07/02/2009 11:00PM

Win and You're In program needs fixing

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NEW YORK - The Breeders' Cup's Win and You're In program, a series of 62 races whose winners earn guaranteed starting berths in the 14 Cup races Nov. 6 and 7, has been widely criticized in the past for inconsistencies in the quality of races chosen for inclusion. This year's program, which began domestically this weekend with two races at Monmouth, not only failed to address those flaws but also introduced a strong element of regional imbalance that further undermines its credibility.

Consider some of the following anomalies:

* The winner of the Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park on Sept. 4 will earn an automatic berth in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. The winners of the Whitney Handicap and Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont - all Grade 1 events and historically key races leading to the Classic - will not.

* Of the three most important fall races for older females, the Lady's Secret at Oak Tree and the Spinster at Keeneland are Win and You're In races; the Beldame at Belmont is not.

* For turf fillies, the First Lady at Keeneland and Yellow Ribbon at Oak Tree are Win and You're Ins, but Belmont's Flower Bowl is not.

* For male sprinters, the Grade 3 Phoenix at Keeneland and Grade 1 Ancient Title at Santa Anita are Win and You're In races; the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont is not.

* Eight stakes at Del Mar, six of them below the Grade 1 level, are Win and You're In races. Not a single stakes race during the concurrent Saratoga meeting, at which there are 14 Grade 1 races, is a Win and You're In.

Can you see a pattern here? In total, only 3 of the 24 Grade 1 races run in New York from August through October - 12.5 percent of them - are Win and You're Ins. Meanwhile, 13 of the 21 Grade 1's run during that time in California and Kentucky - 62 percent of them - are Win and You're Ins.

Breeders' Cup officials say they do not see a problem here. Peter Land, the organization's chief marketing officer, attributed the lack of Saratoga races to a desire to "invest in the fall rather than the summer." Asked then why there were eight Del Mar Win and You're Ins during the same time, he said it was because Del Mar did not race in the fall and because "people from the Del Mar area are more likely to attend the Breeders' Cup than people on the East Coast."

This party line is difficult to accept. Clearly there is a rift between the Breeders' Cup and the New York Racing Association, which officials on both sides acknowledge privately but will not comment about publicly. There is a lingering dispute over rights fees and marketing reimbursements from last year's Win and You're In races at Saratoga, and some bruised feelings about the site-selection process. NYRA officials thought they were in line to host the 2010 Cup, which was instead awarded to Churchill Downs.

This wasn't simply a case of the Breeders' Cup retaliating by excluding NYRA races from this year's Win and You're In schedule. NYRA did not ask for all of its major races to be included and did not formally object to the announced schedule.

"There are financial and sponsorship obligations involved that we did not want to undertake," said Charles Hayward, NYRA's chief executive. "It's unfortunate how it worked out. It's an odd conglomeration of races."

Belmont is the presumed front-runner for 2011 after Churchill hosts the 2010 Cup, but Land said no decision on 2011 would be made until after this year's races.

"Belmont is obviously a candidate," Land said. "It will depend on whether people want to stay on the East Coast for two years in a row or return to California."

Running the Breeders' Cup at Oak Tree in 2011 would mean three Cups there (and on a synthetic main track) in four years, and would exacerbate the hard feelings that already exist over the unprecedented back-to-back runnings at the same site in 2008 and 2009. There has not been a Breeders' Cup in New York since 2005.

In the meantime, we have a Win and You're In program for 2009 that is illogical and imbalanced, apparently as the result of issues that should play no part in determining the designation of the sport's most important races or which events qualify horses for its championship events. When the industry's leaders wonder why racing often is not considered a big-league professional sport, they need look no farther than the patently unfair and incomplete Win and You're In schedule to see why.