04/18/2002 11:00PM

Breeders' Cup goes to Oak Tree in '03

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The Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships will return to Oak Tree at Santa Anita for the first time in ten years in 2003, Breeders' Cup and Oak Tree officials said on Friday.

Oak Tree, a not-for-profit company that runs a late fall meet at Santa Anita under a lease agreement with Santa Anita Park, had been selected twice in the past three years to host the Cup. But both times the event was moved after officials at Santa Anita's parent company, Magna Entertainment, contended that the track would not be able to accommodate the Cup because of ongoing construction projects.

"We've had two false starts, but the third time is a charm," said Sherwood Chillingworth, the executive vice president of Oak Tree, on Friday. "We've received assurances from all the parties involved that nothing will happen to get in the way."

The eight-race championships have been scheduled for Oct. 25, 2003, Breeders' Cup officials said.

The Cup has not been held in Southern California since Hollywood Park hosted the event in 1997. Southern California is one of the preferred circuits for the championships because of warm fall weather and access to the Los Angeles market.

Santa Anita has held the championship twice, in 1986 and 1993. Attendance was 69,155 in 1986 and 55,130 in 1993. The 69,155 attendance figure is the highest for any track other than Churchill Downs, which had held the event five times, a record.

Breeders' Cup had announced last fall that Santa Anita was the preferred site for 2003, followed by Churchill Downs in 2004 and newcomer Lone Star Park in 2005.