01/09/2007 12:00AM

Three new $1M Cup races added

Alex Evers/Horsephotos
The Breeders' Cup will add three races - Dirt Mile, Filly & Mare Sprint, and Juvenile Turf - and expand to two days beginning Oct. 26-27.

Breeders' Cup will expand to a two-day racing program in 2007 with the addition of three new $1 million races, which will be run the Friday before this year's event at Monmouth Park on Saturday, Oct. 27, Breeders' Cup announced on Monday.

The three new races, which are expected to become a permanent part of the Breeders' Cup event, are a one-mile dirt race for 3-year-olds and up called the Dirt Mile; a seven-furlong dirt race for fillies and mares called the Filly and Mare Sprint; and a one-mile turf race for 2-year-olds called the Juvenile Turf. Because of the configuration of Monmouth's dirt track, the Dirt Mile will be run at one mile and 70 yards this year, and the Filly and Mare Sprint will be run at six furlongs.

The addition of the three races is the largest expansion of the Breeders' Cup program since its inception in 1984. Originally conceived as seven races, Breeders' Cup added one race, the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, in 1999, as its only other prior expansion, though purses for the Breeders' Cup have been raised several times, including last year.

The Friday card - which will total 10 races - will also include three additional $250,000 stakes races put on by Breeders' Cup: a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, a one-mile turf race for 2-year-old fillies, and a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds. The purses for those races will likely be raised to $1 million in the near future "if this two-day festival is as successful as we think it will be," according to Greg Avioli, the president of Breeders' Cup.

"The whole idea is to put on races that will be attractive to the best horses in the world, and in turn that will lead to increased international and domestic wagering," Avioli said. "The whole thing feeds on itself at one point. Put the best horses together with the best wagering product, and that will help attract more horses and more wagering, and that will continue to build awareness for the Breeders' Cup as the true world championships of horse racing."

Since its inception in 1984, Breeders' Cup has been extremely popular with hard-core racing fans, but the event has never caught on with the general public, and in recent years, indicators of its popularity have declined. In 2006, for example, the national television rating for the Breeders' Cup broadcast on ESPN fell to its lowest level ever, a 0.8, or about 1.3 million households, down 47 percent from a 1.5 rating the year earlier, when the broadcast was on NBC-TV. Ratings for the Breeders' Cup consistently trail well behind any of the three Triple Crown races.

At the same time, handle on the eight Breeders' Cup races established a record in 2006 at $135.4 million, a 15 percent increase over betting in 2005. Two years ago, the Breeders' Cup board set a goal of attracting at least $200 million in wagers to the event for 2010.

Ken Kirchner, a simulcast consultant to the Breeders' Cup, said Monday that a full betting menu for the Friday card has not yet been determined, but that the card will likely include a pick six and several wagers linking the Friday races to the Saturday races. All of the races will almost certainly include win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta betting, along with rolling pick threes, Kirchner said.

"We're going to be willing to be very aggressive with the betting menu on Friday," Kirchner said.

Kirchner said he has not yet decided whether a pick six on Friday linking the six new races would have a mandatory payout or carry over into the pick six held on Saturday. Paying out the pick six would have the advantage of putting more money into players' hands for the Saturday card, while carrying over any part of the pool could build more interest in the Saturday pick six.

"My inclination is to pay it out on Friday, but I want to get some feedback and talk to some people about it," Kirchner said.

New-look board shaped plan

The expansion of the race card is one of several initiatives that Breeders' Cup has launched in the past 24 months, largely at the direction of its reconstituted board of directors. The board, which is chaired by Bill Farish Jr., has clashed over the past two years with the Breeders' Cup's business partner, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and in 2006 won concessions from the NTRA to trim its staff and free up more money for the Breeders' Cup's efforts, which have focused principally on leveraging the Breeders' Cup event itself.

Late in 2005, Breeders' Cup announced that it would raise the total purses distributed in its eight traditional races from $14 million to $20 million. Then, in 2006, the company announced that it would implement a system beginning in 2007 in which the winners of 24 nationally televised races would receive automatic berths into seven of the event's races, a system that was devised in part to help ESPN, its broadcast partner, promote the event.

ESPN, which has a revenue-sharing contract to broadcast the Breeders' Cup through 2013, has committed to a 90-minute broadcast window, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Eastern, for the Friday races this year, and Breeders' Cup is hoping to expand that window to 6 p .m., Avioli said. The 90-minute program would likely be long enough to broadcast only two of the three $1 million races live, according to Avioli, while a two-hour program would provide ample time for all three.

The establishment of three new $1omillion races - and possibly six, if the $250,000 races are raised to $1omillion - also gives Breeders' Cup more opportunities to sell sponsorships. Over the last several years, Breeders' Cup has sold sponsorships based on the division represented by each of the Breeders' Cup races, a strategy that gives companies marketing opportunities throughout the year as races tied to each division are broadcast on television.

Avioli said that the conditions of the new races were developed in consultation with breeders and owners "to fill glaring holes" between the divisions. Previously, for example, a good sprinting filly had to run against colts and geldings in the $2omillion, six-furlong Sprint to participate, unless the filly wanted to stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in the Distaff or try the turf. Breeders' Cup made the decision to run the Filly and Mare Sprint at seven furlongs so that an owner of a fast filly that specialized at six furlongs could still weigh the option of whether to try colts, Avioli said.

The Breeders' Cup board is confident that the races will attract at least a full field of 14 horses each, Avioli said.

Money for the new purses will come, in part, from the savings that are expected to be realized from the NTRA's pared budget, Avioli said. The Breeders' Cup also expects to make a substantial amount of the expense back from parking, concession, and betting revenue on the additional day, though Avioli said "we're still working on the exact financial model."