01/11/2007 12:00AM

New Breeders' Cup races welcome, but . . . .


NEW YORK - There's a lot to like about the three additional Breeders' Cup races announced earlier this week, but even more to scratch your head over in puzzlement.

The trio of new $1 million races - a filly sprint, a dirt mile, and a juvenile grass route - will be run the afternoon preceding the eight richer existing Cup races, starting this year at Monmouth. In principle, they are a welcome addition in two ways. First, they turn the Cup into a two-day festival, which can only be good for business, expand media coverage, and help promote the second day. The Friday card, which will also include new $250,000 stakes for 3-year-old fillies, juvenile sprinters, and juvenile grass fillies, should be an excellent day of racing in its own right as well as the perfect appetizer for Saturday's main events.

On the sporting front, the expansion of the Breeders' Cup menu is an excellent first step to recognizing racing's two most prominent neglected divisions. Filly sprinters and dirt milers were overdue for Cup races of their own, and the new races for those groups will probably hasten the addition of similarly overdue Eclipse Awards in those categories.

The problem is in the details of those two races, specifically their distances.

Breeders' Cup Ltd. announced that the new Filly and Mare Sprint will be run at seven furlongs - except when it isn't, such as this year at Monmouth, which has no chute for seven-furlong races. So this year's inaugural running will be at the "wrong" distance of six furlongs, which is actually the right distance for the race.

It simply makes no sense that in future years the Breeders' Cup Sprint would be run at six furlongs but the Filly and Mare Sprint would be run at seven furlongs. In every other pair of comparable his-and-her races, both in the Cup and throughout the top level of American racing, such races are either run at the same distance (Juvenile/Juvenile Fillies) or the female version is shorter (Turf/F&M Turf, Classic/Distaff, Derby/Oaks.). It's stunningly illogical for the fillies to go longer.

So is debuting the new Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at a track that cannot comfortably accommodate a full field at that distance. Monmouth runs plenty of one-mile races with a short run into the first turn, including the Grade 3 Salvator Mile, but those races usually number closer to five than 14 starters. So this year the race will be longer, and its proper name would be the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and Seventy Yards.

This is an assault on common sense and the integrity of the race. What if the world's best miler has the lead with 70 yards to go and gets nailed in the final jump? Now who's the world's best dirt miler? A better idea might be to keep the race at a pure mile and use an alternate finish line farther up the stretch, as several other tracks have done successfully with other races. Otherwise, the illegitimate distance, which doesn't even match the name of the race, will become a target of ridicule and make racing look silly. It would be better to hold off on the event for a year than to debut it in such a compromised fashion.

The final new race, the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, is simply an odd and perhaps premature choice. There is no pattern or program of juvenile grass races leading to it, or any widespread sentiment that this is a division that needs a championship event. Currently there is not a single Grade 1 race for grass juveniles, nor any particular need for one.

Filly sprinters and dirt milers deserved to get the ninth and 10th Breeders' Cup events, but grass juveniles were not next on line. The $1 million purse is excessive. The race would draw the same horses if a $250,000 pot were offered on the Friday undercard. The Juvenile Turf is likely to be a meaningless crapshoot with no championship implications but possibly some detrimental effects: Would you rather have seen an Arazi or Johannesburg run Friday on grass rather than running the next day in the real Juvenile?

One of the best things about the Breeders' Cup has been changing the perception that racing is primarily about five weeks of 3-year-olds each spring. The game is vastly richer than that, and there is no downside to expanding the showcase to include every legitimate permutation of age, gender, distance and surface. It's easy to envision a further expansion of the annual Cup Eve card to include a turf sprint or a marathon. There's still room to tinker with the particulars, though, and it doesn't seem that difficult for a filly sprint to be an actual sprint or a dirt mile to be an actual mile.