Updated on 09/16/2011 9:18AM

What price glory?

It would cost $800,000 to supplement Lido Palace (above) to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Bonapaw could enter the Sprint for $90,000.

NEW YORK - It was clear right from the start of the Breeders' Cup in 1984 that supplementary entry fees were going to be a big issue.

John Henry, who would eventually win a narrow decision as Horse of the Year in 1984, was not Breeders' Cup-nominated. At the time, there was great uncertainty about whether he would be supplemented. If he wasn't, the absence of the great gelding, who earned his first Horse of the Year title three years earlier, would weaken the fledgling event.

Eventually, the decision was made to supplement John Henry to the Breeders' Cup Turf at great cost, and a first payment of $130,000 was made. But, before the remaining $270,000 of the $400,000 fee was due, he came down with filling in his left ankle and was withdrawn. The initial payment of $130,000 was not refunded. Even though John Henry did not compete, the commitment to supplement him helped to enhance the credibility of the event, which has gone on to change the face of Thoroughbred racing in a profound way.

Still, 18 years later, the matter of supplemental fees to the Breeders' Cup remains a thorny issue. For example, Lido Palace, who will go in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, is not eligible to the Breeders' Cup. No matter how soft you may have thought Lido Palace's victory was in the Woodward Stakes earlier this month, he is still one of the best active older horses in the nation. But for him to compete in next month's Breeders' Cup Classic, his owners will have to fork over a small fortune, $800,000. That is a tremendous financial gamble.

Another example is Bonapaw, who ran off with Belmont's Vosburgh Stakes on Saturday. Bonapaw, who is not eligible for the Breeders' Cup, will be supplemented. The decision was made only after his owners learned the supplemental fee would be $90,000, and not $200,000, which they originally, and mistakenly, thought. Without getting into the specific details of how much a horse who is not Breeders' Cup nominated must pay to supplement, there are three levels of cost - 9 percent of the guaranteed Breeders' Cup purse,

12 percent, and 20 percent - depending on the nomination status of the horse's sire, and the horse itself. But even putting up "only" $90,000 to make Bonapaw eligible to the Sprint is a poor gamble. The winner's purse in the Sprint is $520,000, so the owners of Bonapaw, should they win the Sprint, wouldn't even be getting 5-1 on their supplemental money. That, in a race in which Bonapaw would be at least twice the price on the tote board to win.

Regardless of what you think of Bonapaw and the Vosburgh - and you may think Bonapaw capitalized on subpar opposition to win a race that has been an ineffectual stepping-stone to the Breeders' Cup - there should never be any doubt that a horse who wins a Grade 1 race the way Bonapaw did five weeks before Breeders' Cup Day will be there on Breeders' Cup Day. For the Breeders' Cup to be the best it can be, it cannot afford to lose horses over a matter like eligibility. Injuries are another matter. They are out of everyone's control. But eligibility is something that can be addressed.

A couple of years ago, the Breeders' Cup did take steps by instituting a supplementary fee credit. Simply put, a horse who has been supplemented to a $1 million Breeders' Cup race at a cost of $90,000 will receive a $70,000 Breeders' Cup credit ($90,000 minus $20,000 in pre-entry and entry fees from the first supplemented race) for future Breeders' Cup races. This was an improvement, but perhaps not a big enough step to alleviate the problem. For example, a 2-year-old may have to be supplemented to the Juvenile at a cost of $200,000. If that same horse wanted to race in the $4 million Classic the next year, the cost of supplementing him would be $620,000. That's not as bad as $800,000, but it is still prohibitive.

Doing away with supplemental entries and making every horse eligible to the Breeders' Cup would certainly eliminate the problem. But that shouldn't happen, because it would be unfair to all the breeders who have supported the Breeders' Cup all these years by nominating their sires and foals. Still, something more radical should be done.

Perhaps the solution is to institute a one-time flat fee to make horses who aren't Breeders' Cup nominated eligible. Perhaps it can be a percentage, say 10 percent, of the total of the guaranteed purses that horse would be eligible for in Breeders' Cup races. And, this fee could be paid when the horse is any age. For example, for a 2-year-old male, it would be $900,000 to supplement, but he would then be eligible to run in the three $1 million races open to him now and in the future - the Juvenile, Sprint, and Mile - plus the $2 million Turf and the $4 million Classic, at no further supplemental charge.

It would cost a 3-year-old male $100,000 less, because the Juvenile is no longer an option for him. It would cost a 2-year-old filly an additional $300,000, since by definition she would be eligible to run now or in the future in all of the Breeders' Cup races except the Juvenile.

Maybe 5 percent is the right number. Or maybe owners could have the option of excluding some races, like the turf races. But, under a plan like this, the one-time supplemental fee would be punishment enough to those who were not Breeders' Cup nominated, but not punishing enough to preclude greatly Breeders' Cup participation by those who were not nominated.