10/30/2016 10:51AM

Watchmaker: Trying to understand order of Breeders' Cup races

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The order in which the Breeders’ Cup races ran was rarely tinkered with in the event's early days. Things change, however, and the Breeders’ Cup has evolved. The race order is no longer semi-untouchable.

This is good. The Classic will always be the final race of the event, and should be. But it makes sense to capitalize on the popularity of some of the stellar horses who compete in other Breeders’ Cup races by putting those races in prime spots adjacent to the Classic, when the most eyeballs are watching.

The lineup got me thinking when the order for this weekend's event at Santa Anita was announced last week. The Breeders' Cup Turf, which has always been the second-richest Breeders’ Cup event behind the Classic [and this year, it received a purse boost to $4 million] is positioned three races before the Classic. For the Breeders' Cup's first 27 years, it owned the event’s prime supporting spot right before the Classic.

But for five of the last six years - counting this one - the Turf hasn’t exactly been treated as the second-richest and, by association at least, the second most important Breeders’ Cup race.

In 2011, the Turf was first moved out of its traditional position as the lead-in for the Classic and was instead run three races before the Classic. No one could argue with this particular move. Goldikova was going for her fourth consecutive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, so the Mile was promoted to the spot immediately preceding the Classic. (Goldikova’s amazing pursuit fell short and resulted in a third-place finish.)

In 2012, the Turf again was run three races before the Classic, and the Mile again got the prime lead-in spot to the Classic. That time, however, the reasons for the move were unclear.

But the reasons for the same placement of these two races in 2013 were quite clear. Wise Dan, who won the 2012 Mile en route to Horse of the Year honors, was going for a repeat in 2013. As in 2011, it made sense for that particular Mile to get the prime supporting role. And, of course, Wise Dan was successful.

In 2014, for the fourth straight year, the Turf was run three races before the Classic and the Mile was run right before the Classic, and I still can’t figure out why. The horses involved in the Mile certainly didn’t have much to do with it, and there was no compelling storyline, such as with Goldikova or Wise Dan’s second Mile victory.

Last year, the Turf was back in its traditional pre-Classic spot. And for me, all felt right with the world again as Found sprung a memorable upset on Golden Horn.

But this year the Turf is back to three races before the Classic, and the Mile is again the race before the Classic, and again, there doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason.

I know Tepin is popular, and she is going for a repeat in the Mile. But her situation isn’t anything like the circumstances that surrounded Goldikova or Wise Dan the second time. And frankly, I think quality is higher at the top in this year’s Turf than it is in the Mile. Even the Filly & Mare Sprint will be run closer to the Classic this Saturday than the Turf.

Okay, if you can’t or don’t want to run two grass races such as the Turf and Mile back to back, then at least put a traditional Breeders’ Cup race such as the Juvenile between them. Running the F&M Sprint so late in the Saturday Breeders’ Cup card is just … weird.

Purse boost this year aside, it almost seems as if the Turf has fallen out of favor with Breeders’ Cup management. But even if appearances don’t reflect reality, with the Mile having been run in the top supporting slot right before the Classic five of the last six years, perhaps it’s best to close the $2 million purse gap between the Turf and Mile, if for no other reason than to make the Mile’s purse almost as valuable as it’s placement in the race order says.

A few pre-final entry Breeders’ Cup thoughts:

** I think too much emphasis is placed on post positions, but I do think post positions might be very important to the Classic's pace. Specifically, I think if California Chrome draws inside of Arrogate, California Chrome will go to the lead and Arrogate will sit off of him. Conversely, if Arrogate draws inside of Chrome, I think he goes to the front and Chrome sits.

** I’m very interested to see how Beholder does in the Distaff with Songbird a target to run at, because I do think she’s at her best with someone to track. That is not meant to make excuses for Beholder when Stellar Wind beat her in the Zenyatta and Clement L. Hirsch. Beholder set very comfortable paces in both races, giving her huge tactical advantages, and Stellar Wind still beat her. But while it doesn’t mean I’m picking her to win, I do think Beholder gets her best trip Friday.

** I was very surprised that Limato, the European sprinter who goes in the Mile, wasn’t even cross-entered in the Turf Sprint. But I’m gob-smacked that Mondialiste's connections are eschewing the Mile with their miler in favor of the 12-furlong turf.

** Given what I wrote in this space last week (Limato belonged in the Turf Sprint; the Turf is crazy thinking for Mondialiste; and Curalina should go in the F&M Sprint), I now fully expect Curalina to go in the Distaff, and indications Saturday were that she will. Selfishly, I hope she does. I think Curalina wins if she runs in the F&M Sprint. But without Curalina, the F&M Sprint becomes a very juicy betting race.

** I realize Holy Lute is the first also-eligible in the Turf Sprint, meaning he’s got a good chance of starting, but I don’t understand why he was even on the also-eligible list at all. Holy Lute won the second and fastest by 34 hundredths of a second division of the Eddie D., and yet Ambitious Brew, who won the first and slower division, was in the body of the Turf Sprint.
Yeah, Ambitious Brew has the reputation of being a downhill specialist, but guess what, Holy Lute has finished first or second in 5 of 9 career downhill starts.
Moreover, when the Turf Sprint is run at Santa Anita on the downhill course, it becomes a very unique animal. And I think that makes the Eddie D., the local prep over the downhill, especially important as preps go. In this situation, horses coming out of the Eddie D. should be given greater deference.

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