10/31/2006 1:00AM

24 races to offer automatic berths

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Breeders' Cup will give the winners of 24 televised stakes races next year automatic berths into seven of its eight season-ending championship races, the association announced on Tuesday.

The new system was designed to appeal to television audiences, Breeders' Cup officials said. The 24 races will each be telecast live on ABC or its sister network ESPN during a series of six broadcasts, from July 28 to Oct. 7, with each of the broadcasts focusing mostly on races from one track. The tracks are Saratoga on July 28, Arlington Park on Aug. 11, Del Mar on Aug. 19, Belmont Park on Sept. 30, Keeneland on Oct. 6, and Oak Tree at Santa Anita on Oct. 7.

The races will offer five automatic berths to the Sprint, four berths to the Classic, four to the Distaff, three to the Turf, three to the Filly and Mare Turf, three to the Mile, and two to the Juvenile. No berths will be open for the Juvenile Fillies.

The Breeders' Cup has never offered automatic berths in the 23-year history of the event. Last year, Breeders' Cup Ltd. signed an eight-year contract with ESPN to televise the Breeders' Cup beginning this year and ending in 2013.

Automatic berths will only be open to horses eligible for the Breeders' Cup, according to Keith Chamblin, a senior vice president at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which merged with the Breeders' Cup in 2000. Eligibility for the Breeders' Cup is based on nomination fees paid by owners and breeders.

Under the current Breeders' Cup field selection process, the first seven entrants in the maximum fields of 14 are determined through a points system based on finishes in graded stakes throughout the year. The final seven entrants are selected by a panel of racing officials.

Greg Avioli, the interim chief executive of the Breeders' Cup, said Tuesday that the new process will likely retain both the points system and the selection panel but that the details have not yet been worked out. Under the most likely scenario, Avioli said, horses who gain automatic berths will be counted against the allotment for the points leaders.

Asked to explain how the Breeders' Cup arrived at the designation of the 24 races and why the Breeders' Cup did not make the number of berths in each race consistent, Chamblin said that the Breeders' Cup board made the designations based on "what was possible right now."

"The goal of this is to build the Breeders' Cup brand and to do that in partnership with ESPN," Chamblin said. "These are key races that determine who runs in the Breeders' Cup, and the board was focused on this period - this is the period they wanted supercharged.

"Are there races in that window that could have been included? Absolutely. Are there races outside of that window? Absolutely. And those races may very well be included down the road."

Avioli said that races in Europe may also be designated to earn automatic berths.

In addition to the automatic berths, the 24 races will carry awards equal to 2 percent of the purse for any horse that runs worse than fifth. The awards are designed to attract full fields, and the Breeders' Cup has budgeted $1.5 million to provide the awards, Chamblin said.

Automatic berths

Classic

Whitney Handicap, Saratoga, July 28

Pacific Classic, Del Mar, Aug. 1

Jockey Club Gold Cup, Belmont Park, Sept. 30

Goodwood Handicap, Oak Tree, Sept. 30

Turf

Arlington Million, Arlington, Aug. 11

Secretariat Stakes, Arlington, Aug. 11

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Belmont, Sept. 30

Distaff

Go for Wand Stakes, Saratoga, July 28

Beldame Stakes, Belmont, Sept. 30

Lady's Secret Handicap, Oak Tree, Oct. 7

Juddmonte Spinster Stakes, Keeneland, Oct. 7

Filly and Mare Turf

Diana Handicap, Saratoga, July 28

Beverly D. Stakes, Arlington, Aug. 11

First Lady Stakes, Keeneland, Oct. 6

Mile

Del Mar Mile, Del Mar, Aug. 19

Shadwell Turf Mile, Keeneland, Oct. 6

Oak Tree Mile, Oak Tree, Oct. 7

Sprint

Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, Saratoga, July 28

Pat O'Brien Handicap, Del Mar, Aug. 19

Vosburgh Stakes, Belmont, Sept. 30

Phoenix Stakes, Keeneland, Oct. 6

Ancient Title Handicap, Oak Tree, Oct. 7

Juvenile

Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, Keeneland, Oct. 6

Champagne Stakes, Belmont, Oct. 6