12/03/2010 4:31PM

World's Richest Dirt Races Lack Appeal


With a purse of $3,015,521, Sunday's Japan Cup Dirt rates as the second richest dirt race in the world after only the Breeders' Cup Classic (when it is run on dirt), which was worth $4,545,000 this year. Yet of the 28 horses that competed in the two races, only one-Espoir City in the Classic- was trained in a foreign country.
Both races are billed as international championship contests, as are their turf counterparts the $6.1 million Melbourne Cup, the $5.6 million Japan Cup, the $5.5 million Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the $5 million Dubai Duty Free, the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic, and their synthetic counterpart, the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
One of the reasons these races have such good prize money is to attract the best horses from around the world. To that extent, the richest turf and synthetic races succeed. The Melbourne Cup included seven foreign-trained horses and was won by the French-trained Americain. The Japan Cup had eight foreign runners, the Arc had 11 foreign-trained horses from six different countries and was won by a British trainee with a Japanese horse second. And the large majority of the horses in the three big races in Dubai were trained in foreign climes. Next Sunday, 30 of the 55 horses entered in the four big races on Sha Tin's Hong Kong International card will be foreign invaders coming from Australia, England, Ireland, France, Japan, Singapore and even the United States.
The failure of Breeders' Cup Ltd. and the Japan Racing Association to attract more than one foreign runner to the world's two richest dirt races provides some insight as to what the world at large thinks of dirt racing. America's surface of choice appears to be out of favor in most countries. Even in Japan, dirt racing is takes a back seat to turf racing. In Argentina, the ratio of dirt stakes to turf stakes is about 50:50. In Chile and Brqazil, turf stakes outnumber dirt stakes by about 2-to-1. There are no group races run on dirt in Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Dubai.
In 2009 when the Breeders' Cup Classic was run on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride, it included two foreign entries in Twice Over and Rip Van Winkle. The year before at the same track on the same surface, it was won by the British-trained Raven's Pass with the Irish-trained Henrythenavigator second. As such, both of those Classics rated first-class international cache.
In this day and age, the quality of a championship race is determined in no small part by the number of top class foreign entries it contains. That the Japan Cup Dirt has failed to attract a single foreign runner may be a bit of an embarrassment to the Japan Racing Association, but it is not a really big deal, since most of the best Japanese horses run on turf. That the Breeders' Cup Classic on dirt failed to attract a single foreign runner is cause for concern, simply because a race consisting of all domestic runners can hardly fulfill the concept of the Breeders' Cup as the World Thoroughbred Championships.
On a similar note, there have been many hurrahs sounded on the reinstallation of a dirt course at Santa Anita. The change from Pro-Ride back to dirt will certainly be a boon to California horsemen preparing 3-year-olds for a tilt at the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks, but what happens to all of those horses running on dirt when the scene shifts to Hollywood Park's cushion surface after April 17?
And after the Hollywood spring/summer meeting there is the Del Mar meeting on Polytrack. And if Santa Anita gets the Oak Tree Meeting next year, California horses must all switch back to dirt for six weeks before returning to the Hollywood cushion track in November. Even if Hollywood retains the Oak Tree Meeting, the dirt track at Santa Anita is still the odd man out in California, given the vagaries between dirt and synthetic form.
Could it be that many of California's best dirt horses will hightail it to the East Coast in search of dirt surfaces after Santa Anita closes in April? Viewed in that light, the switch back to dirt at Santa Anita may not be quite the great thing it has been trumped up to be.

Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
brandon - so the US is a leader not a follower? Commendable loyalty to your Country, but a bit of a poke in the eye for millions of people in Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. Mini rant over, can I also question your other point. US racing doesn't give a single penny to "foreign sources". Those foreign sources have to WIN every penny they get, and the long list of foreign horses who have flopped in the Breeders Cup shows how difficult that is. Don't forget how shocked UK racing was in 2009 when Wesley Ward came over to our Royal Ascot meeting and beat the pants off us to win a couple of races. In addition, we usually have a couple of good Aussie horses every Summer to show us how slow our sprinters are. To put the matter into context, the Royal Ascot authorities actively scour the World to encourage foreign owners/trainers to bring their horses over. Thats because competition is the very essence of horseracing and if you can't accept defeats, don't play. By the way, what about Canadian horses? Are you happy for them to race? .
Qev More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, the folks at Breeders’ Cup need only do one of two things, either drop the word “world” from its billing or, insert the word “dirt” between the words ‘world’ and ‘championships’. When run under its current conditions (on a dirt surface) it *is* a race of global proportions. It just so happens that the “world’s” best dirt horses all reside in the U.S.. The BCC currently *is* the world’s highest quality and richest “dirt” race and should strive to continue to hold that unique position in racing. Attempting to become yet another big purse turf race with international appeal would be a mistake, given the number of those with already well-established credentials currently in existence. A switch to turf or synthetic-turf would all but obliterate the already moderate level of attention that is paid to the BC here in the U.S.—not to mention what it would do to domestic handle. Though, twilight seems to be closing in, there are still historical and cultural factors of dirt racing that make it an inseparable part of the American story. Any everyday American can, at least, tell you that Secretariat was a great racehorse; Sea the Stars on the other hand… Turf racing will never hold the appeal that dirt racing has established in America. It would be like trying to replace true football (soccer) with NFL football in Europe (NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN...nor should it).
Tex More than 1 year ago
I find it somewhat amusing that the more the industry meddles at trying to "improve" horse racing, the worse things seem to get. California has all but ruined the sport form the standpoint of the betting public. From the standpoint of pure sport and competition it has become almost insufferable on a day to day basis and it would appear the NYRA is quickly heading in the same direction. Who would have predicted 20 years ago that the two most iconic racing centers in the U.S. would end up taking a back seat to Mountaineer Park, Delaware Park, Philly Park or any of the other "racino" operations where horsemen seemingly prefer to run their horses due to the enhanced purses and dramatically lower overhead. The Breeders Cup is a rich man's game exclusively and while it is easily the best idea which anyone in the industry has come up with in the last 50 years, it does have its drawbacks; one of which is the notion that it is somehow a "world championship" series of races. Unless and until all BC races are run over tracks which from year to year meet the same uniform specifications in terms of surface type, track size, etc. then it is preposterous to suggest that the event is the definitive championship series in horse racing. I for one, think that all non-grass racing should be run on on type of surface only; either dirt or the same type of synthetic surface. The current state of affairs which has horses running over at least three different synthetic surfaces plus traditional dirt surfaces is the biggest disaster to hit the racing world in decades. When it comes to a major race or series of races such as the BC it is an even bigger disaster. Unless the horses competing in these events have all been running over similar surfaces prior to the BC, Kentucky Derby, Japan Cup Dirt or whatever, then it is meaningless from a handicapping perspective. Of course the ultimate solution would be to have all races run on grass as it is quite obvious to devotee's of the sport that grass racing is far, far superior to dirt racing in any form whatsoever. Of course that means 2/3rds of the horses in America wouldn't be able to race anywhere since we have single-mindedly focused the American breeding industry on producing ultra-fast, short distance dirt runners, even if the rest of the world could care less. In short, the BC was a great idea and has evolved into the one truly exciting event on the North American racing calendar. Far more noteworthy than the Kentucky Derby or the Triple Crown both of which offer much more hype than substance. Synthetic surfaces were a horrible idea and continue to undermine the integrity of non-grass racing in the U.S. and Canada. Unless all non-grass races are to be run on synthetic surfaces and we decide to begin breeding the "dirt" out of our racing stock and start breeding a "synthetic gene" into the DNA of our horses, non-grass racing will continue to decline in N. America. Even at the BC level.
John H More than 1 year ago
With a few die-hards complaining about "synthetic track specialists", it's nice to see a world wide perspective on dirt by the author. Give me a turf or synthetic race where closers stand a 50-50 chance. It's infinitely more exciting than watching a strung out field on dirt that favors front runners and stalkers. Maybe Beyers don't work so well when the first part of the race is galloping and the last part is a mad dash to the finish line. You can have 2 graded races with same quality horses with vastly different finish times. So much for speed figures. You might actually have to handicap the race.
brandon More than 1 year ago
The United States is a leader not a follower. Honestly as an American I don't want to see a single penny of purse money given to a foreign source. We love dirt racing and that's what fans want and the tv ratings and wagering dollars at this years Breeders Cup at Churchill proved that.
T W More than 1 year ago
Alan, Your nickname should be "sledge", because you always hit the nail on the head with the vast majority of your articles, esp. Goldy vs. Zen. I have been fortunate enough to attend many race days at Arlington Park and witness several Arlington Million's, Beverly D's & Secretariat's in person. Arlington's International Festival of Racing as its called is one of the highlights of the racing for us. I only wish the purses on those 3 G1 races could be increased to attrack even more international horses than what show up now. Mr. D. does things right and now that Gaming might be passing through the Illinois legislature, purse increases might actually happen for the only G1 races in IL and with that we might be able to attract even better horses from abroad. I enjoy wagering on these races because in America, we are not exposed to much foreign racing at all and when the foreign invaders come over, you can usually get good value with them because no one knows who they are. When it comes to the non-turf racing, I am still a fan of good old American Dirt; just as I think artifical turf should be banned in all of our other outside sports like football & baseball, and your sport of soccer too. The main thing all race tracks need is a good subsurface drainage system, not matter what the surface is above it may be. Happy Holidays! (You sound like you are from Chicago, my favorite city in the country, and the home (almost) of the best, most up-to-date grandstand in the country. All hail Dick Duchossois, a man with an international perpspective who has singlehandedly kept racing alive in the Windy City.) AS
John C. More than 1 year ago
Perhaps many California horses will head east after the Santa Anita meet; that does not in any way negate the sagacity of Santa Anita's return to dirt. Santa Anita is in the US, where most horses are bred to run on dirt, not on some soft marsh that constitutes a so-called racing surface (read: tracks in Europe). What the other tracks in California need to do is either close, due to their consistently six or fewer horse fields (aka Hollywood) since the inception/overly zealous mandate of synthetics, or better, return to dirt, once again not sequestering California from the rest of the major racing circuits in the US. That the Breeders' Cup Classic did not attract a foreign runner does not tarnish it as a World Championship of dirt racing, but rather is a reminder of the abject abandonment of dirt surfaces in Europe, and the logical though not sporting decisions of foreign owners who are used to seeing their horses run in boggy swampland. Well, at least they have a turf-like synth race to look forward to competing in at the new track in Saudi Arabia. You see, in the US, we think that breeding fast horses who can run for 9 or 10 furlongs constitutes exciting racing. We don't enjoy as much a style of racing that looks like a slow warm-up jog for 1600 meters, followed by a slow quarter-horse sprint for 200 or 400 meters. (Your ideas on European racing surfaces are grossly misinformed. In Europe, most races are run on good ground, not marshes. Moreover, your idea of Europe's "abject abandonment of dirt racing" is pure ignorance. Europe has never raced on dirt. In England, where racing was invented, there has never been a single race run on dirt. If you wish to be a part of the conversation in future, please get your facts straight.) AS
NASH More than 1 year ago
I agree that foreign trainers prefer to run on synthetic or turf courses, but doesn't that create a nice special niche for the American horses that run on dirt?....we offer the purse money and invite all comers to compete over our dirt....if they don't want to come so be it...and really if you take a look at where a good portion of these "foreign" horses are purchased and their bloodlines, they are American sales and 20th century American bloodlines...bred to run on DIRT....I'm not concerned about competition from other lands I enjoy my uniquely American dirt racing and apparently the horses are good enough to buy from our sales, but not race on our preferred surface...Oh well, so what, who cares...just have to change the name back to The Breeders Cup!!! I like it better anyways!!! (Your point about sales purchases cuts both ways. Europeans and Arabs have been buying in America for forty years in big numbers, but the only horses we buy at European sales are at the end-of-season house clearing sales of horses European trainers are giving up on. Our involvement in the big yearling sales at Tettersalls, Goffs and Arqana is nonexistent. As a result, European racing has been enriched by its forays into the American bloodstock market, where the wise choices of their buyers have depleted American bloodlines through the years. Moreover, many of the Kentucky-breds controlled by the Maktoums, Coolmore, Juddmonte, etc. are bred exclusively for racing in Europe on property that was once controlled by American horsemen who had been breeding for American racing. The losses to American racing in this regard have been incalculable.) AS
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
The richest dirt races in the world lack appeal? To the connections of horses that run on grass I'm sure they do. This situation has caused me to fail to understand the relatively recent and obvious pandering of the Breeders Cup to foreign interests. Foreign (i.e. European) participation in the BC races has always been one of the elements that make that day of racing so special. However, being a horseman in another part of the world and fancying having a go at a big race on the other side of the globe where the sport has evolved differently is quite a different situation than expecting those conducting that race to kowtow to the way you do things. Crediting the synthetic BC Classics as having "international cache" would not be my way of looking at it. Personally I have been infinitely more impressed by the dramatic just short runs made in dirt classics by Euro entries. As far as the Breeders Cup and the World Thoroughbred Championship idea goes, and that's not very far, I don't think it is coincidental that they trotted the WTC moniker out at about the same time they abandoned even a vestige of what seemed to be their previous commitment to a modicum of fair play for domestic racing jurisdictions. Frankly, the concept is a total fraud and one more marketing gurus idiot idea of how to ruin something that didn't need tinkering with. I really think the underlying crux of your argument is not one of surface, but of quality. Sliding abacus beads around to total up the number of foreign runners in a world class race just might have a lot more to do with where the best race horses are owned and trained than on what surface they perform. I"m by no means saying that the US has become a backwater of racing. With all it's well documented problems the game still produces some wonderful, championship calibre horses, just not as many as it used to it seems. You have written frequently about the long standing "raiding parties" at posh yearling sales. These things take a till, and have done so. I don't have the answer, but am adamant that the correct response is not to turn the US game upside down and obliterate the dirt racing heritage we have. It is a storied and rich one, and it deserves respect. As far as California racing surfaces go, that's their business. They can line them up and charge down Sepulveda Blvd. as far as I'm concerned. With the oft reported near term demise of Hollywood Park still a distinct possibility what then Del Mar? We can leave that to the machinations of the California Racing Board. Always enjoy your entries, even if they do get my blood pressure going sometimes.
SamG More than 1 year ago
The Breeders Cup races were never meant to be World Championships nor would any sane person mistake them as such.Labeling them so is just one of many lame brained ideas Breeders' Cup LTD. has come up with in recent years,such as running two Breeders Cups on synthetic turf.If foreign trained horses want to participate great,if not who cares?Fixing this "problem" is simple,drop the word "World". As far as Santa Anita goes the switch back to dirt IS a great thing.Hollywood won't change because they're closing soon but there's no reason for Del Mar not to go back to dirt.Most horses who excell on dirt are mediocre on synth anyway.How would it be better that they stay where thier talents are muted?
Darren Cook More than 1 year ago
The Breeders's Cup has turf categories for the European horses Alan. The Mile and Turf are run at the European Classic distances. The Classic was never intended to attract the top runners from Europe. If a mile and a quarter is really your "cup of tea", then take your chance in the Classic like Arcangues, Swain, Giants Causway, Gallileo and Sahkee. They all came and competed well. It wasn't as though the BC of 2010 was not well attended. Two of the best Milers in Europe showed up, in Goldikova and Paco Boy. Bekhabad the arc favorite was here and the Arc winner was an intended runner. Who didn't show? Sure Canford Cliffs wasn't here, but he wasn't coming for the Classic anyhow. What horses from Europe would have come for the Classic on synthetic? Are you suggesting that all racing should be switched from dirt to synthetic? The point of the article is what? The BC Classic lacked appeal? Really? I was attending the BC with fifteen horsemen from Australia who to a man said the Classic was one of the best races they had ever seen. These guys had seen Kingston Town, Sunline, Bonecrusher, Better Loosen Up and Makybe Diva win three Melbourne Cups in succession. Lacked appeal? I think you are mistaken Alan.
Brigitte More than 1 year ago
You can make the case that world as a whole prefers turf. It seems turf racing is better for horses as well, whether because of the turf, the running style, tougher drug rules or all the above. The case for synthetics vs dirt is much weaker. Dubai on dirt attracted USA horses, who won it regularly. It didn't attract European horses who are closer to Dubai - now it does. That makes sense for Dubai. Santa Anita had major problems with their synthetic surface and dirt horses ran poorly on it in all divisions. Surely the BC Classic should serve as a US Championship? Isn't that more important than attracting foreign horses considering the importance of the Classic in determining Eclipse Awards? In 2008 European turf horses ran 1-2, in 2009 Zenyatta won, a USA turf horse Gio Ponti ran second, and a European turf horse third. The case that synthetic is better than dirt for the horse is as yet statistically undetermined. As long as racing in the Americas can support dirt racing it will. If we keep tanking, what happens to racing in China will matter. Since the Meydan designers are working with the Chinese it will probably be turf and maybe synthetic. let's see.....