine mounts over the two days of racing.
Trainer Todd Pletcher won’t have Graydar, who had been pre-entered in both the Classic and the Dirt Mile. The Kelso winner has a quarter crack in his left front hoof. “We’re disappointed,” Pletcher said. “Graydar had been training extremely well and I thought we got the perfect comeback effort from him in the Kelso.”
The two-day, $27 million championships open Friday with five races, including the Distaff, which has reverted to its original name after being called the Ladies’ Classic since 2008. Two-time defending champion Royal Delta was made the early 8-5 favourite among a heavyweight field that includes 9-5 second choice Princess of Sylmar, who has won six stakes this year, and last year’s BC Juvenile Fillies winner Beholder, third choice at 5-2.
“It is a heck of a race and she’s going to have to be at her best for it,” said Richard Mandella, who trains Beholder.
Royal Delta will break from the No. 4 post.
Beholder and Princess of Sylmar will be next to each other in the No. 5 and 6 slots, respectively.
Rosie Napravnik and Chantal Sutherland-Kruse each have one mount on Saturday, and will try to join Julie Krone as the only women to win a Breeders’ Cup race in the event’s history.
Napravnik rides 5-1 shot Untapable in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies; Sutherland-Kruse is aboard 20-1 longshot Great Hot in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint.
Saturday’s nine races include the $1 million Turf Sprint, with defending champion and 4-1 favourite Mizdirection among the 14-horse field.
She’s co-owned by sports talk radio host Jim Rome, and will be ridden by Smith.