04/12/2017 2:21PM

Four additional Breeders' Cup qualifying races this year

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Eighty-one stakes races this year, including 49 scheduled at North American racetracks, will offer automatic berths in Breeders’ Cup races this year, according to the organization, with seven of the races providing the winner with a guaranteed starting slot in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

This is the 11th year that the Breeders’ Cup has designated a series of stakes races offering automatic berths in the 13 races in its two-day event, and this year’s 81-stakes schedule is a slight jump over a 77-stakes schedule last year. Most notably, one of the new races offering an automatic berth to the Classic has already been held at Tokyo Racecourse in Japan, with the winner of the Feb. 19 February Stakes, Gold Dream, becoming the first horse to qualify for a Breeders’ Cup race this year.

The other six races offering Classic spots are the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 17, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 30, the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 5, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 19, the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 30, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 7.

The addition of the February Stakes and the designation of two other Japanese races in the Breeders’ Cup series is an attempt by the Breeders’ Cup to lure a Japanese horse to its event in the hopes that Japan will allow simulcast wagering on one or more Breeders’ Cup races this year. Last year, Japan approved a measure that allows the country to import up to two dozen races held overseas each year, one of the first significant steps to open the country up to international simulcasting outside of the Pacific Rim. Japan is one of the largest betting markets in the world.

In addition to Japan, the Breeders’ Cup designated races in 10 other countries outside North America for the series. The Breeders’ Cup has been attempting over the past decade to spur wagering growth on the event by garnering more international participation, but the efforts so far have failed to boost betting on the races in any meaningful way.

Winners of the international races receive a $40,000 travel stipend from the Breeders’ Cup, while winners of races in North America outside of California will receive a $10,000 travel stipend. The Breeders’ Cup is scheduled for Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar near San Diego. All winners of the designated races also will have their starting fees waived.

Last year, 43 horses who received automatic berths ran in one of the Breeders’ Cup races. Only two won.

Three races were added to the series this year: the Belmont Sprint Championship at Belmont on June 10, offering a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint; the Highlander Stakes on July 2 at Woodbine, for the Turf Sprint; and the First Lady Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 7, for the Filly and Mare Turf.

Seventeen of the preliminary races will be broadcast live during 11 telecasts scheduled for NBC and NBCSN, the Breeders’ Cup’s longtime broadcast partner. The first broadcast in the series is scheduled for June 10, featuring the Metropolitan Handicap and the Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. This year, the broadcast series will include the Stephen Foster, Arlington Million, and Pacific Classic, all for the first time in the four-year history of the qualifying series, the Breeders’ Cup said.