Breeders' Cup: Always Room For Improvement

The Breeders’ Cup is always looking to make changes in order to improve the event. It started back when the Filly and Mare Turf was added. Some of the changes since have been good and some bad. For years, I have been an advocate for an all juvenile day on Friday, promoting it by saying, “Come see next year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks horses.” So, I was thrilled to see Breeders’ Cup make the change.

We have seen the additions of the Juvenile Sprint, the Marathon, the Filly and Mare Sprint, the Dirt Mile, the Juvenile Turf, the Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Turf Sprint, and the Juvenile Turf Sprint, with some of those eliminated quickly after they were deemed unsuccessful. They even had the ill-conceived idea to change the name of the Distaff to the Ladies Classic. No one bought it and most still called it the Distaff. One Classic was enough. Good move returning it to the Distaff.

The elimination of the Marathon and changing it to a non Breeders’ Cup race was a bit premature in my opinion, as we had some thrilling and memorable runnings. Does anyone remember the joyous frenzy when Calidoscopio roared home for Argentina in 2012 at the age of 9 to become an instant cult hero. There was the dramatic story behind Eldaafer in 2010 and the aftermath that saw jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano nearly come to blows in plain view. And there was the thrilling finish between European 3-year-old Man of Iron and the old warrior Cloudy’s Knight in 2009. But after six runnings the Marathon was gone as a Breeders’ Cup race.

I just read an article on Horse Racing Nation about Bobby Flay suggesting in an interview with Jim Rome a Breeders’ Cup Derby, reuniting the Triple Crown horses and giving them a place to decide the 3-year-old championship.

“I thought it would be a really good way to showcase all the 3-year-olds that were running in all the Triple Crown races through the year being marketed in the very best way on NBC,” Flay said. “The public at large will actually know those horses’ names when we get to the Breeders’ Cup and let the 3-year-old division get settled in the Breeders’ Cup Derby.”

There is nothing wrong with thinking out of the box, but that was way too far out of the box, and thank goodness the Breeders’ Cup rejected it. Imagine the Breeders’ Cup Classic without the top 3-year-olds and stars of the Triple Crown. When you start diluting the Classic you’re cheapening the Breeders’ Cup. How would you determine a true Horse of the Year when you’re risking eliminating horses like American Pharoah, Sunday Silence, A.P. Indy, and Curlin from the Classic? Just to name a few.

The key to improving the Breeders’ Cup in my opinion is not to add or eliminate any races. In fact, it has nothing at all to do with the Breeders’ Cup. It has to do with the Eclipse Awards.

Many people complain that we don’t see those brilliant fillies anymore in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. By adding the Filly and Mare Sprint, we no longer get to see fillies like Sprint winners Safely Kept, Very Subtle, and Desert Stormer and runnersup Xtra Heat, Honest Lady, Pine Tree Lane and Meafara, who placed in the race twice. Even Safely Kept finished second before winning the following year.

I like having the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in order to give the filly and mare sprinters a place to show off their talents. But how do you get those special filly and mare sprinters who can run like the wind and compete with any colt to run in the Sprint and determine just who is the champion sprinter? It’s simple. Keep the Filly and Mare Sprint, but eliminate the Eclipse Award for Female Sprinter. With a championship at stake you should see a number of blazing fast fillies and mares choose to take on the boys in the Sprint in order to win an Eclipse Award. For the rest of the fillies and mares, winning a Breeders’ Cup race should be enough. We never had a Female Sprinter award before. Yet we had several female champion sprinters, such as Ta Wee (twice), Safely Kept, Gold Beauty, What a Summer, My Juliet, and Affectionately. They were all special and we should save the special ones for an Eclipse Award. Any filly is free to go in the Sprint if they wish to pursue a championship.

I realize the Breeders’ Cup equates their races with championships, and it’s not fair to the filly and mare sprinters as a whole, but is there a championship for those who run in the Dirt Mile? Or the Turf Sprint? Or the Juvenile Turf Sprint? Was there ever a champion Marathoner? There is nothing wrong with winning the Filly and Mare Sprint without having to have an Eclipse Award attached to it. Eliminate the Eclipse Award and you’ll see those female six-furlong speed burners choose to stay at their best distance and take on the boys instead of having to stretch out to seven furlongs.

The other change I would make is to add an Eclipse Award for Champion Miler, like they have in Europe. Let it be up for grabs between the grass milers and dirt milers. I would even be OK with a champion Dirt Miler and Grass Miler. Why should grass milers Miesque, Goldikova, Lure, Wise Dan, and Da Hoss have to compete with mile and a half horses Manila, Theatrical, Better Talk Now, and English Channel for an Eclipse Award?

If a true Dirt Miler had an Eclipse Award to strive for you probably wouldn’t see so many horses cross entered in the Dirt Mile, Sprint, and Classic, looking for a home, and you wouldn’t see horses better suited for a mile running in the Classic. Why deprive brilliant horses like Goldencents and Liam’s Map a shot at an Eclipse Award?

If there had been a Dirt Mile before 2007, and there was an Eclipse Award for champion miler, perhaps we would have seen horses like Hard Spun, Lawyer Ron, Congaree, Sun King, Came Home, Old Trieste, Gulch, Track Barron, and Macho Uno and others more suited to a mile and a mile and an eighth compete there instead of stretching a bit beyond their limit in the Classic. Eclipse Awards are a big deal for owners and trainers and the thought of winning one could very easily persuade an owner and trainer to point for the Dirt Mile instead of the Classic, where many horses don’t belong. Let’s be honest, how many people can name more than a small percentage of the Dirt Mile winners? Attach an Eclipse Award to it and you’ll remember most of them.

I’m sure some will disagree with these ideas, but that’s what change entails -- coming up with new ideas to be bantered about back and forth. Agreeing and disagreeing. It is hoped some new ideas, whether these or others, click and you have improvements made, such as the Filly and Mare Turf, the Juvenile Turf races, and Future Stars Friday. Heck, it doesn’t hurt talking about it. I disagreed with Bobby Flay’s idea, but better to disagree than have nothing to agree or disagree about and just remain stagnant.

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