09/25/2008 11:00PM

If you must fix what ain't broke. . .


NEW YORK - When the Breeders' Cup expanded from eight races in 2006 to 11 in 2007 and now to 14 this year, it had to come up with a way to divvy up the races over two days. This was the whole point of adding additional races: Other than last year's addition of the Filly and Mare Sprint, which has a corresponding Eclipse Award category, the five other new events were created out of expansionism rather than necessity. Breeders' Cup Ltd. has a five-year goal to grow the handle for the event(s) from the $140 million on one day of eight races in 2006 to $200 million on two days of 14 races by 2011.

The question then became how to do the divvying. Last year at Monmouth, it went with the simplest and most natural plan: Run the three new races (Dirt Mile, F&M Sprint, Juvenile Turf) on Friday as a sort of warm-up for Saturday's established Elite Eight races. When three more races (Turf Sprint, Marathon, and Juvenile Fillies Turf) were added for 2008, most fans expected those would be added to the Friday card, enhancing the warm-up day rather than changing the main event.

Instead, the Breeders' Cup announced in February that it was splitting the 14 races by gender. The five races restricted to fillies and mares would be run Friday, with the nine for males going Saturday. This meant that Saturday would lose three of its eight traditional races - the Distaff (Ladies' Classic), F&M Turf, and Juvenile Fillies - while picking up four of the new races (Dirt Mile, Juvenile Turf, Marathon, and Turf Sprint.) One virtue of the new plan is that at least it's easy remember which races are on which days: If it's for females only, it's on Friday - Ladies' Classic, F&M Turf, F&M Sprint, Juvenile Fillies, and Juvenile Fillies Turf. Otherwise, it's on Saturday.

Putting aside the question of whether two days and 14 races is necessarily better than one with 8 or 9, was gender the best way to go?

Proponents of a Filly Friday and a Studly Saturday are difficult to locate outside the Breeders' Cup offices, and most fans and pundits seem to hate the idea. The most frequent criticisms are that it is inherently sexist (and renaming the Distaff the Ladies' Classic sure didn't help) and that it marginalizes half of the racehorse population by relegating it to second-class status and a much smaller television audience. Shouldn't racing be showcasing the likes of Lady's Secret, Personal Ensign, and Azeri on its biggest day rather than on a Friday afternoon?

It's understandable that Breeders' Cup wanted there to be a theme for each day, but gender wasn't the only one available. What about distance and surface? Friday could have had the four races at a mile or less - the Sprint, F&M Sprint, Mile, and Dirt Mile - with the other 10 on Saturday. Or Friday could have been Turf Day, with the six grass races - Turf, F&M Turf, Mile, Turf Sprint, Juvenile Turf, and Juvenile Turf Fillies - and the eight main-track races on Saturday. The obvious drawback there is running the Turf on Friday, but it's no worse than moving the Distaff from its traditional spot.

I would propose yet another way to carve the 14 races, one that stays most true to the idea of these races being season-ending championship events. Eight of the 14 races correspond precisely to Eclipse Awards, while six are for specialists that the sport properly does not deem worthy of championship titles. Why not run those six on Friday, and the eight that really decide titles on Saturday?

The Friday lineup would be headlined by the Mile, the only race that would be moved from its traditional Saturday spot, and complete a pick six including the Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Turf Fillies, Turf Sprint, Dirt Mile, and Marathon. Saturday's eight, swapping in the F&M Sprint for the Mile, would be four pairs of male/female races, with every single race matching an Eclipse Award division: Juvenile Fillies (2-year-old filly) and Juvenile (2-year-old male); Sprint (sprinter) and F&M Sprint (female sprinter); F&M Turf (female grass horse) and Turf (grass male); and Ladies' Classic (3-year-old filly/older female) and Classic

(3-year-old colt/older male).

It's neat, clean, simple to remember, and easily explainable: Six interesting races showcasing specialists on Friday, and eight actual championship events on Saturday. It just might allow the event to grow and prosper without insulting half the horses and half the viewing audience.