10/21/2011 1:13PM

The "New" Breeders' Cup Races


This will be the 28th Breeders’ Cup, but it will be the first at which the original seven championship events are outnumbered by the newer, “expansion” Breeders’ Cup races.

The first “new” Breeders’ Cup race was the Filly & Mare Turf, which debuted in 1999. It was such an immediate and unanimous hit that it made you wonder why it wasn’t part of the inaugural Breeders’ Cup program in 1984.

The next group of new Breeders’ Cup races were the Dirt Mile, the Filly & Mare Sprint, and the Juvenile Turf, first run in 2007. The following year, the Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Marathon, and the Turf Sprint were unveiled. And this year, the Juvenile Sprint will make its debut, meaning there are now eight expansion Breeders’ Cup races to go along with the original seven Breeders’ Cup events.

In my opinion, the Dirt Mile and Filly and Mare Sprint are logically thought out newcomers that really wouldn’t have been out of place on that first Breeders’ Cup card at Hollywood Park. The Juvenile Turf, the Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Turf Sprint, and the Marathon, I feel, are a different story.

Like it or not, turf horses produced in this country are still, in the vast majority of cases, failed dirt horses. And our 2-year-old turf horses are either horses who have shown little promise on dirt, or are horses that require distance (2-year-old turf racing in this country affords juveniles more opportunity to go longer distances) because they aren’t fast enough to compete in shorter dirt races. So all that creating Breeders’ Cup races for lesser horses does is generate a bunch of sub-par Breeders’ Cup winners, which dilutes the Breeders’ Cup concept.

Of course, one could counter by saying all of that is true, and it doesn’t matter, because European participation in these races help compensate for the drop in quality. Maybe. But that just feeds into the complaint many purists (myself included) had when these races were first created, which is these races are mainly meant to appease European horsemen. I’m all for international competition. In fact, I love it. But why must European horsemen be appeased by new Breeders’ Cup races seemingly tailored for them when they are already kicking butt in the existing Breeders’ Cup races?

And as for the Marathon, it’s a novelty for third-rate stakes horses and allowance types, and simply doesn’t merit the Breeders’ Cup name.

But the new Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint? I have to admit, before it’s even run, I kind of like it. Yes, I am afraid that once this race earns graded status, which it eventually will, it will throw a monkey wrench into the Kentucky Derby graded stakes clause used to limit the Derby field to 20. When the Juvenile Sprint becomes a graded race, it will, every year, assure one or two stone-cold sprinters a starting berth in the Derby as the graded earnings rule stands now. Then again, the silver lining here is that something like that just might prove to be the catalyst for needed tweaks in the Derby’s graded earnings rule, such as putting a premium on purses earned at 3.

Anyway, back to the Juvenile Sprint. We have a long tradition of brilliant 2-year-olds who wow everyone in early season stakes, and then lose a bit of luster when they prove in the fall to have distance limitations. But these are still interesting, talented horses, and offering them a year-end goal that doesn’t require them to go a distance too far for them could create a whole new subset of horse. Not only that, but a year-end sprint goal for juveniles might also allow horsemen to be less deliberate with their 2-year-olds, especially those they suspect might not be routers, and might actually spark a renaissance in early-season juvenile racing.