ARCADIA, CA – Breeders' Cup weekend kicks off with five stakes Friday, topped by the $2 million Juvenile, as Santa Anita hosts the world championships for a record 10th time.
Dennis' Moment is the early 8-5 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile, whose winner is tabbed as the horse to watch heading into next year's Kentucky Derby.
The season-ending Breeders' Cup goes off amid intense scrutiny at the track where 36 horses have died since last December, prompting safety and medication reforms by track ownership and outrage from the public and animal rights activists.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, wrote the California Horse Racing Board urging that every precaution available be taken to ensure the horses' safety.
"I believe this weekend presents a critical test for the future of horse racing in California and in the United States," Feinstein wrote in the letter released by her office Friday. "If horse racing cannot be conducted in a safe and humane manner that protects the life and safety of horses and jockeys, it may be time to re-examine the future of this sport in our state and in our country."
Santa Anita's dirt and turf courses are being inspected daily for consistency and safety. The only allowed medication on Friday and Saturday is Lasix, an anti-bleeding medication.
Every horse in the championships has undergone at least three physical exams and been observed during training hours. Any horse whose race fitness is called into question faces additional testing and exams. A horse that flunks will be scratched.
"What sets us apart from a lot of other events is the tremendous amount of care and transparency that goes into a Breeders' Cup," said Dora Delgado, executive vice president of racing and nominations.
"If we can't put a product out there that gives our fans and betting public a sense of confidence than we're doing it wrong."
Friday's races all featuring 2-year-olds are a prelude to another nine on Saturday, culminating in the $6 million Classic where McKinzie is the 3-1 favorite for Baffert. The top horses from the U.S. and Europe as well as South Korea's first entry will be running for $30 million in purses over both days.
The Juvenile features an eight-horse field.
Trained by Dale Romans, Dennis' Moment is the son of two-time BC Classic winner Tiznow. He's won two of three starts, including a 19 1/4-length win at Kentucky's Ellis Park and a 1 3/4-length win in the Iroquois at Churchilll Downs, where he beat another Juvenile rival Scabbard.
Dennis' Moment is the first favorite Romans has had going into the Breeders' Cup.
"It's a whole different type of pressure," he said.
Baffert, the five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, has a top contender, too.
He'll saddle Eight Rings, who has won two of three starts and is the 2-1 second choice in the Juvenile. He won his most recent start at Santa Anita by six lengths.
"He just has raw, raw talent," Baffert said. "He's fast. He can get out of trouble. What I like about him and all my good horses is that they don't get tired. That's what separates the really good ones."
In the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, Donna Veloce is the 3-1 favorite. She was sold for $800,000 last winter in Florida.
"We have very high aspirations for her," trainer Simon Callaghan said.
Baffert has a strong contender in Bast, the co-second choice at 7-2. She's coming off a neck victory at Santa Anita on Sept. 27, her first time trying two turns.
"She's really fast, but you don't know what they're going to do when they come around that second turn," Baffert said. "It's amazing. Some of them it hits them right between the eyes, that distance, that second turn. We have an edge because we've already done it. That's a big thing."
In the other $1 million races on Friday:
— Four Wheel Drive is the 3-1 favorite in the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
— Ireland-bred Arizona is the 5-2 favorite in the Juvenile Turf
— Ireland-bred Albigna is the 9-2 favorite in the Juvenile Fillies Turf