Time to Change BC Friday Format

The Breeders’ Cup Filly Friday concept had its flaws from the beginning. The Breeders’ Cup has always prided itself as the self-anointed World Thoroughbred Championships, and the ultimate of all the championships is Horse of the Year.

Racing’s top honor normally is decided in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). On occasion it has been decided in the Turf (gr. I) and Distaff (gr. I), or horses in those divisions were in the mix for Horse of the Year. In the rare year when no one in the 3-year-old and older horse divisions proved worthy of the honor, you got an anomaly like 1997 when the 2-year-old Favorite Trick was named Horse of the Year.

By staging a Filly Friday card, the Breeders’ Cup took one of its premier races, the Distaff, and ran it in front of fewer fans, a smaller TV audience, and forced many racing fans who had to work on Friday to miss the race altogether. The Breeders’ Cup also created a potential controversy in the Horse of the Year voting by running the Distaff (now the Ladies Classic, a name I and most people detest) on a different day than the Classic and possibly having both races being run on totally different surfaces. What if you had a case like Alysheba and Personal Ensign, who were head and head for Horse of the Year going into the Breeders’ Cup, and you ran the Distaff over a fast, fair track on Friday and the Classic over a sloppy, deep track on Saturday? By running on the same day, both horses competed over an identical surface, as it should be.

The first year the Breeders’ Cup ran Filly Friday, the Ladies Classic was won by Zenyatta, who some felt staked her claim to Horse of the Year, especially with Curlin finishing fourth in the Classic. Fortunately, the Breeders’ Cup that year was run on a synthetic surface, so both tracks were basically the same. But did Zenyatta get shafted by running in front of a smaller crowd and with far less people watching on TV? Did racing fans, especially the casual fan, really get to appreciate this phenomenal, undefeated filly?

Ironically, in the next two years, Horse of the Year honors went to a filly – Rachel Alexandra in 2009 (who didn’t run in the BC and beat out Zenyatta, who won the Classic) and Zenyatta in 2010 (who lost the Classic by a head in her only career defeat). What if both fillies had met in the Ladies Classic in 2009 to determine Horse of the Year? Can you imagine Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta being run on a Friday, making the Saturday card anti-climactic and the Classic insignificant in regard to Horse of the Year?

And don’t look now, but two of the leading candidates for Horse of the Year right now are fillies – Blind Luck and Havre de Grace. With the great rivalry these two have going, along with their excellent records in 2011, and with the current state of the 3-year-olds and older horses, do we really want Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, assuming they continue their rivalry and winning ways, to face off for possible Horse of the Year honors on Friday?

In 2009, the Breeders’ Cup decided to move the Marathon to Friday, punching a hole in the Filly Friday concept. Now, in 2011, they have added the Juvenile Sprint. That means that 40% of the races on Filly Friday are not for fillies.

Perhaps it is time for a change. Why not just forget the Filly Friday concept and try something different; something the fans and the media might relate to more than a card of filly races and two rather offbeat races – a 1 ¾-mile marathon and a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds – that make it more of a mishmash card than anything.

How about if they keep the Juvenile Sprint on Friday, and, in fact, move all the juvenile races to Friday and promote it as “Future Friday?”

With the solid showings on this year’s Derby trail of Juvenile Turf graduates Soldat, Master of Hounds, and Willcox Inn, and the early grass success of Animal Kingdom and Brilliant Speed, the Breeders’ Cup can promo Future Friday as a potential spawning ground of Triple Crown horses, whether it be out of the Juvenile (that produced Belmont runner-up Stay Thirsty) or the Juvenile Turf. And who knows what would have happened had we not lost Juvenile starters Uncle Mo, Boys At Tosconova, Jaycito, and Rogue Romance and even Juvenile Turf winner Pluck?

Uncle Mo didn’t pan out due to illness, but look at all the publicity he generated right up until the Wood Memorial.

Also, do we really know if a potential Derby horse can be found in the Juvenile Sprint? A good number of Derby winners had only run as far as six furlongs in November of their 2-year-old year, so the BC can play on that as well.

The Breeders’ Cup could also promo the juvenile filly races the same way in regard to the Kentucky Oaks.

“Get a sneak preview of next year’s classics.”

The feeling here is that more people would come out to the track or watch on TV with the possibility of seeing next year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks winner.

Yes, the Ladies Classic could be big this year and would help Friday’s figures, but perhaps only at the cost of Saturday’s figures. So, that would be a double-edge sword. Horse of the Year must be decided on Saturday.

In summation, let’s get the Ladies Classic and the other big filly and mare races back on Saturday, have a real theme for Friday that fans can relate to, and, yes, they can even keep the Marathon as the lead-off race on Friday. The only difference would be having six races on Friday, as they had last year, and nine on Saturday, instead of eight.

Is this ever going to happen? Of course not. But at least it is something to think about.

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