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Post Time: Breeders Cup has record 201 entries

The thoroughbred racing season is far from over. Next weekend, the sport takes center stage as the season culminates with 13 championship races in Southern California at the Breeders’ Cup.

This year’s Breeders’ Cup (BC) races have attracted a record 201 pre-entries, including 38 horses from overseas, seeking purses totaling $24.5 million. The two-day event at Santa Anita Park begins Friday afternoon with four championship races, followed up by nine BC races on Saturday, culminating with the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic televised in prime time on NBC. All of Friday and Saturday’s races, other than the Classic, will be on the NBC Sports Network.

The featured Classic will have an all-star cast headlined by four talented 3-year-olds. They’ve taken over the spotlight from the older horses that have dominated the Classic over the past six years.

The field will include likely favorite Shared Belief, the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again winner owned by radio and television personality Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing Stable. Dual-classic winner California Chrome will look to add to his resume bolstered by his superb spring, and the horse that denied him the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes, Tonalist, will look to pull another upset. Lastly, the Bob Baffert-trained Bayern, winner of the Haskell Invitational and Pennsylvania Derby, will attack his foes with his front-end speed.

With two-time Horse of the Year and two-time winner of the BC Mile, Wise Dan, sidelined due to injury, the Classic will likely be the race to decide the Horse of the Year among the four sophomores. The last 3-year-old to win the Classic was Curlin, who also took home Horse of the Year honors in 2007.

Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Shared Belief, a son of Candy Ride out of a Storm Cat mare, feels his undefeated colt is peaking at the right time, but distanced himself from Horse of the Year questions during a national media teleconference on Wednesday.

“I like to leave that to the people that vote on that, and so, you know, we’ll see what happens in the race and then let those folks that vote on Horse of the Year and all the other awards, they’ll look at all the evidence and they’ll make their decision,” Hollendorfer said.

As for the Derby and Preakness winner, trainer Art Sherman thinks California Chrome will rebound from his sixth place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby.

“I’m just so happy the way he’s been training these last three weeks, and, of course, I’ve got one more blow off this Saturday and that’ll be the last tune-up for him,” Sherman said. “Then we’ll take him to Santa Anita and school him over there, which he likes.”

Baffert praised his competition but thinks that one of the 3-year-olds may ultimately decide the race.

“You really don’t know until they run against the older horses,” he said. “I really like California Chrome, and on his good day he’s as good as any of them. Shared Belief, we know what he can do. His last race was pretty incredible. Bayern, we know what he can do when he’s loose on the lead. So it’s just a matter of who brings their ‘A’ game that day and who gets a trip.”

The 31st annual championships will be run at Santa Anita for the third consecutive year and for a record eighth time overall. The track underwent a major overhaul and replacement after last year’s BC and has been lauded as a much fairer surface than last year’s conveyor belt that favored speed.

Five repeat winners from last year’s Cup have entered, including Goldencents (Dirt Mile), Ria Antonia (Juvenile Fillies), Magician (Turf); Secret Circle (Sprint) and Dank (Juvenile Turf). Ria Antonia will run in the Distaff, and Dank will run in the Turf; the other three will be defending their 2013 titles.

The BC Distaff, Friday’s feature race, is shaping up to be a duel between Untapable and Close Hatches after last week’s defection of the 2013 winner, Beholder, who spiked a fever and did not enter.

The BC Turf is loaded with talent, mainly from across the pond as Big Blue Kitten will be serving as America’s best hope to hold off the Euro invaders. Just the Judge, who won last weekend’s E.P. Taylor at Woodbine Racetrack, is entered, as is Brown Panther, who scratched out of the Canadian International after he got loose on the track prior to the race. The British-bred Brown Panther is a 6-year-old son of 2005 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Shirocco, and is partially owned by former English soccer star Michael Owen.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.