(Originally published in the October 20, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter
Love or hate the two-day, 15-race Breeders’ Cup format, the addition of a pair of turf races for 2-year-olds has opened up a whole new market for North American horsemen. The original intent of the Breeders’ Cup was to lure top talent from Europe for the juvenile turf races by dangling a million-dollar carrot, but in reality, Europe’s best haven’t taken the bait.
Instead what has happened is the emergence of a stronger market for North American-based turf juveniles, and that’s a good thing for racing secretaries trying to fill races, handicappers wanting larger fields to bet on, and breeders and owners finding new opportunities for their young runners.
The races might also broaden the scope of the commercial breeding market by bolstering interest in the progeny of so-called “turf sires” that are often discounted in the yearling auctions.
Juvenile turf races have been on the Breeders’ Cup card now for five runnings of the World Championships, getting a soggy start at Monmouth Park in 2007 with a race for both males and females. The fillies got their own gig the following year at Santa Anita. Three of the winners of the male division have come from overseas: Donativum (2008), Pounced (’09), and Wrote last year. The talent level of winners coming into the race suggests the Europeans didn’t exactly reach into their top drawer. Donativum’s win was his first in a stakes; Pounced had been the runner-up in Longchamp’s Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere-Grand Criterium (Fr-I); and the Irish-bred Wrote had a third-place finish in the Judd-monte Royal Lodge Stakes (Eng-II) on his résumé.
All four of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT)winners have been North American-based runners.
And Europe’s best 2-year-old won’t be traveling to Santa Anita. Dawn Approach, a shoo-in to be champion 2-year-old male in England this year, won the $482,160 Dubai Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I) as part of the Future Champions Day program Oct. 13 at Newmarket. His connections have little interest in coming back three weeks later and shipping halfway around the world to run in the Breeders’ Cup.
That’s good news for American breeders and owners who have landed Breeders’ Cup Challenge races. Not only has the purse money been good, the Breeders’ Cup has kicked in an extra $10,000 in travel expenses.
For the males there were the Sept. 15 Summer Stakes presented by TVG (Can-IIT) worth $251,000, Keeneland’s Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) worth $150,000, and Belmont’s Oct. 8 Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT) that also went for $150,000. Non-“Win and You’re In” races included Saratoga’s With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIT) with a value of $200,000 and the $100,000 P. G. Johnson Stakes, Louisiana Downs’ $150,000 Sunday Silence Stakes on the Super Derby (gr. II) undercard, and the $100,000 Oak Tree Juvenile Turf Stakes at Del Mar.
Fillies got their fill with the $262,900 “Win and You’re In” Natalma Stakes (Can-IIT) Sept. 15 at Woodbine, Belmont’s $150,000 Miss Grillo Stakes (gr. IIIT), and Keeneland’s $150,000 JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes (gr. IIIT). Turf fillies also got a chance to run for $100,000 at Louisiana Downs in the Happy Ticket Stakes.
Those races have always been on the calendar, but now they are stepping-stones for Breeders’ Cup races, which have been supported by a solid late summer and early fall infrastructure of maiden races on the turf, especially at Saratoga and Belmont in New York, and at Keeneland.
One of many owners taking advantage of the turf boom is Pete Bradley, who went to Ireland and purchased the 2-year-old filly Watsdachances for a partnership group. The filly has won the P. G. Johnson and Miss Grillo stakes. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf was always in the back of his mind.
“For the most part, horse racing doesn’t always make sense,” Bradley said. “But in this instance it did. We found a filly we thought was stakes quality and we put up the money.”
She wasn’t Breeders’ Cup eligible, but Bradley’s group was able to nominate her for $12,000. The $10,000 “Win and You’re In” stipend took most of the sting out of that.
Now that Bradley’s filly has a pair of two-turn turf races under her belt stateside, he’s got another angle on the juvenile turf races.
“Of all the turf races, 2-year-old races offer American horses more of an advantage,” Bradley said. “The Europeans are used to running straight lines, particularly with their 2-year-olds. They aren’t used to bends, and here you have a two-turn race for 2-year-olds. Just as a handicapper, it’s the only time I don’t value European form on the turf as strongly as I do in other races.”
And that’s something else North American horsemen can take to the market.