10/26/2009 12:00AM

Wrong time for this Cup plan


NEW YORK - Breeders' Cup officials said last week that they are working on a long-term rotation of host tracks for the event and that management will present a plan running for as long as the next 10 years for board approval this spring. According to a report in the Toronto Star, the plan "would designate a group of 10 North American tracks, including Woodbine, as hosts beginning in 2011, along with the framework of a rotation."

It's nice to see the Cup trying to prevent a repetition of the circumstances that led to the widely criticized decisions to run the event at Santa Anita in both 2008 and 2009, and to reroute the 2010 edition from Belmont to Churchill Downs. But this is precisely the wrong time for the event to lock itself into any long-term schedule.

The primary reason to delay a decade of commitments is the completely unresolved issue of whether these races should be run on synthetic racetracks going forward, due to the questionable future of such surfaces in American racing. While opinion remains sharply divided about these surfaces, many people on both sides say that they were installed hastily, that their alleged safety benefits are unproven, and that it is unclear whether they are the future of the sport or a brief historical oddity. No additional tracks are currently undertaking conversions to synthetic surfaces and there is talk that some California tracks will switch back to dirt in the years ahead.

Making a 10-year host list would almost certainly mean an over-commitment to synthetic Breeders' Cups. One rotation plan being discussed privately would be a four-year cycle including Belmont (dirt), Churchill (dirt), Oak Tree (synthetic), and a rotating fourth site for which the primary candidates are all sites with synthetic main tracks - Arlington, Del Mar, Keeneland, and Woodbine. This would effectively mean that half of all future Breeders' Cups would be contested on synthetic main tracks - a completely inappropriate decision to be made in the next six months.

It's also the wrong time to make the call because of the uncertainty surrounding the Breeders' Cup's own future. According to numerous officials at the organization, there may well be significant changes in corporate leadership in the coming year, as well as changes in the format, purses, and number of races in the event. To be making commitments about where the 2019 Cup will be held amid so much uncertainty seems both unnecessary and dangerous.

A rush to name host sites was what got the Cup into its current pickle. At the beginning of 2008, the 2009 Cup was expected to be awarded to either Belmont or Churchill, but the New York Racing Association was inches away from completing its franchise extension and Churchill was quibbling over financial arrangements. Rather than give either situation a little more time to resolve itself, the Cup thought it was so important to award the 2009 event 20 rather than 18 months in advance that it gave an unprecedented second consecutive running to Oak Tree.

The only thing the Breeders' Cup needs to announce any time soon is that the 2011 running will be at Belmont, an overdue no-brainer after an inexcusable absence of six years. It has more than enough other problems to fix before making any premature decisions about where, and over what footing, future Cups should be held.

If big states agree, problem solved

The Kentucky Racing Commission will consider a proposal this week to close betting when there are zero minutes to post time, to prevent the unsettling phenomenon of odds changing while a race is being run. Officials of the state's tracks are lining up to oppose it because they believe it will put them at a competitive disadvantage in the simulcast market.

This is a maddeningly frustrating issue, because there's a clear path to a palatable solution, but it requires the one commodity that the racing industry is least able to muster: cooperation. If every major track would agree to close betting earlier, there would be no negative business impact after a week or two of customers getting used to the new deadline. Even if just the handful of circuits that account for the vast majority of national betting could come to an agreement, the problem would be solved: People aren't going to abandon New York, Southern California, and Kentucky for Yavapai Downs if all three of those states would go to an earlier stop to betting.

Obviously an even better solution would be for tracks to upgrade their technology to the point where it wouldn't take so long for bets to be assimilated and odds recalculated. Since the industry seems to lack the resources and/or will to do that, an agreement for earlier cutoffs looks like the next best thing.