08/05/2011 2:32PM

Breeders' Cup decision a slap in face to Belmont

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Next Wednesday, at a luncheon being hosted by the mayor of Los Angeles and Breeders’ Cup, Santa Anita is expected to be named the host site for the 2012 Cup races. Politicians and Cup officials will surely hail the announcement that Santa Anita will be the host for the third time in five years as wonderful news.

To my mind, it will be a sad day for American racing and for a Breeders’ Cup organization that has lost its way and abandoned the ideals it established nearly 30 years ago.

I would feel the same way if Belmont Park were being given the Cup for the third time in five years while California had not had one since 2005. Santa Anita is a beautiful facility and a terrific host for the Breeders Cup – once every three or four years. So are Belmont Park and Churchill Downs. (There’s a separate discussion about whether the rotation should include a fourth slot for a wild-card track.)

One of the founding principles of the Cup was that the races would move around the country while emphasizing the primary racing centers of California, Kentucky, and New York. It was a bedrock principle, the only way to ensure national unity and support for a year-end championship day that by definition was diminishing traditional events in each region, and obviously the fairest thing for the sport’s far-flung horsemen and fans.

At one time, before fairness and inclusiveness at the Breeders’ Cup went the way of the dodo and the Distaff, there wouldn’t even have been a discussion about the site of the 2012 Cup. After being run at Santa Anita in both 2008 and 2009, then at Churchill Downs in 2010 and again this year, the only question should have been whether Belmont would host it in 2012 alone or in both 2012 and 2013. Instead, Cup officials not only spurned New York for the fourth year in a row, but also did so in disrespectful and humiliating fashion.

Tom Ludt, the new Breeders’ Cup chairman, made the unnecessary announcement in June that there were now three “finalists” for 2012 hosting – Belmont, Churchill, and Santa Anita. Obviously, New York was being passed over again. Cup board members had been very impressed with the presentation made on Santa Anita’s behalf by Greg Avioli, now a top official at the track’s parent company but the chief executive of Breeders’ Cup until this spring.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how Cup officials can possibly justify three Cups at Santa Anita in five years while New York has not had one since 2005. I offered Ludt and Craig Fravel, the new Cup chief executive, an opportunity to do so but both declined comment pending next week’s announcement.

The Cup board’s previous arguments on behalf of Santa Anita as perhaps a permanent Cup host were flimsy or probably wrong. They proposed that Santa Anita should be considered for that because other major sports events have permanent homes (they don’t); because Los Angeles is a media and entertainment center with fine hotels and restaurants (unlike New York?); and because the 2008-09 runnings were so successful (in fact, they were the two lowest-handling Breeders’ Cup Saturdays in recent years, outdone by Belmont in 2005, Churchill in 2006 and 2010, and even Monmouth in torrential rains in 2007).

More recently, some Cup board members have been spreading the word that New York didn’t actually want the Breeders’ Cup, a complete fiction. The fact is that Belmont was ready, eager and able to host the Cup in 2009, or 2010, or 2011, or 2012. Each time it was misled about its prospects and had the goalposts moved – one time its franchise renewal hadn’t technically been ratified, another year officials had inadvertently promised the site to both Belmont and Churchill, another year it had to take advantage of a Kentucky tax break no one had suggested New York needed to pursue. Yet this time it’s okay to give it to Santa Anita even though the track has not even been awarded racing dates for 2012 and does not currently have a tested racing surface for the event.

The mean-spirited capper to all this is that when NYRA officials learned second-hand that they were not being given the Cup yet again for 2012, they asked if it could at least be announced next week that Belmont would finally getting the races again in 2013. The request was denied, and they were told there needs to be “further discussions” about that.

In a parallel universe of fairness and statesmanship, Santa Anita might not even have applied for the 2012 Cup and instead said it was obviously New York’s turn but that they’d sure like to be considered for 2013. When the Breeders’ Cup was being run by people who supported racing without regional preferences, by leaders such as Ted Bassett and John Nerud and D.G. Van Clief, Breeders’ Cups were awarded in an equitable fashion with the goal of helping the entire industry.

Those days are clearly gone, along with a fair and balanced Breeders’ Cup.