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Santa Anita to host the 40th Breeders’ Cup next year

A rider atop a horse in front of a sign for Santa Anita Park.
The Breeders’ Cup will return to Santa Anita for a record 11th time on Nov. 3-4, 2023. It will be the event’s 40th anniversary.
(AP)
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The Breeders’ Cup, horse racing’s biggest event, has chosen Santa Anita to host its 40th anniversary Nov. 3-4, 2023. It will be the 11th time the Arcadia track has been the host.

The announcement Thursday was not unexpected as the event has alternated between California and Kentucky the last few years. Del Mar last hosted it in 2021 with Santa Anita serving as host in 2019. This year’s Breeders’ Cup is at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

The two days of racing comprise 14 races, five on Friday and nine on Saturday, worth more than $31 million. The bulk of the money for purses comes from nominating fees. Generally, breeders nominate their stallions every breeding season for about the cost of their stud fee. Then the foal that results from the breeding is nominated in their first year for $400, which is good for the rest of their career.

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Drew Fleming, president and chief executive of the Breeders’ Cup, says there are currently no plans to change any of the races for next year.

“We’re always looking to improve,” Fleming said. “But right now we have no current plans to change the races.”

With the event almost 16 months out, there is still plenty of time to make adjustments.

Trainer Bob Baffert returned to training Sunday after a 90-day suspension following Medina Spirit’s positive test for a medication at Kentucky Derby.

Santa Anita fans will be disappointed to learn that its 6½-furlong downhill turf course probably will not be used.

“Traditionally, outside of Santa Anita, the turf sprints are 5 or 5½ furlongs,” Fleming said. “But Santa Anita has a new turf chute that can run at those distances. It’s early and we’re still looking at both.”

A problem with using the 6½-furlong course is that there isn’t a large distinction between it and the turf race at a mile (8 furlongs).

Santa Anita also isn’t looking at making a lot of changes.

“I don’t think there is likely to be any major changes to track surfaces,” said Craig Fravel, chief executive of 1st Racing, formerly the Stronach Group and the owner of Santa Anita. “We will be resodding the turf course, which we normally do every other year. So, there should be no major differences.”

Fravel knows the Breeders’ Cup because he was its chief executive before joining the Stronach Group. Fleming replaced him.

“If anything, I have an even greater appreciation for the Breeders’ Cup,” Fravel said. “Life is always greener elsewhere, but at the Breeders’ Cup, I missed day-to-day racing, being around horses on a regular basis. Now I’m at a race track, and I appreciate what a special event the Breeders’ Cup is and what a great job their team does.”

Despite the familiarity, Fravel will not overly involve himself.

“I will play an undersized role,” Fravel said. “I’m important only when things go badly.”

Fravel said chief operating officer Aidan Butler, general manager Nate Newby and senior vice president Amy Zimmerman “will run things like clockwork.”

CHRB follows up Santa Anita’s suspension of Richard Baltas with complaint alleging 23 violations of race-day medication rule.

Fleming admitted there was discussion of what happened at the Del Mar Breeders’ Cup when a horse was accidentally scratched in the Juvenile Turf race that Friday and then was reentered running for purse money only. It infuriated bettors because they couldn’t bet on him and then he won the race.

While it was human error, it left the California Horse Racing Board red-faced trying to explain how it happened.

“That was an unfortunate situation that affected our fans and horse players, part of the backbone of our industry,” Fleming said. “The CHRB conducted an independent review of its own. We’ll continue to work with the CHRB to prevent that from ever happening again. We have trust in the CHRB and its ability to be proactive on these kinds of things.”

The last time the Breeders’ Cup was at Santa Anita in 2019, there was a question if the races would be held after a spike of fatalities at its December-to-June meeting. The Breeders’ Cup held a special meeting and agreed to go ahead with the event after the track instituted many safety reforms.

All was going well until the last race on the last day when Mongolian Groom broke down in the stretch of the featured event, the Classic, and later was euthanized. A subsequent investigation showed that prerace observations of the horse could have prevented the horse from running, but it didn’t happen. The track was left blameless but still scarred.

“I’m personally not concerned that the very unfortunate event will be brought up and we can look at it in the rear-view mirror,” said Fravel, who was still working at the Breeders’ Cup that day. “We now have among the best safety records in all of racing. We put many processes in place. Our vet teams are fully engaged. We’re doing all the things we can do.”

In 2019, Santa Anita had 30 racing and training deaths in its signature winter-spring meeting. This year the number was eight.

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