JC / Railbird

Breeders’ Cup Classic

Pop this Balloon

If Thoroughbred racing has a silly season, it’s the weeks between the winter holidays and the Eclipse Awards. And things don’t get much sillier than floating the idea to create a Breeders’ Cup Derby, restricted to 3-year-old horses, and move the Breeders’ Cup Classic to December. Ray Paulick reports the idea may get a hearing at an upcoming Breeders’ Cup board meeting:

Should the Breeders’ Cup expand again?

That’s a question the organization’s board of directors is expected to ponder at an upcoming meeting, when a proposal to add a “Breeders’ Cup Derby” for 3-year-olds and push the Breeders’ Cup Classic to a separate date in December will be discussed. Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup president and CEO, declined to comment on what he called “matters that may or may not be considered by the board of the Breeders’ Cup.”

(Disclosure: I’ve worked with the Breeders’ Cup on digital media initiatives as a contractor. My work doesn’t put me in contact with the board or BC decision-making, and I haven’t talked to anyone at BC about the Derby/Classic idea or other BC planning. All opinions my own, etc.)

Paulick runs down the major objections to such a scheme: Reduced field quality for such races as the Dirt Mile and less attractive betting. (I can’t imagine any excitement for a new race restricted to the 3-year-old glamour division.) It would also have the bizarre effect of holding a championship weekend without featuring the marquee division. What even is the Breeders’ Cup if the horses at the top of the American racing hierarchy aren’t the thrilling culmination of the event, as they have been since its inception?

In that sense, the proposal poses an existential question for the Breeders’ Cup — is it a competitive event, or is it an exhibition? Is it for horseplayers and fans, or is it for owners and breeders? That’s the tension at the heart of the BC and a Derby and standalone Classic would snap it in favor of one constituency.

For that reason, I have trouble believing the idea is coming from within the Breeders’ Cup. Paulick refers to “some industry stakeholders” pushing the proposal, possibly out of “Triple Crown envy,” and those stakeholders obviously have the clout to compel the BC board to consider the idea. But the idea feels so anti-fan and enough of a threat to dilute the BC brand that it seems unlikely to have strong organizational support.

Re: the Triple Crown, and whether interest in the Triple Crown season among the general public could be replicated later in the year, I’m skeptical. Non-racing fans watch the Kentucky Derby because it’s a cultural event, not because they have an interest in the sophomore division.

One likely effect of trying to emulate Triple Crown season, though, would be the creation of a new three-race series that would link together the Breeders’ Cup Derby (November), Classic (December), and Pegasus World Cup (January). I have no idea if this is part of the intention behind the proposal! It would just be a very tidy series, especially for television, and for trainers, owners, and breeders — who would then have a series worth up to $25 million to aim for with a conclusion snug against the start of the breeding season.

But what would that do to races such as the Travers or Jockey Club Gold Cup and other 3-year-old male and open-company graded stakes scheduled from July to October? A big part of summer and fall racing (and betting) would be shaken up, potentially affecting tracks from New York to New Jersey to California. Maybe money and attention would flow to other divisions during those months, particularly turf, or new, exciting campaign arcs for older horses would emerge, but does anyone really want to find out?

2:00 PM Update: More details on the proposal from Matt Hegarty, including that board member Bobby Flay is supporting the Derby idea and Classic move:

The Flay proposal is based on the belief among some board members that public interest in 3-year-old horses during the Triple Crown races would carry through to the Breeders’ Cup Derby and make for a popular showdown between those horses and older horses if the Breeders’ Cup Classic were held a month later in December. Critics of that proposal, who did not want to be identified because of Flay’s popularity, contend that it misreads the public’s attention span beyond the Triple Crown.

I don’t know, if public interest in Triple Crown contenders carried over past the season, wouldn’t that interest already register? As usual, @o_crunk has a sharp read on the handle implications of a new race and Classic rescheduling.

Will Take Retirement

The older horse division takes another hit with the loss of Will Take Charge, retired to Three Chimneys after suffering a minor suspensory injury. Less than six weeks to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and last year’s winner, Mucho Macho Man, is out, along with Game on Dude and Palace Malice. (So, three of the top four finishers in this year’s Santa Anita Handicap are done racing, and New York’s best older Classic hope is Whitney winner Moreno.) For the first time since Raven’s Pass in 2008, a 3-year-old could win the Classic — at least eight are in contention, including unbeaten Pacific Classic winner Shared Belief. His stock, already high, gained following California Chrome’s dismal return in the Pennsylvania Derby, won by Bayern, aka “little Dude.” The dual classic winner will train up to the Breeders’ Cup, and trainer Art Sherman is looking toward a happier result: “We’ll be a lot better price,” he said.

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Be Bullish, making his 83rd career start and dropping from $40K to $16K, finished second to Make a Fortune in the third race at Belmont on Sunday, bringing his earnings up to $4,000 shy of $1 million. Bruce Levine claimed the 9-year-old gelding for owner Mike Repole. “Will evaluate his condition before deciding to race/retire,” tweet-reported David Grening.

Jaycito makes his 28th career start on Monday, running in the 10th at Zia Park. He’ll be running at his lowest level yet — $30K, which is $20K less than the G1 winner’s purchase price at Keeneland in November 2013. [9/22/14 Update: Jaycito finished third, beaten 10 1/2 lengths. He was not claimed.]

All In Fun

Tim Wilkin:

The Breeders’ Cup Classic is going to be the race of the year. Zenyatta vs. Quality Road. I like the female horses. I am a fan of Rachel Alexandra and I respect the heck out of Zenyatta. But, sorry, ladies. I am taking the boy in the Classic. Quality Road is the best horse in the country.

Based on the :13.34 final furlong he ran in the 1 1/8 mile Woodward against modest competition? I hope there are a lot of bettors like Wilkin playing this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. That means a price on Zenyatta, who will win.

3:00 PM Addendum: Quality Road “got a straightforward Beyer Speed Figure of 106” for the Woodward, the lowest since Saint Liam’s in 2005.

A Lucky Classic?

Well, I suppose it’s possible:

A defeat for dirt leader Quality Road and a sub-par success for all-weather leader Zenyatta were two further indications that Bob Baffert may be about to get lucky in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The first clue came last week, when his stable star ran away with the Haskell Invitational, posting the best performance by an American three-year-old this year.

But with the leading older horses having the chinks in their armour exposed on the weekend, it now looks increasingly likely that the elite division could be set for a changing of the guards in November.

Although, I’m not sure what chink is being referred to re: Zenyatta. The sub :24 final quarter? Or maybe the final sixteenth in :5.94?

Related: Eight reasons Pull the Pocket likes Zenyatta. Point #2, right on.