Nov. 3 (UPI) -- The 40th running of the Breeders' Cup World Championships lays a fair claim to its name this weekend at Santa Anita, with many of the world's best set to compete.
Despite the usual late-season retirements and some untimely injuries, the fields include impressive performers from Japan, England, Ireland and Europe, facing the best North America has to offer on dirt and turf.
Friday's program has five Breeders' Cup races, all for 2-year-olds. Saturday brings a cornucopia of talent with nine Championship events. All are Grade I races.
The overall quality is evident in the marquee race, Saturday's $6 million I Longines Breeders' Cup Classic at the American Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles.
The Classic lost three of its likely favorites in Belmont Stakes and Grade I Travers Stakes winner Arcangelo, Grade I Haskell Stakes winner Geaux Rocket Ride and Kentucky Derby winner Mage -- all to injury.
Yet, it still has the winners of this year's Group 1 Dubai World Cup, Ushba Tesoro and Group 2 UAE Derby Derma Sotogake, both from Japan, and five U.S. Grade I winners.
The morning line-favorite is Arabian Knight, a lightly raced colt trained by Bob Baffert who sold for $2.3 million as a yearling. He has won three of his four races and, ironically, finished third in the other -- behind Geaux Rocket Ride and Mage. He has the advantage of being stabled at Santa Anita and had his final workout for the Classic there Monday.
"He's healthy. He's working well," Baffert said. "He's ready. I know this is going to be a tough race, but if he brings his A game, I don't really care who's running against us. That's my focus with him."
Right behind Arabian Knight on the morning line are Ushba Tesoro and White Abarrio, winner of the Grade I Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in his last start.
Ushba Tesoro had an issue during gate training Monday, and trainer Takaki said he will make adjustments. White Abarrio has been working steadily and assistant trainer Chip Dutrow said his connections "like what they're seen. ... We're just going to continue to move forward."
The remainder of the field offers plenty of opportunity to get long odds on horses who normally would be heavy favorites.
Derma Sotogake, with Christophe Lemaire riding, is 20-1 on the morning line and Zandon, with Frankie Dettori, is 12-1 after winning the Grade I Woodward Stakes in his last start. Lemaire and Dettori are among the very best of the world's jockeys.
The $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff is for fillies and mares has only two of the fillies who competed in this year's Kentucky Oaks, including the Oaks winner, Pretty Mischievous, who is 8-1 on the morning line for Saturday's race.
The favorite, Idiomatic, is a late-developing 4-year-old with four straight wins and seven from her last eight starts. She comes off Grade I wins at Saratoga and Keeneland in her last two starts.
Also high on the morning line are Clairiere, fourth and third in the last two runnings of the Distaff, and Adare Manor, another Baffert trainee who has won five straight races.
The other multimillion-dollar dirt race, the $2 million Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint, has an unusually light field of just nine speedsters. Last year's winner, Elite Power, defends his crown, but faces the horse who beat him in their last start, Gunite.
Those two are among the three favorites, along with yet another Baffert charge, Speed Boat Beach.
Also on what American racing calls "the main track" are the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and the PNC Bank Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, each worth $1 million. Defending champions Cody's Wish and Goodnight Olive, respectively, return, and both are morning-line favorites.
The international contingent makes its presence known in a big way in Saturday's turf racing.
The $4 million Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles looks heavily weighted toward the invaders.
Included among the morning-line picks: English and Irish Derby winner Auguste Rodin from the Irish Coolmore connections; English Derby runner-up and recent Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes winner King of Steel; Group 1 Juddmonte International winner Mostahdaf; and globetrotting 2021 Japanese Derby winner Shahryar.
The $2 million Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf also features two international types atop the morning line -- five-time Group 1 winner Inspiral and progressive 3-year-old Warm Heart, winner of two straight Group 1 events.
Among the local fillies and mares, the Chad Brown-trained In Italian looks poised to lead the field as far as she can go, which on form might be a bit short of the 1 1/4 miles needed to win this race.
Euros, especially Godolphin's entries Mawj and Master of the Seas, would be all the rage in the $2 million Grade I Fan Duel Breeders' Cup Mile, too, if it were not for the presence of Japan's Songline, the 5-2 morning-line favorite.
The 5-year-old mare is a multiple Grade 1 winner at home and won the Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint in Saudi Arabia in 2022. She seems on top of her form.
The $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint is absolutely wide open, with 12 set to go 5 furlongs.
The favorite, at a generous 9-2, is the fascinating Live In The Dream, a 4-year-old gelding who rose from nowhere to win the Group 1 Nunthorpe stakes at York and then finished second in the Grade II Woodford at Keeneland.
His owners, trainer and jockey are all newcomers to racing's top ranks and beside themselves with excitement.
Friday's races for 2-year-olds open the door to future stardom. The winners of the $2 million Juvenile and $2 million Juvenile Fillies become the de facto favorites for next year's Kentucky Derby and Oaks, respectively.
The Juvenile looks terrifically competitive, but Tamara is one of the day's few odds-on favorites in the Juvenile Fillies, partly as she is the daughter of Beholder, who won the 2013 and 2016 Distaffs over the Santa Anita track, the latter by a nose over Songbird in an all-time classic.