The $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic is heading to prime time for the first time.
The culminating event of the 15 championship stakes this weekend at Santa Anita will be televised by NBC on Saturday from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET.
”It’s a huge shot in the arm, not only for NBC but for the sport of horse racing to be showcased in prime time,” said retired jockey Gary Stevens, a winner of eight Breeders’ Cup races and now an NBC analyst. ”Fortunately, we have that this year to showcase the stars that we have. It needed to be done for a long time, and this is the perfect venue to do it.”
There are no lights at Santa Anita. The Classic will be run in late afternoon at the track with the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.
”It’s going to present a totally different look and feel in terms of the setting,” producer Rob Hyland said. ”With the sun cascading down, it’s going to be pretty darn dramatic. If the race were delayed significantly, would we be in jeopardy of losing light? It would be a very, very significant delay for that to happen. From an aesthetic standpoint, the orange tones that present themselves on the mountains in the distance are going to be pretty spectacular.”
NBC spokesman Adam Freifeld said this doesn’t necessarily mean the Classic will remain a prime-time event.
”This was afforded to us because of the location,” he said. ”Next year it will be in Santa Anita again and we’ll revisit it at that point.”
This marks the event’s return to NBC, where it was first televised from 1984 to 2006.
Derby winner returns
Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, launches a second comeback from injury on Saturday in the $2 million Mile on the turf.
It’s been a tough road, demanding considerable patience by trainer Graham Motion and owner Team Valor International since Animal Kingdom burst on the scene with a 20-1 upset in the Derby.
He made up tremendous ground in the Preakness, rallying from 13th to lose by a half-length to Shackleford. In the Belmont, Animal Kingdom finished sixth, suffering a hock injury in the race that required surgery.
He did not run until February at Gulfstream, easily winning an allowance race. Three weeks after the race, a hairline pelvic fracture was detected that did not require surgery.
So it was back to the bench.
Animal Kingdom resumed training in June.
”It was something I thought about even before I started him back training this summer,” Motion said about the Breeders’ Cup. ”It was something I thought was within his grasp. Of course everything had to go perfectly to get here, but it wasn’t like it was a last-minute decision.”
It’s not an easy comeback spot. Animal Kingdom is 8-1 against a strong field that includes Wise Dan, the 9-5 favorite, and Excelebration, one of the top grass milers in Europe and the 2-1 second choice.
Nereid was scratched from the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf with a minor injury.
”She is off in her right hind,” trainer John Shirreffs said Wednesday. ”She must have kicked the wall or something. It came at the worst possible time.”
Winless in five races this season, Nereid was 15-1 on the morning line.
The forecast is ideal for racing at Santa Anita. Friday should be mostly sunny with highs in the mid-70s. Saturday should be warmer with temperatures rising to the low 80s.