Cut the Cup - By Dan Liebman

It sounds like something Yogi Berra would say, but in this recessionary economic time, many companies were in healthy financial shape until they weren’t.

It is hard to imagine a company or business anywhere in the world that hasn’t been forced to make major decisions over the past 18 months due to the numerous factors that have impacted global financial markets. This certainly includes racetracks, sale companies, racing organizations, and breeding farms, as well as any business that supplies or serves them.

In the past week the Breeders’ Cup has elected new board members and announced it will continue the development of a strategic plan to chart its future course.

This much is known:

  • Breeders’ Cup announced late last year it was cancelling its stakes program, but then it rescinded that decision after nominators objected and dipped into its reserves to fund the 100 races at 40 tracks for $5 million.

  • Due to a lowering of most stud fees, and the decision by some breeders not to have mares covered—as well as the deaths and pensioning of some stallions—revenue from foal and stallion nominations has decreased significantly the past two years, a trend that may continue for the foreseeable future. Breeders’ Cup nominations account for about 40% of revenue, and those revenues are off as much as 20%.

  • As with most other organizations, Breeders’ Cup has seen a decline of about 25% in the value of its investment portfolio, an eight-figure hit.

  • Breeders’ Cup will operate this year at a deficit estimated at $6 million.

Something has to give.

No one ever needs corrective lenses for hindsight, but many openly questioned and criticized the Breeders’ Cup when it rapidly expanded the number of year-end event races that make up its World Championships. In 2007 the eight races became 11, and a one-day event was stretched over two. Last year three more races were added.

Suddenly, the purses for the championship races had risen in just a few short years from $14 million to $25.5 million, the level at which the races are currently scheduled for this year.

A big jump occurred in 2006 when the Breeders’ Cup Classic purse was raised $1 million to $5 million; the Filly & Mare Turf, Juvenile Fillies, and Turf were all raised $1 million; and the Juvenile and Mile (all gr. I), which had been bumped $500,000 in 2003, were raised another $500,000.

The three new races in 2007 each carried a $1-million purse, and last year three new races with total purses of $2.5 million became a part of the program.

What the organization should consider:

  • Announce immediately that purses for this year’s event will be scaled back. Owners will still show up to run for a $3-million Classic or $1-million Juvenile. Yes, many nominators will not be happy. But these are extraordinary times, and owners cannot expect to run for the same purses as when times were good. Handle is dropping, causing tracks across the country to trim dates and cut purse levels.

  • Announce immediately that next year’s event will be returned to one day and the six races added the past few years will be dropped from the schedule. At that time, the purses for the eight remaining races will be raised to their former levels. Horsemen will be able to continue pointing for 14 Breeders’ Cup races this year but will know next year’s event will consist of only eight.

  • Speed up the process of naming host sites. The reasons for running two straight years at Santa Anita seemed contrived, and many horsemen were displeased with the decision to run for two consecutive years on a synthetic surface. The 2012 Super Bowl will be played in Indianapolis, but the Breeders’ Cup has not announced a host beyond Churchill Downs in 2010.

Breeders’ Cup is going through nothing different than many other companies. Nominators anxiously await the strategic plan from its newly constituted board.

39 Comments

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Last One Standing

WOW!A practical, well thought out and reasonable solution to the BC over the top endless spending spending spending.

14 Jul 2009 3:40 PM
CRob87

Personally I think that the BC should cut back to Only 1 day..."This Year".    And just keep the current purses the same for the Old Fashioned Saturday card, so as Not to turn away any possible European entrants.

Also...that way they don't have to operate at a defecit "At All".    Especially since most people were'nt in favor of a 2 day event in the first place...even in "Good Times".

By keeping the 2 day event this year when most think it's Unnecessary, their only going to make more Breeders "Not" want to nominate their Stallions and foals of 2010.    Thereby having less funds to work with in following years.

14 Jul 2009 4:12 PM
Stephi S.

How about if some of the millionaire and billionaire owners step up and donate some money to the BC purses? They are always saying how they are doing this, that or the other "for the good of racing", usually involving taking home a million dollar purse. So let them put their money where their mouth is and step up, take up a collection for the purses. I think the BC should be on consecutive weekends if they are going to keep the 14 race format. Or do next year's at CD with the Friday races at night.

14 Jul 2009 5:20 PM
Julie L.

They never should have made it a two day event. I can only afford to go to one of the race days and for me that will always be the day of the Classic. I love to watch the fillies and mares run but the chance to see a Derby winner or a Curlin will win out every time. Of course my opinion is that of a simple race fan so I'm sure the powers that be will not pay one bit of attention. They seem to forget that without us Average Joe race fans attending every day of the week at the racetrack then they really have no business...horse racing is gone...but then again that is what's beginning to happen. Fan presence is what keeps the tracks going and thus the breeding business going. You forget us then we begin to forget you. Not the horses, they will always be in our hearts but the rich, powerful men and women that think only of their pockets which I understand that they have to but not at the expense of loosing horseracing altogether. It's time to get back to the horse and the fan. The two together use to be pretty powerful but then we let corporations in on the deal and well...you know how that always ends. Take a look at the economy....what more needs to be said.

14 Jul 2009 5:26 PM
draynay

The Breeders Cup is totally irrelevant this year with the defection of the world's best horse Rachael Alexandra. Running on the fake track has totally ruined the concept. Any track that doesn't have conventional dirt should be banned forever from hosting the BC. Bugger to the Europeans, if you want to run here for all the marbles in the Classic it should be over "our" traditional surface. Go back to the one day format and get back the dirt races. Anything less is a joke.

14 Jul 2009 5:27 PM
Gail

This is such a reasonable plan, it is also very doable. It would still draw international horses. BUT, with the egos and power involed this will NEVER happen. Some of these "Horsemen", and I use that term loosely, must be related to the idiots and morons that inhabit the halls of Congress.

14 Jul 2009 6:24 PM
catonie

This absolutely should happen! One day of Breeder's Cup races makes it 'an event' again, anyway. More people would be happy to see this happen, than not, I'm betting. Sure hope the powers that be can see the light.

14 Jul 2009 6:28 PM
LDP

Honestly this year you might aswell just cut out every single turf race there is, since Pro ride plays so much like turf. Races i think should be cut anyways are the BCJ turf, both fillies and colts, the Turf sprint,and the marathon. The dirt mile and filly and mare sprint seem to draw pretty good feilds and seem to be the more competitive of the six added. I do think purses need to be cut down. The only reason i think we keep them this high is to try and match the DWC purse. The only reason it's as high as it is, is because the shiek has enough money to where he can blow it on whatever he wants. The BC on the other had doesn't and needs to cut some of the purses.

14 Jul 2009 6:52 PM
Kevin

Mr. Liebman,

You have presented good suggestions that the Breeders Cup Board should give thoughtful consideration. In some form they deserve and need to be acted on.

Based on my less then total knowledge, the reasons for the cup races were to give the country, the world, a stage to view the past years contenders and to crown the champions. This hopefully would attract new owners, talent, and increase the fan base. In addition, the stallions and to a lesser extent the Mare Lines, would receive additional publicity.

The control of the Cup Races is in jeopardy. I do hope the breeders realize it. They created this classic day, and deserve to maintain control. To do this, they must take actions in this changing economy. I do not know if I would cut to eight races, but a one day, eleven race card in 2010 could work very well.

There are many other ideas that need to be looked at in order to increase the funding of the cup.

i.e. To sell 25,000 Thirty Dollar Tee Shirts and make a profit of $8 to $10 a shirt is fine.

To distribute country wide, to as many venues as possible, 1,000,000 $10 to $12 dollar Tee Shirts, and make a profit of $2 to $4 a shirt is better. The buyer profits with the shirt, and the seller profits both monetary wise and to the touch given to the fan base by the expanded distribution.

i.e.Sometimes breeders are limited with their capital. Every deserving foal is not nominated. New owners of horses that have not raced should be given the option paying that nomination fee. The nomination rules of such a transaction should not be expensive (no more then $1,000), or complicated. I believe that you would add many additional dollars if this were in effect.

I guess I could go on but, my suggestions are not what is needed. What is needed is action in some similar form by the Breeders Cup Board. I trust they will, and pray they do.

14 Jul 2009 7:01 PM
Skyfire

Mr. Liebman, I agree with all of your points.  The Breeder's Cup leadership have shot themselves in the foot by losing track of the main point: a championship day to increase the North American public awareness of horse racing.  

14 Jul 2009 9:02 PM
WhiteCamry

1) All the other major sport on tv schedule their championships at night for maximum tv ratings and, thus, commercial advertising revenue;  why not the BC?

2) If the BC is going to drop races they should at least keep the 12f BC "Marathon."  North American racing needs more high-profile stayer races.

15 Jul 2009 8:43 AM
da3hoss

Excellent ideas.

Plus, call it the "Distaff" again, run the great filly and mare races on an equal basis as the other races.

I won't bet or even watch the series again until "Ladies" are ladies and mares and fillies are horses who run in the Distaff. It's my only way of protesting such a sexist decision.

15 Jul 2009 9:13 AM
Silvercharmer

I have never understood the idea of a championship race for which there is no championship. Do we present Eclipse Awards for juvenile turf horses? For "marathon" runners? Can anyone even name a significant turf sprint stakes race in America?  

Even the BC Mile, which has long provided some of the greatest thrills on the day, has always seemed like the odd race out; the turf champion usually comes out of the BC Turf rather than the mile. Granted, I can't imagine the BC without the Mile, but think about it.

The F&M turf was a much needed addition, and I appreciated the F&M sprint, but most of these other new races seem to just dilute the nature of the Breeder's Cup, which is to crown champions. I felt like last year we had to reach to find horses to fill some of these odd divisions, and many did not feel like champions to me.

15 Jul 2009 9:35 AM
Bengal Bob

The BC needs to get rid of those responsible for this current mess of over-expansion and the terrible decision to hold the event on a synthetic track two years in a row.

15 Jul 2009 10:42 AM
Bill Yates

One thing that would help is to never again hold the Breeders Cup on plastic, there are three surfaces in racing change the classifications to reflect same.

Dirt is dirt and plastic is plastic, they are different and it isn’t fair-minded to force a dirt horse to run on it.

Good article about this dilemma at: oddsonfavorite.blogspot.com

15 Jul 2009 10:57 AM
Anthony

I think of the World Series of Poker which started out as one event, and through the years has grown to 55 events each year that award bracelets to the winners. It has cheapened the event for the sake of greed by the host.

100% agree they should scale back...

15 Jul 2009 11:24 AM
Race Fan

Your comments make complete sense.  I would add two things. The host site should rotate between tracks located on the two coasts and the central part of the country. Also, and more importantly, we have three racing surfaces in the US. Synthetic, turf, and the primary surface in the US, dirt. To ignor that fact makes the Championship Day(s) not a true championship. Synthetic makes up the lowest percentage of the three racing surfaces in the US. A repeat performance is Santa Anita is a huge mistake if not a joke. based upon a formula, perhaps based upon the number of races held in the US on each surface. Turf can be included each year, but they should rotate between synthetic and dirt based upon the the number of races (or stakes races) held in the US on each surface each year.

15 Jul 2009 12:13 PM
Jane

Amen! The two-day BC has always seemed like an awful idea to me...who are its most vocal supporters, and is there anyone on the committee who is opposed to it?

15 Jul 2009 12:43 PM
Brownie

As a new player to this game, I do get annoyed with the lack of long term management (naming future locations, 1 year only please) and the disdain for different ideas in this sport.     However, I will not criticize the Breeders Cup board for trying something different.  

I actually do not think it is a bad idea for 2 day Breeders Cup and look forward to the diversity of races that can showcase different styles of running....Marathon, Dirt Mile, etc.   I also do not see where returning to 1 day is going to do anything for the sport.  The marketing and lack of organization issues are so deep, it does not matter how many days the event is.    What did turn me off was the running of the Classic on Pro Ride 2 years in a row.  I watch this race because I want to see the best DIRT 1 1/4 mile horses in the world.  I already watched the turf races and the 2 surfaces are too similar.  I have no intention of watching it this year.  I do give Mr. Jackson and Curlin credit for their effort and sportsmanship, knowing in advance that Curlin did not perform at his best on this surface.

With the Breeders Cup current marketing efforts, I do not think it matters if the event is 1 day or 10.  You HAVE to hire better marketing expertise and SOON !!!

Do you even remember a memorable breeders cup ad on tv or in print ?  The marketing was poorly executed nationally, the television and print coverage marginal, and consequently you are going to have trouble securing advertising interest going forward.

15 Jul 2009 1:38 PM
ColetteMarie

I would hate to see the Breeder's Cup go back to one day. Two days makes it that much more exciting, I think. You watch one day of excitement & know that you have another one to look forward to the next day. Besides that, many trainers & owners plan their entire year gearing towards the Breeder's Cup. If races were to be eliminated, it would be so unfair to them. IMO, it would be far better to keep the races & lower the purses. Yes, some would not be happy with that, esp. the winning connections, but at least all the horses & their connections training & racing up the the Breeder's Cup would get a chance to participate.

ColetteMarie

15 Jul 2009 1:42 PM
CDFAN

I agree with a one Day Breeders Cup. While I understand the concept of "Ladies Day" mirroring Oaks Day in May, I don't think it works in Late October, it just seems like much more is going on then. Go back to the one day of racing.  IF the host track wants to have for example the Churchill Marathon, that's fine. In the great Depression, The Kentucky Derby purse was cut, so I think purses can be scaled back until the BC is on a more secure footing. I also think it's apparant that for now, rotate the Breeders Cup between Belmont, Churchill, and Santa Anita since no other track has the capacity to put the show on.

15 Jul 2009 2:03 PM
Carolyn in ND

I agree on the one day. I would like to see the 2 yr. old racers reduced or cut as they shouldn't be racing that young.  A 10 or 12 race day in CA isn't a bad thing, but in other areas like Arlington, Churchill, Belmont, etc.... it gets a bit chilly later in the day.  In this aspect, night racing wouldn't work to well either.  

I did injoy the 2 days last year of BC.  Friday was spent getting souviners & meeting people & Sat. was mostly for watching the races.  I have tickets already for this year & look forward to meeting with my friend to go to BC!

15 Jul 2009 5:13 PM
only one more

BC could be looking at Del Mar again, now that HP is very soon out of the mix. this would give a west coast and east coast rotation. i am also cognizant that it would be plastic (poly and Pro-ride) verus dirt. You have to really love what Mr. Shapiro has tried to do to the once grand CA racing.

15 Jul 2009 5:21 PM
Dutch

The BC became totally diluted when the races were increased and the days went from one to two. The experiment failed, so move the event back to one day and bring back the original races.

16 Jul 2009 12:42 PM
Karen in Indiana

So do I have this wrong - one person, Sheik Mohammed, can support races in Dubai that include some of the richest in the world, but we, as a whole country, can't support races that aren't even that rich?

16 Jul 2009 1:24 PM
skip

Personally i believe the Breeders Cup board needs as much  re-vamping as the program itself. One can always wish to improve on its product, strengthen and enhance it, but when economic times are barreling down on you ,you don't blatantly expand that product when you know your revenue is going to shrink.You don't take away the  stakes program that throughout the year benefits a much larger group of players.You certainly don't try to arragantly go head to head with the oil sultans of the world. You don't have the resources. I thought the original intent of the program was to offer races all year long for nominated horses by a large number of stallions to help promote "them". The breeders pay in, the stallion nominators pay in but only a select few chose to cut the bread and butter stake races throughtout the season and expand a successful year end championship program to a costly two day event. I also do not favor having the event in the same locale two years in a row.Internal organization "should" allow for determining and announcing where future events will be staged two years hence. Better business acumen and leadership is needed. It's a tremendous program that we should all be grateful for. Please try to right this ship. God bless John Gaines

16 Jul 2009 3:52 PM
micclay

I went to 19 straight BC's until the two day Mommouth event (and I live 4 hrs away).  Dan - great idea.  Go back to one day, cut the new meaningless races.  Less is more.  Plastic tracks are dead.  Too many soft tissue injuries (latest is Pioneer of the Nile).  California and Key man Shapiro made a big mistake (Ready,Fire, Aim).  The BC needs to recognize the times, recognize their mistakes and move on.  Get rid of Greg A.

16 Jul 2009 11:40 PM
Cheryl, Newmarket, UK

Just to play Devil's Advocate, do you not think that us European's have been unhappy for the period 1984-2007 having to bring our horses and run them on an unknown surface (dirt) for the so-called World Thoroughbred Championships?  It is about darn time we had a chance seeing as we pay the same fees to run in the BC Day races.

Dirt is NOT a universal surface, and as so many different Synthetics are available (Tapeta, Pro-Ride, Polytrack, etc) perhaps we should think about switching all racing to turf only - the only NATURAL surface for a horse.

17 Jul 2009 6:19 AM
Soldier Course

The Breeders' Cup suffers from an "identity crisis",and your suggestions can help it recover. The two-day format is not working, and if it continues I believe it's going to be hard to find a TV network to air the event.

There needs to be a feature about the Breeders' Cup during the pre-race TV coverage of each of the three Triple Crown races. Not a commercial, but an eye-popping feature. There's a huge captive audience, and one that's already inclined to an interest in horse racing.  

The BC venues need to be announced several years in advance. The current trend of announcing venues so late has a drip, drip quality with a negative psychological impact. It suggests that the viability of the event is being assessed year by year, with no long-term confidence in its survival.  

17 Jul 2009 9:00 AM
Dianne

The whole concept of moving the fillies and mares to the lesser of the two days of the Breeder's Cup is distasteful--somehow fillies and mares aren't worth the effort to showcase on the main event day.  We have consistently seen that the females can race with the boys (think Rags to Riches and Rachel Alexandra) but the Breeder's Cup doesn't seem to think that the females are worth the hoopla.  If we can get fillies and mares to race in some of these races that seem to be only colts, then North American racing has gotten a whole lot better.  I would rather see exceptional fillies race on the Main Event day than push them off on another day that doesn't even get tv coverage!!  And I love the "Marathon" which is a stupid name.  We need to find the distance horses in our thoroughbred bloodlines and keep them viable.  The Breeder's Cup committee needs to go back to the drawing board, check the pulse of the economy and think creatively.

17 Jul 2009 11:35 AM
Soldier Course

I wish it were possible to get folks as excited about the Breeders' Cup as they do about the Triple Crown series.

We have two very challenging half-year seasons in racing each year: Jan-June for the TC preps and races, and then July-Nov for the BC preps and races. Both seasons should be exciting for the average fans, but something's missing for the BC season.

It has to be marketing. I had never even heard of the Breeders' Cup until 2002, when I began subscribing to The Blood-Horse.

17 Jul 2009 1:20 PM
RobfromBMore

Breeders Cup should go back to one day. I wrote to the Breeders Cup two years ago and I never got an answer. We have so many rich diverse tracks to run at. How about Keeneland, Saratoga or Laurel Park in Maryland. Let's get back to rotating the tracks (Arlington, Woodbine, Gulfstream, Lone Star). Make the like the Super Bowl and let's change this big venue each year if possible. Two days is too much. Put it all in one action packed Saturday and back on the major networks please.

17 Jul 2009 3:00 PM
Old Timer

I absolutely agree that we don't need the extra races that were added the last two years. However the one that I would miss is the Marathon. Plus I'd like to see it run at 2 miles. Just because there is no comparable race. Forget the two juvenile turf races. Filly & mare sprint? - they can compete with the boys in the Sprint and have shown that in the past. Dirt mile is a joke as it is not on "dirt" anyway. They already have the Mile and the Turf on grass, plus the Sprint, making the turf sprint redundant. Plus who can get off work on Friday anyway? Go back to one day -- Saturday only!

17 Jul 2009 9:04 PM
John T.

Royal Ascot has had a very successful 5 day meeting for many years not because of large prize money,but because all the races are

''Interesting''I can,t think of one race over the 5 days that is not well supported year in and year out.On the last week in July it will be the turn of Glorious Goodwood and they also will have a successful 5 day meeting,although

they have top class races like the Sussex,Nassau,and Richmond Stakes a

large percentage of that 5 day meeting is made up of competitive

handicaps.When we think of some of the famous horses in North American racing history,they are famous because they carried large weights in handicaps.How many handicap races to we have at the Breeders Cup? Not a single one. Horse Racing does not have to be ridiculously out of this world prize money,horse racing has to be interesting.

17 Jul 2009 10:18 PM
Whatever

The Breeder's Cup Classic needs to stay on real dirt.  Holding this race on a synthetic surface takes away from the overall purpose of this race.  It's a known fact that the only horses who perform well on synthetic surfaces are turf horses.  It's very disheartening to see this once classic race turned into a charity event for the european turf horses who could not win it over a real dirt surface.

18 Jul 2009 2:05 PM
downhomesunset

One day is enough- drop the insulting "Ladies Day". Bring the Distaff back as is.....No one else wants to point out that F & M have been holding thier own in the Sprint and Mile(including last year). Last but not least, get rid of "Win and You're In". A silly concept that only helps a fluke longshot....

18 Jul 2009 7:17 PM
joe

I managed to know about the Breeders' Cup living in NASCAR drenched S.C.-pre internet days-by way of Sharon Smith's weekly racing show-remember that-on ESPN. I attended the Cup 1998-2003, missed 04, and got to Belmont 05 and CD 06.  The two day event killed attending for me-prices up, etc.  Even watching it over two days was a muddle.  Go back to one day, maybe retain two of the new races at most, and rotate it among S.A. (if it survives), Churchill and Belmont.  My Tiznow memories are the greatest!

19 Jul 2009 4:10 PM
Hildegard

If the two day format remains, it should be held on Saturday and Sunday.  In order to watch the Ladies Classic (ahem, Distaff) last year, I had to take a scheduled break at work to go to the coffee shop in my office building and beg the barista to allow me to change the channel on the TV.  Ridiculous. Most people have Saturday and Sunday off of work.  If an audience is ever to be recruited, the programming needs to be available to the general public.  

As for surfaces... sure, rotate tracks.  But to eliminate all "plastic" (which is actually an inaccurate term) tracks would be to eliminate major tracks in North America... Keeneland and Woodbine (as someone else suggested as possible venues), all CA tracks, Arlington, etc.  I say just rotate -- east, west, dirt, polymer, whatever.

But at least I have a chance to go this year, unlike last.  So the two years at Santa Anita has worked in my favor, at least!!

19 Jul 2009 9:57 PM
Julie L.

I think everybody had better quit whining about "plastic" surfaces, California isn't the only state in the union to have them. We now also have a sires list for synthetic surfaces so though I am a "dirt" fan I too have to get use to the idea. Also Cheryl from the UK made a valid point in the fact that the European horses come over here and have made the switch to dirt and have won so I'm not so sure we can continue to make excuses for the horses we love not doing well on synthetic, maybe they just need to have more training time on this surface and not rushed to compete on it until they are ready.

19 Jul 2009 10:55 PM

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