A deep and talented field will gather at (in)famous Santa Anita Park this weekend, along with perhaps 100,000 spectators, for the 36th running of the Breeders’ Cup. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is hoping for his fourth win in six years, and McKinzie (3-1) may be the horse to end his two-year drought. For a record tenth time, Saturday’s mile and one-quarter race will be held at Santa Anita. However, a dark cloud, which has transcended the world of horse racing, hangs heavy over this weekend’s event in Arcadia.
McKinzie was once considered a Triple Crown threat in early 2018, but was sidelined by injuries. Since then, the bay won the Malibu Stakes, at Santa Anita last Boxing Day, and the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August. The latter is his lone Challenge Series Race to date. Since 2017, McKinzie has racked up more than $2 million in earnings. The $6 million purse, at stake on Saturday, will be slightly more than that. Expected to nip at McKinzie’s heels are Vino Rosso (4-1) and Code of Honor (4-1). In all, six of the 11 participants are listed at 8-1 or better.
The fun begins Friday at 4:12 PM Eastern, with the Juvenile Turf Sprint. A quintet of undercards Friday, eight more on Saturday, and the Classic, at 8:44 PM Eastern Saturday evening, make up the 14-race card. Each boasts a purse of at least $1 million. One of the other highlights might be the seven-furlong Filly & Mare Sprint, first up on Saturday. Covfefe (2-1)— named for, yes, that— is listed as the favorite. Come Dancing (5-2) could mount a strong challenge too, however.
As they typically do with the sports they cover, NBC is going all in on this weekend’s races. NBC and NBCSN’s 10.5 hours’ coverage of the richest two days in horse racing actually begin Thursday afternoon, with “Betting the Breeders’ Cup.” Friday’s coverage begins just before the first race, with NBCSN resuming duties Saturday afternoon. The Peacock Network takes over coverage of the main event, beginning at 8 PM Eastern. One of the new toys NBC will be featuring this weekend is a special Gyro-stabilized camera, on the back of a moving vehicle, which will provide low-angle views down the backstretch.
Of course, if you’ve heard anything about this weekend’s races— and especially if you don’t follow horse racing religiously— you probably know about the horrific and tragic year it’s been at Santa Anita. Two more horses were euthanized last weekend, bringing the total number to die at Santa Anita in 2019 to 36.
A mixture of inconsistent track surfaces, performance-enhancing drugs, and over-racing has been blamed on the stretch of catastrophic injuries. A series of changes announced by the track in March— including a brief suspension of races— hasn’t helped. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has been investigating, but has so far yet to issue its report. It’s the latest bit of bad news for what analysts and opponents alike have, for different reasons, referred to as a dying industry.