JC / Railbird

Breeders’ Cup

Pop this Balloon, BC Board

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.

#BC16 Links, Etc.

Beholder for the Distaff!

Breeders’ Cup 2016 is here! And I have links: First, to the big HANA Monthly Breeders’ Cup issue (PDF). Stats, Q&As, and my Distaff pick (clue in the photo above). Then, to the Hello Race Fans BC Friday picks grid. Look for HD replays of every BC race on the 2016 Breeders’ Cup YouTube playlist. Replays should be up within minutes after each race.

I’m hanging out on Twitter and Instagram this weekend, live from Santa Anita.

11/5/16 Update: And Breeders’ Cup Saturday picks are up.

Super Eli

I loved this moment so much that I had to GIF it:

Lady Eli

Lady Eli enters the Belmont winner’s circle to applause after the Flower Bowl — the champion’s second start back after beating laminitis. “It takes such a rare horse to overcome what she has,” said trainer Chad Brown. “I think she’s one of the all-time great turf mares.” It’s onward to the Breeders’ Cup.

Tea Leaves

American Pharoah returned to Del Mar on Monday, apparently none the worse for his second-place finish to Keen Ice in the Travers, and the track announced that the Triple Crown winner would parade for fans on Sunday. Should owner Ahmed Zayat decide to retire American Pharoah, as he said his “gut feeling” was in the hours following Saturday’s race, “his Del Mar appearance might serve as a racing farewell.” So, that’s one open-to-interpretation phrase to parse as to the 3-year-old colt’s future.

Jay Privman reports, though (DRF+):

… it appears American Pharoah will be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland, and Baffert said Tuesday that he could even have a prep race, though he emphasized it’s “too soon to make that call.”

(Also? Baffert’s as done as anyone with talking about the Travers results. “It’s over with. He just got beat. Time to move on.”)

Trainer Aidan O’Brien added some intrigue to the Breeders’ Cup Classic scene, announcing that star miler Gleneagles would point to Keeneland:

“Given suitable ground, Gleneagles will run in the Irish Champion Stakes on Saturday week,” the trainer said. “Failing that, he will be aimed at the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October. His end-of-season target is the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, where he may face American Pharoah.”

Kellie Reilly wonders if there’s a deeper meaning:

Let’s consider this from the Coolmore chess-pieces angle: the global bloodstock juggernaut owns Gleneagles, and will stand Triple Crown champion American Pharoah upon his retirement to stud. Given the timing of this declaration of intent, it’s tempting to read between the lines and think that the chances of American Pharoah making the Classic may be receding. That’s not to say there can’t be the clash that Aidan O’Brien mentions in his statement on Gleneagles, but doesn’t it maximize the benefit to Coolmore to emphasize the hypothetical for the time being?

I’d like to see American Pharoah make it to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, not least because, as Amanda Duckworth writes, “it would be a shame if he never competed against his elders.” It would be more of a shame if the reason he didn’t compete against older had nothing to do with injury or unsoundness. Zayat has been outspoken about racing American Pharoah through this year for the good of the game and the thrill of the fans. “When Zayat told NBC on Saturday that he was thinking only of Pharoah’s fans and the horse’s legacy, I finally believed him,” Bob Barry writes in today’s Blood-Horse Daily (PDF). I believe him too, I believe he means it. But it’s a fragile trust.

The Bright Side

Greg Wood finds something positive in the retirement of dual champion and defending Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Main Sequence:

… the loss of Main Sequence from this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which will be staged at Keeneland for the first time, is a definite setback for the event. From a European point of view, however, it does leave the Turf looking very open indeed. Fabre may feel he has some unfinished business where Flintshire is concerned, and if it looks as though his five-year-old is likely to find at least one opponent too good at Longchamp in early October, it is at least possible that the race in Kentucky will assume greater significance.

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