Friday, June 14, 2013
Breeders’ Cup good intentions zero out in Triple Crown
Not a single horse from last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile made it to the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont this spring. It's probably not coincidental that this was the first BC in which Lasix was not allowed in 2-year-old races. The result was an atypically small field. Moreover, the BC Juvenile Sprint drew only 5, an embarrassment that led to the race being discontinued. The same rule will remain in effect this November. The BC is to be commended for trying to take a leadership position but it picked the wrong spot. It probably has made another misstep in awarding Santa Anita a third straight BC in 2014 with the strong possibility the BC will be back on the West Coast in 2015.
Breedersâ€™ Cup had the best of intentions in attempting to show leadership when it comes to race day medications by banning Lasix in juvenile races. But those who should have had BC's back essentially said, â€śGo to hell.â€ť
Moreover, the just concluded Triple Crown season turned out to be an embarrassment for the Breedersâ€™ Cup.
Itâ€™s well known the BC Juvenile has produced only one winner who went on to double in the Kentucky Derby, Street Sense in 2006. Nevertheless, the climactic race of each 2-year-old season has a rich history of producing winners and in-the-money finishers in the following seasonâ€™s Triple Crown events.
Union Rags, runnerup to Hansen in the 2011 BCJ, won the 2012 Belmont. Creative Cause and Dullahan, third in the Preakness and Belmont, respectively, also came out of that BCJ.
The 2010 BCJ produced Belmont runnerup Stay Thirsty.
The previous yearâ€™s second-place finisher, Luckin at Lucky, won the Preakness.
So on and so forth-- until this year.
Not only didnâ€™t a single thoroughbred from the 2012 BCJ hit the board in a Triple Crown race, not one even made it to the starting gate of the Derby, Preakness or Belmont. This has to be a first.
What else made the 2012 BCJ unique? It was the first conducted under the new edict that 2-year-olds could not race on Lasix.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Maybe itâ€™s also a coincidence that the BCJ, an event that often drew limit fields, had only nine entrants. The BC Juvenile Sprint had only five and was won by a maiden. This was such an embarrassment the race has been jettisoned. A number of no-shows can be traced directly to the Lasix prohibition.
This is germane because the same restriction will be in place this coming fall. Noticeably absent from the announcement that Santa Anita will host the two-day BC carnival in 2014 was any mention whether the Lasix ban will still be in effect. Iâ€™d take a short price on the negative.
The continuation of the edict for this fallâ€™s 2-year-old events was a face-saving compromise. Breedersâ€™ Cup's plan was to bar Lasix from all BC races this year. The threat of a mass boycott by horsemen, which could have reduced the rest of the card to what happened with the Juvenile Sprint, forced Breedersâ€™ Cup to back off.
However, California horsemen, as well as those in other potential venues, indicated they would not grant simulcast permission in 2014 if the no-Lasix rule is still in effect. There has been no indication they are backing off this stand. Absent simulcasting revenue, there is no Breedersâ€™ Cup.
Breedersâ€™ Cup was trying to do the right thing, trying to begin to negate the perception that racing has degenerated into chemical warfare.
However, the entities that should have been BCâ€™s allies turned out to be giving only lip service to dealing with this issue. Clearly, the people who make the game go on a daily basis donâ€™t really want to deal with this.
With zero backing, Breedersâ€™ Cup turned into a one-man army. Custer had a better shot.
It makes no sense to conduct races billed as championship events under conditions significantly different from all the races run the rest of the year. Most of the 2-year-olds in the BC stakes raced on Lasix before the BC, went off it for the one race, then went right back on it for subsequent races. Expect the same this November.
Breedersâ€™ Cup might have made another ill-advised decision when it awarded the 2014 renewal to Santa Anita for the third straight year. There was a tipoff the fix was in when the California racing board awarded Santa Anita the weekend known to be the Breedersâ€™ Cup preference.
Del Mar has been given similar dates for 2015. The San Diego area track also has announced that its turf course is being widened to accommodate 14-horse fields. The only impetus for the expensive renovation is to host the BC. BC President and CEO Craig Fravel came to his current position after serving as Del Mar President until June 2011.
Is the fix in again?
If so, it could be the end of the Breedersâ€™ Cup as we know it. Reading between the lines of the official statement from Churchill Downs, the only other contender for 2014, as well as those from Kentucky politicians, the snub is not going down as smoothly as Black Jack in Blue Grass land.
Outspoken New York owner Mike Repole has been a loud voice in the Empire State objecting to the apparent West Coast bias, even suggesting an alternate event on the East Coast over the BC not being held at Belmont since 2005.
A concerted action by tracks and horsemen east of the Mississippi, which is not outside the realm of possibility, could transform the Breedersâ€™ Cup into typical Southern California stakes, small fields of little betting appeal.
Santa Anita and Del Mar have much to offer as Breedersâ€™ Cup venues. Fast and firm tracks are almost guaranteed. Hollywood star power spices the TV show. Speaking of which, the three-hour time difference from the East Coast allows for a prime-time Classic in daylight, something Kentucky and New York cannot match.
A formidable case can be made that Southern California should host the Breedersâ€™ Cup more often than other venues. But not every year.
The NFL understands this. California, Florida, Arizona and New Orleans are the most desirable venues for the Super Bowl, not only for the game but for all that surrounds it. But the league appreciates the value of moving around sportsâ€™ biggest event, even to a ridiculous site like the open air stadium at the Meadowlands in the dead of winter.
But what does the NFL know?