I don’t wish to beat a dead “Win and You’re In” program, and I recognize it as a marketing ploy that sounds good as it rolls off the tongue, but let’s admit – in marketing terms -- it is mostly sizzle and has little bearing on the steak.
We all know, it is not really a Win and You’re In, as much as it is a Win and You’re In if you’re willing to pay the fees and travel expenses.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the concept of such a program works just fine if confined to the newer Breeders’ Cup races, which do not have sufficient major preps to determine who best deserves to be in those races.
For instance, races like the Salvator Mile (gr. III), San Diego Handicap (gr. II), Longacres Mile (gr. III), and Spend a Buck Handicap serve a purpose in helping to put together a competitive Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), which has few major preps throughout the year.
The same goes for the Turf Sprint, Filly & Mare Sprint, Marathon, and the two juvenile turf races.
But aren’t we putting a thick coating of sugar on this, having Win and You’re In races for the big Breeders’ Cup events, such as the Classic, Turf, Mile, Sprint etc.?
First off, is it even remotely possible for the winners of the grade I Whitney, Pacific Classic, and Goodwood Stakes to be denied entry into the BC Classic? If it’s not, then why have those races as part of the program? If the winners of those races are so bad that they would not be invited to the Classic, then does the Breeders’ Cup really want them in the race? Isn’t the whole concept of the Breeders’ Cup to crown champions?
Also, what is the purpose of having the grade III Washington Park Handicap as the other Classic Win and You’re In race? That race, run on Polytrack in early September, does not attract any of the best older horses and has not exactly produced a long line of top-class winners, as has its neighbor, the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II). So, do we really want to possibly deny a major horse in the Classic division a spot in the race in favor of the winner of the Washington Park Handicap, who in most cases is going to be 30-1 or 50-1 in the Classic?
I have nothing against giving a Rocky Balboa a shot against the Apollo Creeds of the world, but isn’t it the objective of the BC Classic first and foremost to attract the best 14 horses in the world? There is plenty of glory to go around for the Cinderella horses in the other BC races. Last year, the Washington Park Handicap field consisted of, in order of finish, Gran Estreno, Dubious Miss, Wicked Style, Eldaafer, Palladio, Unusual Suspect, Let it Rock, and Church Service. Obviously, being a Win and You’re In race didn’t help it attract a better field. Two of those horses have started in a Breeders’ Cup race – the Marathon. As I said, there are other places for them in the Breeders’ Cup.
The same goes for the Turf. How many winners of the grade I Arlington Million, United Nations, Champion Stakes, and Irish Champion Stakes are going to be kept out of the Turf?
With so many top-class races and major middle-distance stakes winners in Europe, what is the purpose of naming the group II Prix Niel this year as a Win and You’re In race?
The Prix Niel is confined to 3-year-olds and is nothing more than a prep for the Arc de Triomphe. The race, like its equivalent for older horses, the Prix Foy, often draws a small field and is run at an agonizingly slow pace, and has been known to produce quirky-run races. Why, with European invitees so selective and difficult to choose, does the Breeders’ Cup want to attract the winner of an age-restricted race like the Prix Niel, at the expense of a horse who might have far better credentials?
As mentioned earlier, I’m not against a series of races to set up a solid prep structure…for the races that need it. I understand the program generates publicity and gives the Breeders’ Cup exposure during the summer and early fall. But do we really need 65 of them? Remember, this is supposed to be the World Championships, with the emphasis on champions. Is there a logical reason why races like the Prix Niel and Washington Park Handicap should determine who takes up one of only 14 spots in the two premier races, the Turf and Classic?