Competing Globally - by Eric Mitchell

 (Originally published in the October 29, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell

 The $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) offers almost as much in prize money as the entire British QIPCO Champions Day card, and yet the race is hardly the magnet it used to be for top European runners.

Only seven horses have contested the Turf in each of the last two runnings—the smallest fields for this race since the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984. For this year 11 horses have been pre-entered with six expected to make the trip from Europe.

The lack of European contenders, and not just for the Turf, is threatening to become an ongoing problem for the Breeders’ Cup, an event that takes pride in attracting runners from around the world and that has stepped up significantly its recruiting efforts through more overseas “Win and You’re In” races and increased stallion nominations.

A successful inaugural British Champions Day Oct. 15 has taken a lot of talent away from this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

Americans will not see the likes of Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner Danedream; QIPCO Champion Stakes (Eng-I) winner Cirrus des Aigles; Excelebration, who finished second to European superstar Frankel in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) on Champions day; or Snow Fairy, third behind Cirrus des Aigles and So You Think in the Champion Stakes. The Breeders’ Cup has never even been on the radar for the handlers of Frankel, arguably the most talented 3-year-old in the world.

Most top European runners will be shipped instead to either Hong Kong or Japan where the purse money is higher—the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) has a $6.5 million purse, the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) is worth nearly $3.4 million, and Hong Kong offers a total of $8.7 million for its Cathay Pacific International races. Also attractive to the Europeans are uniform medication rules, free travel for the horses, and first-class travel and hotel accommodations for the connections.

Next year will be an even greater challenge for Breeders’ Cup because British Champions Day is scheduled for Oct. 20, only two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park. The Japanese and Hong Kong alternatives in November and December will be a lot more enticing.

Added to next year’s challenge is the change of Santa Anita’s main track from synthetic back to dirt. The synthetic surface was attractive to Europeans in 2008, seen by many trainers as a step in the right direction and a good option for turf runners. Horses in Europe train and race on synthetic surfaces every day.

One step toward rebuilding Breeders’ Cup as a necessary goal on the international racing calendar is the decision to eliminate the use of all race-day medication by 2013. Europeans have reportedly become more unhappy with the use of race-day medication in the U.S., feeling its use puts them at a disadvantage. Even though European horses are allowed to run on Salix in Breeders’ Cup races, it is a medication they are not accustomed to getting regularly. Some trainers report their horses have run poorly on it because it upset their internal constitutions. The problem with eliminating race-day Salix is the championship may lose American trainers along the way.

Another bright spot is a proposal to move British Champions Day to mid-September. Mid-October is considered pretty risky weather-wise, so the change could put Breeders’ Cup in a better spot.

Clearly a lot of work lies ahead if Breeders’ Cup is to retain its international flavor. Right now, weight allowances are made for horses bred on Southern Hemisphere time. Perhaps it is time to consider carding some races exclusively for Southern Hemisphere horses, so the ages and maturity of the horses are more comparable. Such a change could open up Breeders’ Cup to a number of new markets.

The Breeders’ Cup is a valuable property, valuable enough to draw the likes of So You Think to the Classic. Let’s hope renewed coordination with overseas racing schedules and innovations such as common-pool wagering with mega-gambling markets such as Hong Kong and Japan keep our championships growing.

10 Comments

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Pedigree Ann

The Breeders' Cup made itself a laughingstock when it added the 'World Championships' to its title. Southern Hemisphere horses are in the midst of their spring classic seasons and major carnivals - they don't come, and these include some of the best horses in the world. The Japanese have better and more valuable options in the Far East.

The Breeders' Cup will always be an afterthought for the Euros, a place where horses who haven't quite made their mark can get lucky (Dangerous Midge! for pete's sake, or Arcangues). We made a hero of BCFTurf winner Ouija Board, but in Europe it was the mare Pride (second in the Arc) who had the better year.

25 Oct 2011 9:52 AM
kincsem

The Breeder's Cup has become so diluted. Really, do we need all the added races, especially for juveniles? I am a racing fan and it even causes me to yawn. Who can devote two days and many hours to actively participate (bet)? More is not more, in this instance.

25 Oct 2011 1:13 PM
Arts and Letters

I agree with Kincsem.  They should go back to the original 7 races.  That way, the top males and females have to compete together, which leads to a lot more interest from the general public, especially now that fillies and mares are doing so well world-wide.

Increase the prize money.  It should be do-able if there's just 7 races again.  That would also make the tv scheduling and viewing easier on everyone.

Go back to having it at a different track each year (even if it's just a rotation of 4, although I'd like to see alternative tracks get a shot, the way they used to).  That way, if a European trainer has a top horse but, say, hates California, there's still a chance the horse could come to a different track the next year.  

Give some kind of bonus or incentive to horses that stick around and don't retire young.  Maybe some added money if they've entered prior breeders cups, increasing by the number of races/years they've run.

25 Oct 2011 9:30 PM
breeze10

I agree with kincsem: who would want to devote the time and money into betting on this years Breeders Cup races?  For the first time ever, we will not be betting!  The fields of American horses is mediocre...an honest perspective, without spin, is: racing in the U.S. has been filled with mediocre horses (this year).  How sad that racing has reached this point !  Everyday another horse is injured and retired or otherwise out of the races!  I don't think we can blame the horses for this...perhaps the trainers (in their final quest for some type of glory this year), are pushing the horses too hard)...whatever the reason, I say let's just have HOY NOW and give EVERYTHING to HDG!!!! (She has done far more than any other U.S. horse this year...in fact, in my opinion...she is the superior horse and the only one of this season that will be remembered years from now!)  Additionally, Larry Jones should receive Trainer of the Year. I have often criticized him and complained about his whining...but if he and HDG do not get these awards...he should "cry"//I will also be crying!  The breeders, owners, trainers in the U.S. need to get their act together....before fans (in this hurting economy) lose ALL interest in racing !  So sorry..but our family's attention will be elsewhere (not at Churchill Downs) this year ! And as for next year...we sincerely hope it is not another year of mediocre,boring, and inconsistent racing !

26 Oct 2011 7:33 AM
Brigitte

Too many races, definitely. When I lived in NY I went to the BC at Belmont and have great memories of it, but two days - too much. The BC should concentrate our attention, not dilute it.

26 Oct 2011 12:50 PM
Frank J.

Don't worry breeze10, I'm sure your absence will be felt by the millions that will be watching next week. Oh and thanks for that plug for HDG and Larry like that was really what the article was about. The fields of American horses are not mediocre, they are the best of the best, yeah horses get hurt and retire, it's part of the game. And if the Euros would rather go to Japan and face much less competition then go for it. Euros are only interested in the grass races anyways.

26 Oct 2011 1:52 PM
Byron Rogers

You can throw in the Melbourne Cup as a major reason top European horses are not coming over to compete at the mile and a half on the turf. In order of entry 10 of the top 20 entrants are trained in Europe. The Cup is worth A$6.175m which is on today's exchange rate is US$6.5m, the same as the Japan Cup.

26 Oct 2011 4:55 PM
Arts and Letters

OK, Breeders Cup organizers (if any of you are reading this blog) - I was looking at this year's pre-entries and thinking about what might have been.  If you went back to the 7 original races, for instance, there would be just one Sprint, instead of the Fillies Sprint, the Turf Sprint, and the Sprint.  So, instead of 3 fairly ho-hum looking races, we'd have the best from all 3 of those, facing off against each other, just like in the old days.  Maybe something like this:

Aikenite, Big Drama, Caleb's Posse, Euroears, Jackson Bend, The Factor, California Flag, Chamberlain Bridge, Hoofit, Regally Ready, Champagne d'Oro, Switch, Tar Heel Mom and Turbulent Descent.

Still not the greatest lineup in the history of horse racing, perhaps, but a lot more interesting than what we're going to get.  Yes, some horses may prefer turf over dirt, but that makes it even more special when they prevail.

Now picture all the milers back together, all the juveniles back inthe original 2 races, etc.  Wouldn't that be more fun?  And yes, maybe some horses that are entered now wouldn't show up if they had to run on dirt, or at a distance they didn't like, but based on the early breeders cups, enough would come to make it interesting and exciting.

Oh yeah, and if you insist on calling the Distaff something different, at least go with Fillies and Mares Classic.  Why is this race called "Ladies" when all the others aren't?

26 Oct 2011 8:02 PM
Pedigree Ann

I agree that the races have been diluted by too many additions. The fillies and mares were doing just fine running with the guys in the Sprint, Mile and Turf; there was no need to spin out female versions of any of them. We don't produce enough turf-specialist 2yos to have 2 turf races, if any at all. (I contend that running 2yos around 2 turns on tight infield turf courses is detrimental to their leg joints.) If 2yos want to sprint, let them do it with their elders, LIKE THEY DO EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD.  The only ones I would keep are the turf sprint (perhaps) and the Marathon. The Breeders' Cup, with its G1 Sprint, has been one of the major reasons for the sharp turn to short racing in the US (no G1 6f races before 1984 - none, nada!, and only one at 7f). The Marathon restores balance by giving dirt stayers a place to shine as well.  

28 Oct 2011 9:58 AM
Arts and Letters

Yes, the Marathon is one I would keep, in addition to the original 7, since it wouldn't dilute the fields any.  And it's a pity the Steeplechase is long gone, but it seems there aren't enough US steeplechasers, and the timing probably wouldn't be right for English horses, since the steeplechase season is just getting underway at this time of year.  

28 Oct 2011 9:14 PM

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