06/10/2010 11:00PM

Cup move a matter of circumstance


NEW YORK - If there had been future-book betting back in April on the site of the 2011 Breeders' Cup, you probably could have gotten at least 20-1 on the result that was announced Friday morning: Churchill Downs, which had been expected to host the Cup for the last time this year, will instead be the host for both 2010 and 2011.

The Friday announcement, with officials of the Cup, Churchill Downs, and the state of Kentucky lavishing praise upon one another, was unimaginable just two months ago. The Cup board had authorized permanently relocating the event to the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita, and one of its members was publicly denouncing Churchill as "the worst venue in North America" to host the event.

The controversial movement for a permanent host site lost only a little steam as fans and other track operators began to voice objections to that plan, but two other developments derailed its implementation for at least one more year -- a lost lease, and a somewhat mischievous piece of Kentucky state legislation.

Last month, MI Developments, the parent company of Santa Anita, canceled a number of contracts as part of a bankruptcy reorganization, including the one that leased the track to the Oak Tree Racing Association for a fall meeting through 2016. That situation is still in flux and could be for months. The most likely scenario is that Oak Tree will run its meeting at Hollywood Park this year while Santa Anita replaces its troubled Pro-Ride track, but you probably don't want to bet the rent on that just yet, and it's anyone's guess if and where future Oak Tree meetings will be held.

At the same time, it emerged that a little-known bill passed earlier this year in Kentucky had severe financial implications for the Breeders' Cup: A parimutuel-tax break worth as much as $1 million a year would be rescinded for 2010 if the Cup did not return to Churchill in 2011 or 2012.

The net result was Friday's lovefest announcing that two years at Oak Tree would now be followed by two years at Churchill.

The only thing that has stayed the same is the Breeders' Cup's baffling resistance to award a future running to New York, a five-time host (1985, 1990, 1996, 2001, and 2005) that has now been passed over for 2009, 2010, and 2011 in favor of more recent hosts. On April 11, Steve Duncker, chairman of the New York Racing Association, wrote a public letter to the Cup reaffirming NYRA's strong desire to host the 2011 Cup. He never received a formal reply and told Daily Racing Form earlier this week that there have been no discussions with Cup officials about returning the event to New York.

"We continue to believe that we are a very viable option for the 2012 event," Duncker said.

A 2011 Breeders' Cup at Churchill is preferable to having it in California for a third time in four years, but horsemen and fans strongly prefer a regular rotation among California, Kentucky and New York, with perhaps an occasional foray elsewhere. It seems that's just too fair and logical to happen any time soon.

Triple Crown business puzzling

The handle totals for last Saturday's Belmont Stakes completed a trifecta of contradictory and somewhat confusing Triple Crown business results.

On May 1, there was a 7.1 percent year-over-year increase in Kentucky Derby betting and a 2.54 percent decline on the undercard, for an overall gain of $5.96 million and 3.9 percent over the 2009 Derby Day card.

On May 15, the Preakness undercard showed a similar 2.2 percent decline, but betting on the Preakness itself was down 11.2 percent for a total Preakness Day decline of $7.4 million and 8.78 percent from 2009.

Then on Belmont Day, the undercard and the main event both took major hits, with respective declines of 16.91 and 16.60 percent, for a total decrease of $12.9 million and 16.73 percent from last year. (Full pool-by-pool breakdowns of Triple Crown betting can be found on my blog at drf.com.)

It's probably fair to say that this year's Preakness betting decline was predictable, since the race lacked the appeal that Rachel Alexandra's bid against the males brought to the race last year, and that a Belmont lacking both the Derby and Preakness winners was a tough sell.

Still, the swing from a 7.1 percent gain on the Derby to a 16.6 percent drop on the Belmont is a huge one. At least the total declines for the three Triple Crown races (3.81 percent) and the three full cards (5.02 percent) were smaller than the 8.37 percent decline in all U.S. racing handle for the first five months of the year.