06/25/2017 9:23AM

Watchmaker: Disappointing to see Jockey Club Gold Cup purse cut

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Before we get to a couple of notes from a summer Saturday that, for whatever reason, found stakes races to be few and far between, first a word on a news note from earlier in the week that caught my attention.

The New York Racing Association announced Wednesday that the purse of the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup has been reduced to $750,000 from $1 million, with that $250,000 cut essentially reassigned as a purse boost to the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, run later in the fall at Aqueduct and which is now also worth $750,000.

As Daily Racing Form's David Grening reported [http://www.drf.com/news/jockey-club-gold-cup-purse-trimmed-cigar-mile-boosted], even with this purse cut, the Jockey Club Gold Cup is still the richest Grade 1 event for older horses in the fall leading into the Breeders’ Cup Classic. So, in fairness, it should be noted that the Gold Cup will likely attract the same horses it would have if the purse were still $1 million.

There is no doubt that the Jockey Club Gold Cup has been challenged by the ascendency in the fall of the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, which affords 3-year-olds the opportunity to remain within their age group a little longer.

Of course, that opens an entirely different discussion as to whether it would be better for the sport if 3-year-olds did not have this extended opportunity to remain “protected,” and if they should be required to face older opponents after the Travers. This was pretty much the way it was in the “old days,” and while not everything in the old days was great, one of the best things about fall stakes racing back then was seeing how a given year’s crop of 3-year-olds measured up to their older opponents. To reach for an extreme example, do you remember Affirmed versus Seattle Slew?

But as previously discussed a few times in this space, what has done more damage than anything to the Jockey Club Gold Cup, including the Pennsylvania Derby, is the lack of a Breeders’ Cup in New York since 2005. Because of the configuration of Belmont Park, the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup is not a true two-turn race. So without a Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont run at exactly the same distance to bolster the Gold Cup, horsemen have largely and understandably eschewed the race for true two-turn Breeders’ Cup Classic preps elsewhere.

Yet even with all of this in mind, it was still disappointing to see the purse of the Jockey Club Gold Cup cut the way it was. Especially when you consider the racing philosophy of the current NYRA management.

The NYRA is the organization that tacks on significant purse premiums to extended-distance overnight races on the turf, and it is the organization that has made the 2-mile Belmont Gold Cup the symbolic centerpiece of its stakes-filled Belmont Stakes eve program. To cut the purse of a 10-furlong race that was in almost every respect the Breeders’ Cup Classic before the Breeders’ Cup Classic was born, and to simultaneously boost the purse of a one-mile race by the same amount, seems philosophically inconsistent. I mean, one could probably argue that the Cigar Mile would attract the same horses whether or not it received this purse increase.

I’d love to see the NYRA take real measures to protect the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and find ways for the race to flourish again. One of the best ideas I saw appeared on social media from Paul Matties Jr., winner of the 2017 National Handicapping Championship and a man who may watch more racing than anyone on the planet. Matties tweeted that the NYRA should scrap every 3-year-old turf race after May 1 and use the money to run the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Labor Day weekend with a $5 million purse.

Although I’m also a bit skeptical of the real meaning of many turf stakes restricted to 3-year-olds (with a couple of notable exceptions such as the NYRA’s still relatively new and indisputably successful Belmont Derby and Oaks, and the Secretariat), I think getting rid of them all is too radical. But I do love the idea of running the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Labor Day weekend at Saratoga.

When you think about it, the Whitney, run on the third Saturday at Saratoga, and the Woodward, run there Labor Day weekend, are essentially the same race. They are both 9-furlong events. The Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup could swap positions, and I suspect the outcome would be very beneficial to both races.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup could remain at 10 furlongs, but become a true two-turn race again, and yet still be different enough from the Whitney to be very interesting. And if run on Labor Day weekend, the Gold Cup could also serve as a final Breeders’ Cup Classic prep that would fit nicely with the philosophy of so many trainers today.

As for the Woodward, it would go back to its traditional home at Belmont, and at nine furlongs, not 10, it might actually be a more attractive October prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic while also not having to suffer that funky 1 1/4-mile start on Belmont’s first turn.

Saturday notes:

** Collected couldn’t have been any more impressive winning the Precisionist at Santa Anita, and has now been unchallenged in all three of his 4-year-old starts this year. Trainer Bob Baffert’s embarrassment of riches in the older male division continues – six of my top 10 in the Older Male division in the latest Watchmaker Watch [found here: http://www.drf.com/news/watchmaker-watch-weekly-divisional-ratings] are trained by Baffert – and I would imagine it will be difficult keeping all of his horses away from each other.
** I never envisioned that Irap would be behind behind Girvin in the early stages of the Ohio Derby at Thistledown, but after getting shuffled back in the run to the first turn, that’s where he wound up. Irap was also on the wrong lead for most of the stretch run, so I give him credit for getting up to nose Girvin.
** Battle of Midway made his first start since his good third in the Kentucky Derby in Santa Anita’s Affirmed Stakes, but his romp wasn’t very revealing, not after getting a very easy early lead on three outclassed opponents.