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(Reuters) - Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's Improbable is the early favourite to win the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday at Keeneland racetrack in Lexington but will have to overcome a strong field full of proven winners.
Improbable (5-2) will be gunning for his fourth consecutive Grade One race win while Baffert, the sport's most successful trainer, is looking to secure a record-extending fourth victory in the 1-1/4 mile, $6 million contest.
Other contenders in the 10-horse field are Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law (3-1) and Baffert's two other horses - Saudi Cup champion Maximum Security (7-2) and Kentucky Derby champion Authentic (6-1).
The 67-year-old Baffert, who has also won six Kentucky Derbys as well as the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, has been under scrutiny after receiving medication complaints from regulators this year.
"We can always do better and that is my goal," he said in a statement this week.
"Given what has transpired this year, I intend to do everything possible to ensure I receive no further medication complaints," he said.
On Tuesday, Baffert said he had introduced additional safety protocols in his barn.
He has retained a veterinarian to add "an additional layer" of protection for his horses and pledged to increase employee training while being more hands-on in his oversight role.
"I want to raise the bar and set the standard for equine safety and rule compliance going forward," he said in a statement.
"For those of you who have been upset over the incidents of this past year, I share in your disappointment. I humbly vow to do everything in my power to do better. I want my legacy to be one of making every effort to do right by the horse and the sport."
The sport has been under the spotlight in recent years over horse deaths related to the use of drugs, which can mask pre-existing injuries.
Federal legislation designed to replace the state-by-state regulatory approach with national safety standards is currently making its way through the United States Congress.
Despite race organisers vowing to hold the safest Breeders' Cup ever last year, a four-year-old gelding named Mongolian Groom injured his left hind limb during the Classic and was later euthanized. [nL3N27J00N]
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)