The true impact of this Breeders‘ Cup season instead might prove to be what happened before and after racing’s crowning event, happenstance that could make a greater, more lasting impression on the sport, one that actually reverses some of the negative trends of the last decade.
Before and after the recent Breeders’ Cup there was much speculation about how the event can be changed for the good not only of that organization but how enlightened self interest regarding some changes under consideration could be what’s best for the game going forward.
The dominant topic has been expansion and its potential for not only raising the profile of the season-ending event equal to the level of public consciousness enjoyed by the Triple Crown, but also how by lifting the event’s prestige elevates the brand to a true world class level, one that reaches beyond Europe to racing outposts in the Far and Middle East.
Fair minded individuals would have to term the Breeders’ Cup’s inaugural two-day format a success. Despite a well documented fact that people wager less money on sloppy tracks and, to a smaller degree, wet turf courses, on-track handle of $5-million at water-logged Monmouth Park was significant as was a weekday simulcast handle of $30-million. All this despite relatively small fields in two of the three added BC events.
Expansion that would include a six furlong turf sprint and possibly dirt marathons will be on the docket when the Breeders’ Cup board of directors meets next month. At this juncture, the turf sprint is considered the strong favorite for adoption on the first of the Cup’s two-day program slated for next October at Santa Anita Park.
Would anyone truly be surprised if someday Breeders’ Cup expanded to include races for every Eclipse division? And wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? Indeed, if Breeders’ Cup expanded further, wouldn’t it make sense to spread the two-day event over a three-day period to sustain and build greater anticipation? That way Day 1 would get comprehensive coverage instead of the prelude/afterthought treatment it got this year. The host track certainly wouldn‘t mind.
More important than a turf sprint, sure to prove popular on both sides of the Atlantic, is the notion of creating dirt marathons. Season-ending marathon championships might go a very long way toward helping restore the sport to its former glory days. To wit:
Because of the slower pace and the accent on stamina, marathon events are safer for the animal. Clearly, sprint racing is far more stressful. By taking the ability to run fast out of the equation, horses again can be bred for stamina, which should prove a boon to both horsemanship and the breeding industry. Leveling both those playing fields are in sport’s best interests.
The creation of championship marathons is certain to increase a wider range of international participation, drawing competitors from lands where distance racing is the rule, not the exception. Resultantly, more marathons would be instituted here as a matter of policy, thereby creating an alternative for an underutilized segment of American thoroughbred sport. A pattern of new races leading to a championship lends diversity and provides an added level of interest for both fans and bettors.
The trend of synthetic-track racing in this country dovetails nicely into an expansion of marathon events. In addition to the promising safety studies, there has been even more empirical evidence to suggest that training on artificial surfaces results in a greater level of fitness and conditioning, a necessary by-product when trying to get horses to stretch their speed over much longer distances.
Perhaps the best reason to create a championship division for marathoners is that it might help keep some of racing’s three-year-old stars around a little longer, at least until their 4-year-old season. Beyond that a championship program for marathoners gives rise to the possibility that once again the sport’s fans could see a new millennium filled with latter day Kelsos, Foregos and John Henrys.
A championship marathon division is the impetus that could engender a greater spirit of cooperation within the provincially splintered industry. It’s easier to gain cooperation among competitors when each has a vested interest in the successful outcome of a new program initiative.
The fruits of commitment would take time, of course. But stimulating a spirit of cooperation between competitors within the same region can be a reward in itself. A series of marathon races, sensibly scheduled, could create a circuit where none previously existed. A newly formed cooperative could result in a synergistic marketing effort among what have been competing venues.
Much of the pre-Breeders’ Cup storylines involved how racing’s crowning event rendered the sport’s traditional fixtures obsolete, events that previously gave the game its continuity and historical perspective. But that was an unintended negative consequence. Ironic, now, how the expansion of what some believe a debilitating concept could instead prove the instrument for making the sport better, beyond anything ever envisioned by Breeders’ Cup’s early practitioners.