BC Program: A Good Deal - By Bret Jones

(Originally published in the October 16, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)  

Arguably the Keeneland September yearling sale marks the most important period on the Thoroughbred calendar for many North American breeders, so it is understandable that the recent initiatives laid out by the Breeders’ Cup during the first week of the sale may not have received the full attention of their most important audience—the North American foal nominator.

In the interim, the major publications within our industry have run articles outlining the new plan, each making its greatest focus the trailblazing effort of vastly increasing, by perhaps 20 times, the number of international horses that will be nominated. Thus, these international stars will be far more likely to run in our championship event, making it a true World Championships. This is a major victory for both our domestic and international racing product and deserves the headlines it has garnered, but herein I would like to focus on the positives for the North American foal nominator that are an integral part of these new initiatives.

As noted by Bill Oppenheim in his recent examination of the new Breeders’ Cup plan, four major points best summarize the new policy:

1) European and other Northern Hemisphere stallion owners outside North America will pay 50% of an individual stallion’s stud fee; Southern Hemisphere stallion owners will pay 25%. With this payment, all foals by these stallions will be Breeders’ Cup nominated.

2) “Win and You’re In” challenge race winners will be guaranteed a spot in the Championships as they were previously, but, now, their 3% championship entry fees will be waived and each owner will be given a travel stipend toward their travel and race day expenses.

3) All “Win and You’re In” races will now carry an additional $10,000 award to be given to the nominator of the winning horse. Only those who have paid a nomination fee will be eligible for these awards.

4) A one-time “open enrollment” will be available from Feb. 1-June 30, 2011, for previously non-nominated horses—$3,000 for yearlings of 2011, $6,000 for 2-year-olds, and $25,000 for 3-year-olds.

I understand that it is easy for North American foal nominators to have a very quick, and negative, reaction to the idea of international breeders not having to pay for their foals to be nominated. North American foal nominators are the backbone of the Breeders’ Cup and have been dutifully putting up their nomination money since the event’s inception, so an initial feeling of resentment toward others getting a “free ride” is natural. However, it is critical the North American foal nominator understands that the new Breeders’ Cup initiatives represent a “win-win” situation for themselves and our industry as a whole.

The first order of business is to understand that only nominators of foals sired by North American stallions are eligible for the lucrative breeders’ awards that have increased significantly through the new format. Just as it should be, only those that invest are eligible to be rewarded. While foal nominators had only been eligible for a maximum of $150,000 in breeders awards under the old stakes program, that number has more than quadrupled, to $650,000, under the new guidelines of the “Win and You’re In” series. This is in addition to the more than $1.1 million that is rewarded exclusively to foal nominators from the Championships weekend.

The newly enhanced “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series is a great improvement over its predecessor of the same name. While the past series was largely a promotional endeavor, the new program truly lives up to its billing, as Breeders’ Cup-nominated winners of the new Challenge races will have their 3% entry fee to the championship races paid for (a major incentive when it comes to multimillion dollar races) while receiving a significant travel allowance. This encourages the top-class horses to face one another if their owners wish to avoid a substantial out-of-pocket investment, adds value to Breeders’ Cup-nominated foals and yearlings at our major sales, and supplies our valuable gambling population with larger and more competitive field sizes for the Championships event. In short, this program will substantially increase the money that will be returned to North American nominators while strengthening our national racing product.

A truly international Breeders’ Cup World Championships is in the best interest of all those within our industry. As we all understand, our product is far more valuable if it has worldwide appeal. The new Breeders’ Cup initiatives will strengthen our industry through this pursuit and, just as importantly, will do so while also providing a major benefit to our most important supporter—the North American foal nominator.

Bret Jones is part of the bloodstock services team for Airdrie Stud and is a trustee of Breeders’ Cup Ltd.

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