06/24/2010 11:00PM

No logic to filly triple crown


NEW YORK − Here's the easiest bet you'll cash this weekend: Ask almost anyone around the racetrack, even an old-timer, what races make up the filly triple crown.

The Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and CCA Oaks? This was never a fully organized or official series but was once considered a trio of races roughly parallel to the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. No one has run that table since Davona Dale in 1979, and the Black-Eyed Susan has slipped in prestige and popularity, now a Grade 2 race that rarely draws a starter from the Kentucky Oaks two weeks earlier.

The Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks? Good guess, and the correct one when this series was known as the "New York filly triple crown" from the late 1960s until 2002. During that time, eight fillies swept those three races: Dark Mirage (1968), Shuvee (1969), Chris Evert (1974), Ruffian (1975), Davona Dale (1979, Mom's Command (1985), Open Mind (1989), and Sky Beauty (1993). The first six are all in racing's Hall of Fame, and the latter two are perennial candidates.

The Mother Goose, CCA Oaks, and Alabama? The right answer from 2003 through 2009, but not anymore. The New York filly triple crown was changed in 2003 to drop the Acorn at the beginning and add the Alabama at the end and was presented as the "Filly Triple Tiara," with a bonus that was never claimed and soon discontinued.

The Acorn, CCA Oaks, and Alabama? Bingo, at least for this year. Late last month, Belmont announced that those three races would make up yet another version of a triple tiara, sponsored by Betfair TVG, with a strangely small and indirect bonus scheme: If a filly sweeps the series, the sponsor will donate $50,000 to a charity of the winning owner's choice. In the absence of a sweep, the owner of whichever filly does the best on a point system in the three races gets to pick the charity for a reduced donation of $30,000.

Is this any way to run a triple crown?

Reconfiguring the series to include the Acorn, run seven weeks before the CCA Oaks, which has been moved from Belmont to the opening weekend of Saratoga's extended meeting this year, while dropping this weekend's Mother Goose makes absolutely no sense. A sponsor gets more mileage out of an Acorn sponsorship, since the Acorn is run on the Belmont Stakes undercard, but the next logical step from the Acorn is the Mother Goose, not the Oaks.

If there's going to be a triple crown or tiara for 3-year-old fillies going forward, it should go one of two ways: Either it should start with the Kentucky Oaks and then include two of the three New York route races, or if it remains an all-New York series, it should start with the Mother Goose rather than the Acorn and then conclude with a CCA Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga. Either way, it needs a real bonus system that would attract top fillies for all three races, and it needs to be left alone instead of being constantly rejiggered.

Win and You're In remains flawed

The Breeders' Cup last week belatedly announced this year's Win and You're In schedule for 2010, and it makes the triple tiara look logical by comparison. The roster of races is somewhat better balanced than the version last year, when Saratoga was deemed not to exist, but continues to bestow automatic-qualifier status on second-tier events.

There are four WAYI races for the Breeders' Cup's main event, the $5 million Classic. Three of those four are perfectly appropriate: the Whitney, the Pacific Classic, and the Goodwood. The fourth is an embarrassment: The Washington Park Handicap at Arlington, a race that rarely attracts Breeders' Cup-caliber horses and is properly ranked as a Grade 3 race. Why even pretend that this is a top-four prep for the Classic or a race remotely as important as the Hollywood Gold Cup, Woodward, or Jockey Club Gold Cup?

Similarly, there are five WAYI races for the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf after the Aug. 21 Arlington Million. Four of them are outside the United States. That's bad enough, but you would at least think the lone U.S. race would be a Grade 1 event such as the Clement Hirsch or the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Instead, it's the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap, just eight days after the Million.

The only saving grace is that the WAYI program has yet to keep a horse out of the Classic or Turf, but it's going to happen one of these years. As part of the Breeders' Cup's stated goal of trying to create a coherent schedule of major Cup preview days in the future, it needs to make sure it picks more appropriate races to decide the fields for the nation's two richest races.