07/16/2009 11:00PM

Cup could make some painless cuts


NEW YORK - There will be 14 Breeders' Cup races over two days at Santa Anita this year, but Cup officials said last week that for 2010 and beyond they may have to consider eliminating some of the newer races in the series. The organization is running a $6 million operating deficit this year that is unlikely to be eliminated any time soon, given a 20 percent decline in nomination revenues due to a depressed breeding market, and a 10 percent nationwide betting decline to date in 2009.

If races must reluctantly be cut, which should stay and which should go?

To recap: The Breeders' Cup began in 1984 with seven races offering a combined $10 million in purses: $1 million each for the Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Sprint, Mile, and Distaff, a $2 million Turf, and a $3 million Classic. In 1999, an eighth race, a $1 million Filly and Mare Turf, was added to the lineup. By 2006, there still were only eight races, but their combined value had risen to $20 million, with six $2 million races, a $3 million Turf, and a $5 million Classic.

Then in 2007, the additions began. A Filly and Mare Sprint, Dirt Mile, and Juvenile Turf, each worth $1 million, were run the day before the other eight races. Then last year, a $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, a $1 million Turf Sprint, and a $500,000 Marathon made it a 14-race program offering a total of $25.5 million in purses.

Trying to recapture all or some of the current annual deficit through race eliminations is a daunting assignment. Simply eliminating the seven races added since 1984 would trim $7.5 million, but would make it impossible to present a two-day event and would sacrifice at least two races that, to my mind, have already earned untouchable status.

The Filly and Mare Turf and Filly and Mare Sprint are the most worthy of preserving among the seven non-original Cup races. They are the only two that have a corresponding Eclipse Award - champion grass female and champion female sprinter - that marks them as essential year-end championship events. Both divisions have a solid set of Grade 1 races throughout the season leading up to the Cup races.

Things get a lot murkier beyond those two races. The Dirt Mile is at the top of a lot of hit-lists, because its first two runnings have felt like consolation races for horses a notch below the Classic level. In theory, though, it should be a lot better than that. There should be a middle ground for dirt males, longer than the six furlongs of the Sprint and shorter than the 10 furlongs of the Classic.

Perhaps one problem in attracting strong fields and true milers is that the first two runnings were at Monmouth and Santa Anita, neither of which has a chute for a one-turn mile race. It might be worth preserving the race at least through the 2010 and 2011 runnings, expected to be at Churchill Downs and Belmont, tracks that offer the correct configurations for the race.

The Marathon felt more like a Claiming Crown than a Breeders' Cup race in its inaugural running last year, drawing a weird field of unaccomplished longwinded old-timers who weren't racing for the "world championship" of anything. Encouraging horses to race at longer distances is both a necessary and admirable goal, but there simply isn't an established series of races leading to it. The Marathon may be a nice idea whose time just may not have come yet.

The Turf Sprint, on the other hand, recognizes a growing division in the sport, and is almost guaranteed to bring together a full and highly competitive field each year. The question here is whether it really needs a $1 million purse and full "championship race" status. It would probably get the same horses if it were an undercard stakes worth $250,000 or $500,000.

The two most expendable races are the Juvenile Turf and Juvenile Fillies Turf. There is very little meaningful grass racing for American 2-year-olds, the best of whom race on dirt with an eye toward the following year's Triple Crown races. These events are destined to attract second-stringers and do not determine any championships. It's highly debatable whether even one race open to both males and females is advisable; having one for each sex is clearly excessive. Whacking the Juvenile Fillies Turf is the easiest $1 million the Breeders' Cup will ever save.

Finally, there's a possibility of achieving cost savings through purse reductions rather than outright eliminations. Neither of the juvenile main-track races would lose a single candidate if they were worth $1.5 million rather than $2 million, and the same could be said for the $2 million Sprint. A $500,000 reduction in those three races alone would save another combined $1.5 million.

As the old saying goes, a million here and a million there, and suddenly you're talking about some real money.