When Breeders' Cup got regulatory approval Sept. 19 to add a grade I Arabian race to its Nov. 1 World Championships program at Santa Anita Park, there was a flurry of sarcasm on Twitter, but it quickly ended.
That's good. There are legitimate issues on which to question Breeders' Cup, but an Arabian race isn't one of them. It's surprising one hasn't been part of the program until 2013.
Arabian racing remains a novelty in the United States even though, according to the Arabian Horse Association, there are more than 660,000 registered Arabians in the U.S., the most of any country. Few race; the Arabian Jockey Club says there is no "100% accurate test to see if your horse is racing material."
That goes for other breeds as well. But those who invest in Arabians, study breeding that may lend to racing, and compete in the handful of states that offer Arabian racing can reap some reward in the U.S.
My first experience with Arabian racing came at Delaware Park in the 1980s. To this day the track still cards Arabian races, including AJC-graded stakes. The Arabian program has served an important purpose there–filling out programs when there aren't enough Thoroughbreds.
Delaware, California, Colorado, Michigan, and Texas have tracks that offer limited Arabian racing. Only recently did Churchill Downs, Keeneland, and Pimlico Race Course host grade I Arabian events as part of major programs.
Top breeding states such as Florida and Kentucky seem like naturals for some sort of Arabian racing program, but there is no indication that's going to happen. A logical location in the Bluegrass State would be the Quarter Horse track Keeneland may build near the Tennessee border, but plans call only for a straightaway course.
The good thing about Arabian racing is it's like handicapping Thoroughbreds. The distances are the same; Arabians just race about 8 seconds slower. They do, however, seem to hold their form.
And though bred to go long distances, Arabians in the U.S. are racing-trained–unfortunately perhaps–like Thoroughbreds.
Breeders' Cup officials said the Arabian race and new partnership with the Emirates Equestrian Federation are designed to spur growth in Arabian and Thoroughbred racing. There's nothing wrong with that; in fact, it's probably healthy.
And if you are anti-Arabian racing, don't worry. The Nov. 1 race won't be part of those precious multi-race "pick" wagers. It will be a standalone show–this year at least.