09/22/2010 7:44PM

Half Full


Busy boys, those Breeders' Cup honchos, who unleashed a flurry of newsworthy developments on an unsuspecting sport in recent weeks, some of them striking at the heart of the organization's original core beliefs.

The decision to embrace the eligibility of European and South American runners in a more inclusive manner was a long time coming. Even before the Breeders' Cup saddled itself with the over-reaching "World Championships" title, it was apparent that there was a radically unfair disparity among those who were encouraged to play and how much it would cost some of them to participate. Now that the Cup has become more accessible, it is up to the European and South Americans to take full advantage of the opportunity.

At the same time, the Breeders' Cup took steps to enhance its ambitions of becoming the tail that wags the dog of American racing. Since its inception, in 1984, the scheduling of the Breeders' Cup at the end of October or beginning of November has turned the major late season races into diluted clusters of regional playoffs. Where once the great events at Belmont, Keeneland and Santa Anita were spread out over their popular autumn meets, they now take place on a couple of weekends. But at least they survived. Races of grand tradition, like the Washington, D.C. International and the Canadian International Championship either were lost forever or turned into second tier events, withering in the shadow of the Cup.

Beginning in 2011, the promotional fluffery known as "Win and You're In" -- offering a berth in various Breeders' Cup races for winners of certain stakes, as long as you paid the price of admission -- will convert to the real deal. Qualifying races will be spread along the racing calendar at a variety of tracks, and the winners will not only have a spot  in a BC race reserved(limited to four or five in each of the 14 races), they will have all entry and some shipping expenses paid.

This sudden spasm of truth in advertising is welcome, but only up to a point. Switching the Win and You're In idea from an empty suit to an incentive program on steroids is quite a leap. As it turns out, it's the money from the old Breeders' Cup Awards program that is being used to fuel Win and You're In, two years after the BC board tried to pull the rug out in a cost-cutting move that backfired. Such creative accounting is no big deal. Indeed, a little innovation regarding the best use of available funds is to be applauded in these awkward fiscal times. What troubles me about the Win and You're In challenge races is that -- at least the way they were scheduled for the 2010 season -- they do not seem to commence until nearly half the year is done. This means such events as the Santa Anita Handicap, Oaklawn Handicap, Donn Handicap, all the various springtime derbies, along with the Triple Crown races themselves, are not considered automatic entrees to a Breeders' Cup race.

And so you have the Longacres Mile a WAYI race, but not the Metropolitan. Or the Washington Park Handicap, but not the Stephen Foster. Breeders' Cup may be using the program as a form of affirmative action, in an attempt to create artificial importance in races of relatively local interest. But stacking such races in the summer and early fall only promotes the idea of limited, highly focused campaigns, and minimizes the importance of early season action. It will be interesting to see what the final 2011 schedule for the new and apparently improved Win and You're In program brings.

Finally, the BC came down firmly against the hard stuff, banning trainers with Class 1 drug violations during the previous year from running in a Breeders' Cup championship event. This sounds rough and tough, a bright line in the sand. But in fact, it is meaningless. The unofficial data base of the Association of Racing Commissioners International -- which solicits rulings on a voluteer basis from its member jurisdictions -- had all of four Class 1 drug rulings recorded since January of 2008. None of them were for anything other than drugs more commonly associated with improper human consumption, such as codeine or oxycodone, and messing with them outside prescriptive supervision tempts the involvement of law enforcement types. If jail time isn't a deterrent, being banned from the Breeders' Cup won't scare anyone much at all.