Contemplating the Cup - by Eric Mitchell

Seven weeks out from the Breeders' Cup World Championships and there is much to contemplate about this year's return to Santa Anita Park.

A change to be closely scrutinized is the ban on race-day furosemide (known as Salix or Lasix) in all the 2-year-old races. The ban is the first step toward ending all use of the anti-bleeder medication in Breeders’ Cup races by 2013.

The timing of the ban is particularly interesting considering how loaded trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn is with talented juveniles. Between July 20 and Sept. 1, Pletcher had 25 2-year-old winners on both turf and dirt, running from five furlongs to 11⁄16 miles. All but two of these winners raced at Saratoga, the others winning at Delaware Park. His stable also won four juvenile stakes, including the grade II Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes with Shanghai Bobby and the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) with Kauai Katie, and placed in five other stakes.

Pletcher and many of his owners are outspoken supporters of race-day Salix.

It would be hard to imagine too many owners resisting an opportunity to compete in the Breeders’ Cup because of the ban. But if their horses who have been competing well on Salix run poorly in the championships, there will be a firestorm of protests over the patchwork of rules being proposed for Salix use.  

How many Europeans will make the trip to Santa Anita is another question. The Southern California facility was a more attractive option in 2008 and 2009 because the main track was an all-weather surface, which is more suited to turf runners. In 2008 European invaders Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator ran 1-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). Because the Stronach Group removed the artificial surface and returned to dirt beginning in December 2010, the Europeans are likely to see far fewer opportunities in the Breeders’ Cup.

The turf races are still attractive, but there is another obstacle for Breeders’ Cup to contend with—British Champions Day, which was created last year and will be run two weeks ahead of the North American championships. A commitment from QIPCO Holding, a Qatar private investing company, assures Champions Day can offer £4 million ($6.4 million) in purses through 2017 for its five group races.

Undefeated Frankel, the world’s best horse currently running, has already been committed to the Oct. 20 Champion Stakes (Eng-I). Khalid Abdullah, the owner/breeder of Frankel through his Juddmonte Farms, has been a longtime supporter of the Breeders’ Cup, but in this particular incidence he seems to be deferring to trainer Henry Cecil. The trainer has never been keen on running his horses outside Europe, but more significantly he is quite ill, having been battling stomach cancer for six years.

Add to the mix that the Breeders’ Cup races don’t enjoy stallion-making status among most European horsemen. It is hard to see how the rise of Champions Day won’t continue making it harder for Breeders’ Cup to attract Europe’s best.

One quick note on the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), which at Santa Anita will be run around two turns instead of one. We wondered how much the extra turn might influence the quality of the field. Comparing the Dirt Miles run at Santa Anita in 2008-09 with the same race at Churchill Downs in 2010-11, we didn't find a huge discrepancy in the quality of the field. In 2008 the race included nine out of 12 starters that had won a graded stakes (two grade I winners) prior to the Breeders’ Cup during the same year. In 2009 the graded stakes winners made up seven (four grade I winners) of 10 starters. At Churchill Downs in 2010, only one starter had won a grade I race earlier that year, but there were five graded stakes winners and four grade I-placed finishers (twice the number entered in 2008 and 2009 each). The 2011 Dirt Mile, which produced a great showdown between Caleb’s Posse and Shackleford, was an exceptionally deep field that included seven graded stakes winners among the nine starters. The other two had finished second in grade I races that year.

The move to two turns may discourage some better horses from entering, but overall the quality should be good. At least in this year’s Dirt Mile Salix use won’t be an issue.

17 Comments

Leave a Comment:

duncanp

Its been tme to return the Cup to Belmont for a long time. They have a 1.5 mile track, lovely turf, excellent seating anywhere, and the weather is cool.  More Euros will come, more fans too.

DuncanPatch

12 Sep 2012 10:21 AM
plodderman

Belmont would be the perfect spot with weather, size and the ability to add a synthetic course with their current configuration. If it added a synthetic course, it would have the entire Breeders' Cup wrapped up. Just a thought from someone who NEVER bets on the fake stuff.

12 Sep 2012 1:02 PM
an ole railbird

the majority of the shippers that come across the water, from where ever, have always had to have an advantage,or edge. or they dont come.

so, dont worry about it; lets run our own american horses, in the breeders cup.

we had horse races in the usa for years; years without the imput of foreign horses. why cant we do it again.

i always thought that was why geogre washington fought the british, was so we could do things our own way in the usa.

they are not going to risk getting frankel out run, by bring him over here.

i remain "an ole railbird"

12 Sep 2012 2:17 PM
Buckpasser

Belmont is definitely overdue. Europeans will definitely come in greater numbers. I don't like that  turf races are run on a 7F turf course - the Camino Real chute is a gimmick - it has little or nothing to do with the outcome of the race. The short stretch run does impact the race. Add the extra travel distance and the warm weather, why would a lot of Euros come?

12 Sep 2012 3:06 PM
Lammtarra'sArc

Oh Please Rail Bird,  What would the Breeders Cup do last year without Goldikova(Fr) showing up?. She was the show, they moved the Mile race to the second last race because of it. Your point of view is twisted because these are the breeders cup WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS.  You want to host a world event, you adapt to the WORLD's standard of racing. If not...send the Breeders Cup to Canada, or Europe and let them have at it, and run true event. Frankel won't come because Sir Henry is very ill, if you cannot respect that then you're sick.  Also you are closed minded if you think that all the fans going to the breeders cup want to watch only American horses run...they come to watch ALL the horses from all over run. They should just dissolve the Breeders Cup, or rename it to the American Championships, and have at it with all dirt races.

12 Sep 2012 6:19 PM
PNkt

The Breeders' Cup executives WANT participation from outside the USA - hence the, erroneously named, "Win & You're In" races and the heavy marketing of non-US stallion owners to register with the scheme and provide a much needed cash injection.

Like it or not, racing is a world-wide sport these days.  If you want the best horses in the world you have to do what you can to encourage them - dropping horrendously high entry fees would be a good start!

It is also unfair to try to blame Sir Henry for Frankel's non-appearance at Breeders' Cup.  Lord Grimthorpe has said in several interviews that, had the synthetic track still be in use at Santa Anita, they would be there for the Classic.  Why on earth would they want to run their greatest horse on an unknown surface?  The sight of George Washington (the horse, I might add) at Monmouth Park is still vivid in the minds of European racing fans.

13 Sep 2012 6:08 AM
Pedigree Ann

At the time the BC was created, the export market for US- and Can (mostly Windfields)-bred was huge. Stallion-owners in the US whose product performed mostly in Europe had to be jollied into contributing to the BC coffers with stallion nominations by the creation the Mile and Turf to give their product a place to run for the big money.

The BC committee found in the first few years that Euro participation was a plus with the public, and the exporters were finding their foals shut out of the better maiden and conditions races in Europe, which were restricted to European Breeders' Fund nominated horses.  So the BC made a deal: BC-nominated horses could run in EBF races, and EBF horses could run in BC races. This was a great deal for Euro-breds, because their nomination fees were rather lower, only needed to supplement lower level races, not generate megapurses.

As the Euros began to depend more on the offspring of the US-bred stars they imported, the US export market fell off, and many in the US began to grouse that the EBF horses were stealing all the turf money without contributing their fair share. So the BC people ended the EBF deal and brought in a new way for Euro-breds to run with a lifetime supplementary fee, which was not as huge as the previous supplementary fees had been.

Only a few trainers and stables now bring their horses from Europe anymore; their champions generally are finished for the season by the time that the BC rolls around, so we usually get the ones for the Turf that need a G1 12f win to bolster their stud credentials, not having won it at home.

The 'World Championships' moniker added a few years back has never been less apt than it is today. What is wrong with a North American Championship? (Even if horse racing championships rarely are determined by one race but a body of work throughout the year.)

13 Sep 2012 11:28 AM
Footlick

an ole railbird- that is an outright lie.  There is no advantage to the Euros running on dirt and bullring tracks.  Maybe we should start spending the money to ship there and run in their top races.  Oh wait, it's too expensive and their courses too difficult for our "stars".  So instead we make them come here and run under our conditions.  What advantage is that?  And please tell me what American turf star is going to outrun Frankel?

13 Sep 2012 10:21 PM
Footlick

Midnight Lute and PNewmarket- well said

13 Sep 2012 10:24 PM
sceptre

I find essentially nothing wrong with an ole railbird's comments.

And, while I do enjoy watching the Breeders' Cup races, I think both the horse and the sport would be better off without it.

14 Sep 2012 2:46 PM
Dooquila

Ole railbird makes me laugh, I bet he is pro lasix as well.  I can imagine the organisers of the Breeders Cup wanting to cry when they read comments like his and Sceptres.  The funniest bit was his assertion that Frankel might get "out run" if he came over.... tell me ole railbird can you enlighten me on who might be out running Frankel... as far as I can see nothing the USA has got can even get on the racecourse more than half a dozen times let alone beat the highest rated horse in the world lol! I think I also need enlightening the last time USA horses made successful trips to Europe or the Far East.  Curlin was probably abuot the last? poor ole railbird :-(

14 Sep 2012 4:15 PM
JerseyBoy

I agree with Footlick and Dooquila.

Apart from the money and the marketing possibilities, Europeans have little incentive to send their best horses across the sea to run around American bullrings.

Some Americans are under the belief that races such as the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Kentucky derby are the most important races in the world.

Most people I know from other parts of the world regard the Epsom derby and the ARC as the premier races in the world.

After horses have run in those races, running them in America is a bit of an anti-climax, a step below running in the Champion Stakes, but I imagine there will always be those who support the World Lasix Championships. After all, the drug companies need the money and their agents will keep pushing their line. It is the World Championship in the same sense that Europe is a continent and the baseball championship is the World Series. Just an expression.

15 Sep 2012 7:45 AM
sceptre

Dooquila:

If your perspective was a bit broader I doubt you'd be laughing. In America our breeding stock and matings are generally selected and designed for the dirt. Those who become turfers are, by and large, "fall backs". More to the point, our turf milers are almost never by design so would be among America's weakest divisions, class-wise. That said, I would consider it far from a given for Frankel to defeat them-Europe's milers this year are a relatively weak bunch. I believe Frankel would have had little chance in the Breeders' Cup Turf (1 1/2m) against the US contingent...Lastly, take a closer look at the average starts/yr. overseas-anywhere.        

15 Sep 2012 11:08 AM
jimthepimp

If Frankel did come to the U.S. he would be 2/5 in whatever race he chose to race in. As an American that loves horse racing, I can certainly see that he is the best horse in the world this year. Yes they are careful with this horse in waiting on distance and choosing his spots. But we should appreciate that as we were lucky enough to watch our great filly a couple of years ago. She was also handled with great care and taking a big chance at the end of each year. Frankel would win almost any race they put him in over here because he is just that good. I enjoy watching all quality horse races no matter where they are running. My television doesnt know where the signal is coming from, doesnt matter if it is east coast, west coast, Europe or Asia. Its all good.

On another note about American horses getting respect in Europe. We have to send horses over there and win to get that respect. Otherwise when there horses win over here it does little for there breeding. They are just beating inferior horses and when they loose it is always the tracks fault. If we want respect we have to earn it by us winning in the world races.

16 Sep 2012 8:25 AM
Lmaris

Frankel have difficulty with North American turf horses at a mile or more?  On what planet?  Certainly not this one.   USA turf horses have trouble with European listed level runners, and Frankel has proven himself far superior to the top Group 1 horses in the world.

What would encourage Euro runners is two-fold:   Ban all race day medications, and hold the competition off the west coast.

Santa Anita should be shelved and out of the running for holding the BC days for the next decade.  California has had more than its share, and other venues deserve the opportunity to reap some rewards.  

Next two years should be at Belmont, then return to the annual rotation.

16 Sep 2012 11:48 AM
Dooquila

Ahh Sceptre you've got me chortling again... American breeding maybe set up for dirt but no-one runs on it outside of the States. Unfortunately your comments on the merits of Frankel show an awful ignorance.  He is a 4yr old and has already beaten everything around in three campaigns.  He is so far ahead of anything else to cast aspersions on his talent is bordering on the ridiculous. You carry on living in your bubble of yesterday year when American racing was on top of the world, it is the drug riddled poor relation these days and it is heartbreaking that so many elements who claim to love the sport are holding it back and driving it into the ground.  As for your stats, I would welcome to see your figures on American horses success overseas. Bring it on.  Thankfully there are many amongst us who want to see American racing improved and the drugs reduced but it is a long long road, I wonder are you one of those people?

17 Sep 2012 12:51 PM
Dooquila

one more ponderable.... just who is the horse that is going to tonk Frankel... Noone has thrown a name into the ring.  The form lines are scant but Cityscape provvides one... 4.5 lengths behind Wise Dan on Saturday, he was over 8 lengths behind Farrh when he was headed by Nathaniel in the Eclipse, Farhh was then 7 lengths behind Frankel at York.   He was previously 5 lengths behind Frankel over a mile at Ascot... That gives him 10 lengths plus to find with Frankel who has been under a hands and heel ride each time if I remember...

17 Sep 2012 4:02 PM

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