09/26/2013 4:35PM

Steven Crist: Staying within division should be out of fashion by fall


Princess of Sylmar will not be favored to beat Royal Delta in the Beldame on Saturday at Belmont Park, and Orb and Palace Malice face a tough task taking on Cross Traffic and Flat Out a few hours later in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Still, it’s tempting to root for those 3-year-olds if only to reward their connections for choosing to run as underdogs at Belmont in these races instead of opting for easier paydays a week ago at Parx Racing.

This is no criticism of those who chose to run in the $1 million Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies or the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-old males. If you can run for that kind of money while ducking the toughest rivals in your division, not to mention older horses who would be favored against you, you’re supposed to take it.

The fault lies within a dysfunctionally selfish racing industry where tracks with purse money to burn run bloated races like the ones at Parx, sabotaging more important and historic races and depriving the public of the rivalries and showdowns it needs to attract a broader base of interest.

Rich and highly graded races restricted to 3-year-olds should, like the wearing of white shoes, cease after Labor Day. This is the time of year when the very best 3-year-olds should be meeting their elders, and not just once in the Breeders’ Cup at year’s end. Instead, tracks such as Parx and Indiana Downs, which is putting on its $500,000 Indiana Derby for 3-year-olds next Saturday, saw this tradition as an opportunity to exploit by luring top 3-year-olds to a final restricted payday.

This is how you end up with a horse such as Lookin At Lucky, the champion 3-year-old of 2010, running in the Indiana Derby instead of the Jockey Club Gold that year, and that’s why Close Hatches ran in the Cotillion instead of the Beldame and Will Take Charge ran in the Pennsylvania Derby a week ago instead of the Gold Cup.

It’s hard to argue that whatever disruption and damage these races cause to the sport at large are justified by giving a massive turnout of local fans to see big-name horses in the flesh: Parx does not take attendance, but last Saturday the total ontrack handle was a paltry $534,999 – barely half the purse of either big race, and suggestive of a live “crowd” of well less than 5,000. It’s difficult to believe the turnout or churn would have been lower if the races had been Grade 2 events worth $500,000. They could have spent the other million on underserved rather than overserved divisions in the sport that could actually use some richer and more prestigious preps for the Breeders’ Cup – maybe filly sprinters, turf sprinters, or turf juveniles.

Some may dismiss this sentiment as mere protectionism on New York’s part, but racing fans in other jurisdictions would probably feel the same way, given the chance. Would Californians be thrilled if Portland Meadows were so awash in slots money that it was putting on a $1 million Oregon Oaks for 3-year-old fillies this weekend that was luring Beholder away from taking on her elders in the Zenyatta at Santa Anita?

You can’t blame people for taking more money and softer company if someone’s going to offer it, but then those connections can’t complain if they’re not accorded the same respect for winning in the softer spots. Will Take Charge did not take over leadership of the 3-year-olds by beating Moreno and Transparent again instead of taking on Orb and Palace Malice a week later.

Close Hatches’s connections had no right to grouse that they wish Princess of Sylmar had run in the Cotillion after they won it – if they wanted to make a credible run at her for the 3-year-old filly title, they should have run in the Beldame. You can’t have it both ways.

Racing needs more clear paths to championships and fewer ways for the sport’s best to avoid racing one another. Yet it seems to be moving in precisely the opposite direction, and not just here. In the weeks ahead, we’re going to see the world’s top grass horses avoiding one another thanks to the overscheduling of so-called championship events on top of one another: Arc Day at Longchamp Oct. 6, then the upstart British Champions Day at Ascot Oct. 19, just 13 days after the Arc and 14 days before the Breeders’ Cup.

Despite already being weakened by smaller foal crops, fewer starts, and shorter careers, racing seems bent on awarding more trophies and titles than ever, weakening the fundamental premise of putting the best of the best in the same starting gate.

Ann More than 1 year ago
The easy way out of staying with your age group through the fall has been a gradual progression. When I started out watching racing, 3yos were taking on their elders from Memorial Day onward. Arts and Letters, a splendid stayer, and Conquistador Cielo both used wins in the Met Mile as preps for the Belmont S. 3yo took advantage of their weight allowances to run against their elders in many stakes races. The 3yo filly Crimson Saint beat older males in a sprint stakes at Hollywood in May. Spend a Buck beat his elders in the August G1 Monmouth Hcp. 3yos have been important participants in the Pacific Classic, with winners like Best Pal, General Challenge, and Came Home; Tiznow finished 2nd as a 3yo. Of course, Del Mar has no big race for dirt 3yos. Neither did Oak Tree, since the top dirt horses were usually out East running in the Fall Championship season (as it really was in those days) in NY. The current Cotillion's predecessor at Liberty Bell and Keystone was run anywhere from June to August, while the PA Derby's predecessor, the Minuteman, was run in July. The Ohio Derby was a June fixture. Of course, stakes horses ran at 2/3 week intervals in those days, so one could prep in the Cotillion and still take on the big girls in the Alabama. It is the 4/6 week intervals between races for top stakes horses these days that makes it hard to put together top fields anymore. We have too many big-money stakes races for the way stakes races horses are campaigned these days. By using money as a criterion for its grades, the grading committee has exacerbated the tendency to avoid the best runners for the big purses. We need a BHA to straighten out the mess of scheduling we have.
Hunter Delaney More than 1 year ago
Doesnt NYRA have slots??? Cant they afford to up the purses on these races you speak of? Are we happier as an industry running $85,000 MSW races and $67,000 optional $20,000 claimers in NY??? same type of distortion in NY, just happens to be every day...
Edward More than 1 year ago
You are right about a National schedule but it should include tracks like Park who PUT MONEY INTO PURSES. New York and KY should be getting docked Graded status for the weak purses they offer.
Edward More than 1 year ago
If I owned a top notch 3 year old, I would aiming at the Summer Triple Million, Monmouth, Travers, Pa Derby and then try my hand at older horses in the ACTUAL top race, the BC Classic.
John Murphy More than 1 year ago
I often make this comment, an have been personally chewed out by the man on occasion, but Steve writes from the viewpoint of NYRA, instead of taking the national view that the editor of the Racing Form should. He makes it sound like PARX had no rational reason for running those lucrative races. A little national prestige, if only for 15 minutes surely has benefit. Steve doesn't mention whether the offsite wagering bumped up at PARX, maybe the facts didn't fit his narrative. Hey, Belmont attendance isn't helped much by the JCGC either, see Andy Beyer's article. Lastly, the idea that a track should put on less than their best effort to enhance the national interest is a joke. Do you think NYRA would do that? By the way, Will Take Charge does get some credit for winning the PA Derby. It won't stack up to a JCGC or Classic win by Orb or Palice Malice, but if they do nothing more this year, who is the 3 year old Champion? It's close.
AzHorsePlayer More than 1 year ago
Steve well said, I couldn't agree more about this...I don't fault the connections either and the reality is Will Take Charge will be about 20-1 in the Classic and won't get within 10 lengths of the winner Game On Dude...I applaud the connections of Palace Malice & Orb running this weekend as well as Princess Of Slymar & I think Princess will beat Royal Delta as well
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
Clearly a BOT or someone whose account was HACKED!
AzHorsePlayer More than 1 year ago
Get a real job loser
EricSolomon718 More than 1 year ago
I get the point that you're trying to make, Mr. Crist, however, I'm not so sure I agree. There is no doubt the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Beldame are prestigious G1 races any owner should be honored to win. However, I'd venture a guess that the connections of Flat Out would trade all of his JCGC wins for one BC Classic win. That Breeders Cup has drastically reduced the importance of these races. The showdowns generally come in the BC these days. In this era of running horses 5 or 6 times a year, who can blame the owners for taking the route of the Pa Derby or Cotillion? Likewise, how can you blame a track outside of NYRA trying to lure big names to grow the sport outside of NY? In a perfect world, racetracks would work together and limit the number of big races in a division, by the simple fact is, it's every man for themselves ad three year olds are the glamour division.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
JCGC and Beldame are prestigious G1 races? SAYS WHO?? NOT TODAY THEY ARE NOT!....how prestigious is these races? are they publicized anywhere else except maybe at DRF or Bloodhorse or any racing websites? When was the last time the JCGC was in the mainstream sports headline?
tim blake More than 1 year ago
by your definition, there are no prestigious races other than the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup. you don't need the mainstream media to have prestige.,,,just headlines
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
You got that right. Truth is only the Derby gets some mainstream hype. Not only do you need mainstream media coverage to validate an event, importance and prestige, it is the lifeblood of any sport. How long do you think a boring slow game like golf would last if the Tiger Woods, Mickelson, Tom Watson, Nicklaus did not compete against each other at the Masters, US Open, PGA and British Open? Or if they do not even play on those prestigious races. This is the REASON a sport gets new fans and followers.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Just to be clear there were plenty of prestigious races that were in mainstream media that kept this industry more popular. But they lost their prestige because those races were 10 furlongs and longer. We do not breed those real thoroughbreds anymore
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Thoughtful and provoking. Too many stakeholders in the sport aren't willing to look at the "big picture".
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
THAT IS EXACTLY RIGHT. Short term profits just like everything else is the culprit.
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
Mr. Crist did fail to note in his article that NYRA also has Grade 1s for three year olds in the fall: The Jamaica at 1 1/8 Miles on turf in early October, and its filly counterpart, the Garden City that also is at 1 1/8 Miles on turf in mid-September at Belmont Park. Should these races also be stripped of their Graded status unless they are moved to earlier in the year? In the case of the Cotillion at Parx, that race really should be moved to Memorial Day weekend in May, but for a different reason: By doing so and lengthening it to 1 3/16 Miles, it can become the middle leg of an official Filly Triple Crown that can start with the Kentucky Oaks (possibly lengethened to 1 1/4 Miles) where it is now and conclude with the Coaching Club American Oaks (which is supposed to be the only race in America for fillies that has International Classic status) two weeks after the Belmont Stakes, with the CCA Oaks returned to Belmont Park and returned to its former distance of 1 1/2 Miles as part of a massive overhaul of the three year old filly stakes that (would include moving the Acorn to early March as the first Grade 1 of the year in New York and Mother Goose to the Wood Memorial card in April, both at Aqueduct that) I would do with New York if I were running NYRA. An official Triple Crown for fillies, with each race worth $1 Million can help keep interest in the sport beyond the Triple Crown.