10/15/2012 3:04PM

Bergman: Cashman, Grant played pivotal roles in development of Breeders Crown

Email
John Cashman (right), with driver Tim Tetrick, died last month at age 72.

The Breeders Crown, a year-end series that will be held  for the 28th time on Oct.  27 at Woodbine Raceway, lost two of its most influential and founding members over the last nine months. John Cashman and  Andy  Grant Jr. helped forge an arrangement in 1983-84 which laid the brickwork for the institution the event would become over the years.

It’s always easy to look back  where it seems that the event would have come to this predictable successful story, but in the beginning the concept of bringing large breeders together to form a single entity was rather foreign.

“These were very competitive men,” said Tom Charters, the Breeders Crown’s original and only executive director describing the leading Standardbred breeders.

“I think Andy was most influential in bringing all of the leading breeders together to sit down and discuss the plan,” said Charters.

Grant’s father was a prominent Standardbred and Thoroughbred owner. In 1960,  his two fillies of different breeds completed an amazing double on the same day. Countess Adios, a pacing filly,  captured the Messenger Stakes (a Triple Crown event) and Airmans Guide took home the Black-Eyed Susan at  Pimlico.

Cashman and the late Curt Greene were responsible for drafting the initial documents outlining the Breeders Crown series. Originally titled “The Breeders Championship” in 1983, the well-crafted paper put forth a much wider proposition for the race and associated races.

What Cashman and Greene put together borrowed in some ways from the Breeders’ Cup concept, but also tried to broaden the scope of the influence of the race by linking it to other significant stakes the Hambletonian Society was sponsoring.

Cashman, who at the time helped oversee much of the large breeding and racetrack operations of Fred VanLennep’s Castleton Industries, could see the picture from both perspectives.

VanLennep was known to travel in the same circles as John Gaines, the originator of the Breeders’ Cup concept. VanLennep also knew the Standardbred sport needed a year-end World Series, Super Bowl-type conclusion to the racing season.

In its original layout it appears as if both Greene and Cashman were trying to make the series and its associated races broad enough in scale to attract as many breeders as possible. The race was to be funded in part by nominating stallions paying a single season breeding fee into the pool in order to make all of his foals eligible for that particular year. Stud fees in the sport were never higher than in 1983 when the top pacing stallion Albatross commanded a fee of $75,000 and the top trotter Speedy Crown earned $50,000 a pop.

The course of funding and racing in the Breeders Crown has changed some over the years. Through time Charters concedes that both individuals played a major role in reshaping its form. “I think you could say that these two guys had at least one thing in common. They could both see the big picture, not just for harness racing but for harness racing as a part of horse racing,” Charters said.

While Cashman from the outset knew the business from the racetrack side, Charters recalled that Grant, who was a racehorse owner and bloodstock agent, didn’t initially grasp how the racetrack owner looked at major stakes races.

“I think from the meetings we held with the Meadowlands over the years Andy developed a greater appreciation for the races from a track owners perspective,” said Charters.

Both Cashman and Grant had a long history at Roosevelt Raceway. The half-mile track on Long Island annually held the most publicized and perhaps greatest event in the sport’s storied history, the Roosevelt International Trot.

With Roosevelt’s closure in the late 1980s the race was contested briefly at Yonkers Raceway before being discontinued. Both Grant and Cashman pushed strongly to help change the Breeders Crown rules to allow for entry of  top horses  racing in other countries.

This year for the second straight time , Commander Crowe, one of the best if not the best trotter in Europe, will be coming to Woodbine in an attempt to capture the Breeders Crown Open Trot.

Charters, who himself has helped lead the way towards bringing Europe’s best to North America, recalled how the Breeders Crown modeled its invitation after the Roosevelt International.

“Those horses weren’t allowed to race here at any point prior to the event,” said Charters. “I think one of the reasons for the great success of the Roosevelt International was that mystery surrounding all of the horses.”

That mystery came in those days from the lack of “real-time” information about the horses and an incredible marketing strategy that added to the allure of the participants without specifically talking about their racing accomplishments.

Although elimination races are sometimes needed in the Breeders Crown Open events, the rules put in place provided that any horse “invited” to the race would automatically get a spot in the final,  thus preserving at least some of their true identity.

Woodbine will host all 12 of the Breeders Crown races on Oct.  27. Charters recalls how Cashman, who helped run Pompano Park at the time, was a major force in bringing eight races on one night to his track, a first for the Breeders Crown.

“When Gulfstream hosted the Breeders’ Cup they were able to get additional support from Tallahassee,” said Charters. “I think a big reason Pompano was able to host eight races was that John worked hard to get Tallahassee on board.”

Charters, who spoke with Cashman over the phone regularly over last challenging months of his life, was amazed at how the man was still looking out for the sport’s future while his time was running out.

“We had a problem with some of our stakes races not having enough entries to fill,” said Charters. “John got me on the phone and told me that I have to come down to Florida  [in December]  to meet with the racing secretaries and figure out a way to improve the situation.”

It’s with that kind of inspiration the Breeders Crown was founded on and why it flourishes today.